Just two weeks after announcing that the long-awaited date of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen's beatification…
How did Mary journey to Bethlehem while pregnant?
Question: It seems, according to the Nativity accounts in the Bible, that Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem shortly before the birth of Jesus. This would involve a distance of nearly 70 miles. How could Mary make this journey at nine months pregnant? I see depictions of her riding on a donkey. Is this how? It all seems so cruel.
— Martin Collins, via email
We can only speculate on this since the Scriptures are silent. While tradition depicts Mary on a donkey, it is only an artistic depiction. Some wonder whether St. Joseph could afford to bring a valuable farm animal on such a long trip. Some also wonder if a woman in advanced pregnancy would find sitting atop such an animal comforting. Another possibility is that Joseph had a wagon of some sort where the Blessed Mother could sit.
But frankly we should not exclude the possibility that she simply walked the 70 miles. The people of the ancient Holy Land were hardy people. The hills and mountains of Galilee and Judea are steep, and the climate can be harsh. Green forested areas give way quickly to harsh deserts just east of the Jordan River and in the rift valley. Lengthy walks were regular fare for people of Jesus’ time. Women were also more frequently pregnant in those times of large families. What seems extraordinary to us may have seemed far more ordinary to them. Depictions of Mary as dainty and delicate are more products of Western culture and art. Whatever her build, Mary, like all women of her time, would have possessed a lot of physical strength and stamina simply from the way they had to live: on foot and engaged in a lot of physical labor, such as bringing water from wells, kneading dough, spinning yarn, weaving, tending to the house and animals, etc.
As for this seeming cruel, we can perhaps understand that they did not necessarily see it this way. However, there are many elements of the passion of Jesus in the Nativity story: no room in the inn, born in a stable, the death of the Holy Innocents and the flight into Egypt.
Question: The beatification process of Bishop Fulton Sheen has been on hold now for over a year with no news coming from the Church hierarchy. Can you shed any light on this? What is the hangup? The laity hear nothing but crickets.
— Richard Wehner, St. Louis
Answer: It is effectively on hold for now. Back in December 2019, the Diocese of Rochester, New York, (where Bishop Sheen had served as bishop for several years) expressed concern about advancing the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Sheen without a further review of his role in priests’ assignments. The diocese also indicated that there were no complaints against Archbishop Sheen covering up priestly misconduct or engaging in any personal inappropriate conduct. However, in the wake of the recent scandals involving bishops, it was thought wise to delay the process until further investigations are completed and time for any accusations to come forward had passed. Vatican officials concurred with this delay. While critics contended that this had to do with internal Church politics, it is difficult to prove this. We are safest in accepting that the planned beatification was set to occur at a very sensitive time in the Church wherein the beatification of a bishop of modern times might further inflame the situation both in and out of the Church. During that same period, many dioceses were renaming buildings dedicated to past bishops.
Things might have progressed more by now, but early in 2020 a pandemic began to rage which spread soon to Europe and then worldwide. This has obviously preoccupied the Church and prevented many from accomplishing the usual and daily tasks of Church administration. Add to this the recent COVID-related death of Msgr. Richard Soseman, the vice postulator of Sheen’s cause, and further delays may ensue. May Msgr. Soseman, a classmate of mine, rest in peace.
Be assured that many in Peoria, Illinois, and other parts of the country are engaged in prayer by offering Rosaries, novenas and Masses for Archbishop Sheen’s beatification. Things may well begin to move when COVID recedes and there is no indication that investigations into Archbishop Sheen’s administration of Rochester have demonstrated any disregard for or coverup of sexual abuse by clergy. We can certainly pray that the good archbishop will soon be beatified.