When you piece it all together, you’ll see that Mary, as quiet as she was, moved in significant ways — both before and after her marriage to Joseph. After her encounter with Gabriel and hearing the tremendous news that she was to be the mother of the Messiah, she “arose and went with haste into the hill country” (Lk 1:39) to congratulate and support her kinswoman, Elizabeth. Just before the birth of her own son, she and Joseph “came up from the town of Nazareth, in Galilee, to David’s city in Judaea, the city called Bethlehem” (Lk 2:4), and 40 days later, “according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him before the Lord there” (Lk 2:22).
The next journey was more arduous, for the young family fled to Egypt for safety, and after several years, they returned to live in Nazareth. Subsequently there were annual treks to Jerusalem for various feasts, and Mary’s traveling seemed to continue after Jesus began His public ministry — for she was known to His followers, and interacted with them on occasion, both before and after her Son’s passion.
While several journeys were practically related to familial or legal events, the larger trajectory was always illuminated by God’s revelation to His beloved Israel. Setting aside the Egyptian sojourn — unique for being led by God’s specific instruction — the rest were initiated because both Mary and Joseph were profoundly familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and desired to do what God asked of them.
All devout Jews were entirely familiar with the psalms, and thus Joseph, the “just man” (Mt 1:19) acted in keeping with the first psalm, which outlines the key to one’s righteousness: “His delight is in the law of the Lord” (Ps 1:2). Even its first line mentions walking, indicating that movement is essential to the life of faith, and as we ponder all aspects of the Nativity — introducing Christ’s own walk among us — we might better distinguish our own path to holiness.
Pope Benedict XVI took time to reflect on this in his work, “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.” He touches on the darkness that often shrouds the path before the children of God, even Our Lady who was full of grace. “She must continue along the path that leads through many dark moments — from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of His mind right up to the night of the cross.”
Joseph’s dismay was dispelled with the light of a dream, but Benedict notes that it was primarily his disposition that allowed him to “perceive the divine.” The dream could have been misunderstood without his “ability to discern,” which flowed from his immersion in Scripture. Thus, in addressing Joseph as “Son of David” (Mt 1:20), the angel recalled for him God’s promises, which would provide the light needed for his difficult path, otherwise begun in darkness.
A key Scripture passage relating to the movement inherent in the life of faith is included in the longest psalm: “Your word is a lantern unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps 118:105). The subject of this psalm, which is a marvel of construction and content, is the law of God — the Torah. This “very deep reflection,” according to Patrick Henry Riordan in “Christ in His Psalms,” insists that “the law of God is the inner core and essential substance of human language.” The elements of language are embedded in its very structure, which is built around the Hebrew alphabet, and the function of language, Riordan reminds us, “is the formation of thought in accord with reality.”
Thus, the law of God — safeguarded now by Holy Mother Church — should formulate our thoughts, create the pattern for our language, and direct our steps. Pope Benedict highlighted Our Lady’s “inner engagement with the word,” which will ultimately help us to navigate the darker elements in our lives — especially amidst the dimming light of culture and custom. The Holy Child rested in her womb as she navigated the hills of Judah, lay in her arms to and from Egypt, and walked by her side as they rejoiced each year at the temple. He remains for us the Word giving light to our paths. “Those who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:2) — may that light guide you and your loved ones safely through the coming year.
Anchor columnist Genevieve Kineke is the author of “The Authentic Catholic Woman.” She blogs at feminine-genius. typepad.com.