Bethlehem and Divine Providence
by Father John Hardon, S.J.
All the Mysteries of Christ's Life tell us something
about Reliance on the Providence of God in our Lives. But the event of
Christ's Birth at Bethlehem is especially Revealing. We begin by asking ourselves, what are the Lessons
that the Mystery of Bethlehem should teach us? Among others,
Bethlehem Teaches us: to Believe in Divine Providence; to Trust in the
Lord's Providential Wisdom; and with Emphasis, to Resign ourselves to
God's Provident Care.
Faith in Divine Providence
As we read Saint Luke's Narrative of what Mary and
Joseph were called upon to do, we Marvel at their Simple
Faith in the Providence of God. By all merely Human Standards, going to
Bethlehem at that Time was not the Right Thing to do in Fact, it was the Wrong Thing to do.
Bethlehem was far from Nazareth. Joseph had Work to do and
Mary was Expecting. Besides, here was a Pagan
Emperor putting Thousands of People to Endless
Trouble. Why? To get a Count of his Empire. Why Count the People? To Satisfy his
Ego and make sure he Collected all the Taxes possible. Talk about the Profane,
meeting the Sacred.
Yet God had His Purpose, using the
Emperor's Pride and Avarice to accomplish
His Designs. Whatever else we are called upon to Believe, it should be that
God's Providence includes People, Good People and
Bad People. Why did God do it? To Identify
for All Times that the Messiah came from the Royal House of David and that
His Son, Who was
King-of-kings as God, was also a
King as Man; to Verify the Prophecies of the Old Law, notably that the Messiah
would be Born in 'Bethlehem'; and of course One (1) of the
Divine Purposes was to Teach us.
Revelation tells us that the Providence of God
is the Eternal Plan by which He Governs the
Whole Universe towards the Fulfillment of His All-Wise Designs. We are to Believe that
nothing ever Just Happens. Everything in the World-at-large and in our World has a Purpose. There is no such thing as
Chance with God, there is no such things as
Mistakes with God. We make
Mistakes; we do Wrong; we commit
Error and Sin never
God! But God uses our
Mistakes and Errors and even
Sins to Effect His Designs.
In His Loving Wisdom, God has a
Good Reason for Everything in our Lives: the People we meet; or the People
God makes sure we don't meet, the Ones we "Just Missed".
No we didn't. God Planned it that way. There is a Reason for the Temperaments and Personalities
we Deal with, that we have been Living with. There is a Reason why we were Born when we were, in this Age, in a particular Country and
City, of just those Parents. Our Parents didn't 'Chance' to meet; we didn't 'Happen' to be Born. All of that was Planned by
We are further to Believe that Divine Providence is the Normal Way that
God shows us His Will. No
Book of Scripture is ever so Specific; no Writing by a Master of the
Spiritual Life is so Detailed, as the Circumstances into which God's Providence
places us to Manifest His Will. God is behind
every Breath of Wind. To Believe this is to have the Faith.
Trust in God's Providential Wisdom
Faith in Divine Providence is only the
Beginning. We are also to Trust in the Lord's Providential
Wisdom, even as Mary and Joseph
Trusted in what they were called-upon to do. The Circumstances in which they found themselves were
God's Way of Telling them 'What' to-do. Joseph
simply got-up, left Nazareth, and went to Bethlehem to Register.
Mary did not, Absolutely Speaking, have to come along with Joseph.
Since he was the Legal Head of the Family, only
his Presence in Bethlehem was Required. But it was the 'Prudent' Thing for
Mary to go along with Joseph, or Accurately, to have
Joseph be with her.
She is Not-for-nothing called Virgin Most Prudent. Here we have the Key to
Trusting in the Wisdom of Providence. It is
the Prudent Thing to do. What is Prudent?
Prudence is doing what God's Providence
shows us we should do. We have our Plans, Projects, and Designs. But a Large Part of Trusting
in God's Providence is to Lay-aside our Plans in Favor-of what
He Wants us to do.
