Focusing on the way to the town of Jesus' birth, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak spoke about the Bethlehems in everyone's lives when he delivered his annual Christmas message Tuesday from his Hollidaysburg home.
Bartchak of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown pointed out that the trip from Mary and Joseph's home in Nazareth to Bethlehem was about 62 miles if they could travel in a straight line.
But instead, the couple had to cross hills, valleys and rivers to get to their destination.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
Bishop Mark L. Bartchak of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown speaks to a member of the media before delivering his annual Christmas message.
And just as Mary and Joseph had to make an unexpected journey under circumstances they did not want to experience, so too have many others.
"Joseph was required to return to his birthplace to register during a census that could not have happened at a worse time," Bartchak said. "The Virgin Mary was pregnant and that would make the journey even more of a challenge."
Bartchak said his message was inspired by a work by Marilyn Ehle, a spiritual writer and speaker.
She didn't just ask the question, 'Where is Bethlehem?' he said. "She asked a more important and personal question: 'Where is your Bethlehem?' which means, 'Where is Jesus Christ born into your life?'"
"Beginning with my baptism as an infant, Jesus Christ continues to be born into my life," Bartchak said.
Comparing the journey to the City of David to the journey in life, Bartchak said he has stopped to ask directions from a spiritual leader or even a senior who has insights and advice to share.
"In those moments and in many other experiences, Christ was born again into my life," he said.
In turn, other travelers have come to him, asking for directions during the circumstances of life, such as when a family member is ill or has died or someone had been away from the sacraments for a long time and feels like God is distant.
"In those personal moments, the Lord Jesus Christ has been born again into their lives and into mine through our encounter," Bartchak said.
"So where is your Bethlehem as we celebrate Christmas this year?" he asked.
He reminded travelers in need of directions that nine months before her journey, Mary spoke life-changing words to God.
She said, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."
"With those simple words of faith, Mary could endure the long journey on the back of a donkey, the crude stable with its straw-lined manger in Bethlehem and even the anguish of the suffering and death of her son, Jesus, on the Cross, not to mention the joy that came from his birth and his glorious resurrection," Bartchak said.
He noted, too, that the shepherds and magi needed directions to find the city of David, but when they did, it changed their lives.
"May all the Bethlehems of your life bring you the same joy, the same hope, and the same reliable direction," Bartchak said.