From all the Evidence, when the Angel appeared to
Mary at the Annunciation, this was the Last Thing
she Expected. Leave it to God:
His Providence will often mean the Last Thing we Expect. When the
Angel appeared to Joseph again and told
him to take Mary, already with
Child, as his Wife, Matthew makes it Very Plain that
Joseph already had Other Plans. When Mary's
Days for her to be 'Delivered' were approaching, to Leave Home and go to a Strange City was
not in either Mary's or Joseph's Designs.
The Secret of Living a Holy Life, like that of
Mary and Joseph, is to Trust
Implicitly that God knows Best. Thus our Faith
is Twice (2) Tested: Once (1) by Giving-up on
what we had decided, and Once (1) again as we Undertake what
God Tells us we should do, even though we are Unprepared. "This is not my Plan",
we tell the Lord. He tells us,
"Yes, I know, but it's Mine".
Resignation to God's Providence
The Last Step at Bethlehem in Imitation of the Holy Family, is to
Resign ourselves to God's Providential Care. His
Providence not only Places Demands on our Faith, to Believe
He has a Purpose in Everything in our Lives, even though we don't see the Purpose.
Divine Providence also Places a Burden on our Generosity. It can Evoke some of the Hardest
Sacrifices of our Love.
Jesus Wrapped in 'Swaddling Clothes' and Laid in a 'Manger'
We read in Saint Luke's Gospel that when Jesus was Born,
Mary Wrapped Him in
"Swaddling Clothes". I have been using the Vulgate. Here the Latin is 'Revealing'.
Mary is said to have Wrapped Jesus in
"Pannis", which means Torn Pieces of Cloth, otherwise
known as Rags. We are further told that she laid
Him "in a Manger". 'Manger' is a Poetic
Expression for "Trough" from which Animals are fed. We are finally told that
Jesus was Born in a Stable, because there was no Room for them in the Inn. It does not really matter
why there was no Room for Jesus, Mary and
Joseph. But this is the way that God Provided
for His Son's 'Visible Entrance' into the World. What a Lesson, or rather, what a Rebuke to us.
God Expects a Lot of those whom He Loves.
He requires Sacrifices of those who are
Dearest to Him, and the Heaviest Sacrifices
of those whom He Loves the Most. He Demands
a Price of all whom He Wants to Use, as
He Wanted to Use these Three (3) Persons
- - Jesus, God in Human
His Mother; and Joseph,
His Foster Father to Bring not just
Souls, but the Whole Human Race to Himself.
In the Degree to which we Resign ourselves to whatever this Providence expects of us, in
that Measure, will God use us Far Beyond our Natural Capacity or Wildest Dreams.
He will use us to Cooperate with
Him in the Redemption of the World.
Prayer to Divine Providence
O Sweet and Tender Providence of God, into Thy Hands I commend my Spirit, to Thee I
abandon myself, my Hopes, my Fears, my Desires, my Repugnance's, my Temporal and Eternal Prospects. To Thee I commit the Wants of my
Perishable Body, to Thee I commit the far more Precious Interests of my Immortal Soul, for whose interests I have Nothing to Fear while
I withdraw it not from Thy Bosom. Though my Faults are many, my Misery Great, my Spiritual Poverty Extreme, my Hope in Thee surpasses all.
It is Greater than my Difficulties, Stronger than Death. Though Temptations should Assail me, I will Hope in Thee, though I should Sink
beneath my Weakness, I will Hope in Thee still, though I should Break my Resolutions a Thousand Times, I will look to Thee Confidently
for Grace to keep them at last; though Thou shouldst Slay me, even then will I Trust Thee, for Thou art my God, my Father and my Friend.
Thou art my Kind, my Tender, my Indulgent Parent, and I am Thy Loving Child, who cast myself into Thy Arms and beg Thy Blessing, who put
my Trust in Thee, and so Trusting, shall Never be Confounded.
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