Should A Catholic See “Journey To Bethlehem”?  

by Advent and Christmas, Movie Reviews and Recommendations

An Advent pre-game is coming to theaters in November, helping Christians and moviegoers to reflect on the mystery of the incarnation before the Christmas season.  Journey to Bethlehem is a unique musical reproduction of the Nativity story, which admits at the end that artistic license was taken while trying to remain faithful to the gospel. There are three parallel stories it follows: the Magi, Herod, and Joseph and Mary.  The musical features traditional Christmas melody blended with new music. I found the music catchy and enjoyable, but one line troubled me. 

Errors In Mariology

In the discipline of Mariology, one could take a maximalist or minimalist approach to Mary.  A saint like St. Bernard of Clairvaux or St. Alphonsus Ligouri would be characteristic of Marian maximalism.  In essence, what comprises Marian maximalism is a very high regard for Mary.  A minimalistic Mariology presents a bit more of a familiar and relatable Mary.  There is nothing wrong with one or the other.  Journey to Bethlehem for the most part offers more of a lower Mariology.  A person who is a Marian maximalist may not like the Mary presented and even Marian minimalists might question if it is an adequate presentation of the Mother of God.  In a nod to maximalism, from the very beginning and throughout the musical there is a reference to Mary as a queen.  When the magi notice the star they immediately ask, “What Queen would give birth to the son of God.”  While others are aware that the mother will be a queen, in a hint of Marian minimalism, Mary has no awareness of her prevenient grace, is a bit of a temperamental and rebellious child, and at one point says that she wishes she had the faith of her mother (St.) Anne, signifying elements of doubt in her faith.   

Church traditions Questioned In Journey To Bethlehem 

The gospels make clear that Mary has a knowledge of scripture and Journey to Bethlehem offers that Mary wanted to be a teacher of the scriptures, which might offer a pre-vow of virginity, and congruous with Mary’s presence in the temple as a child. There are some other traditions (small t) of the Church that Journey to Bethlehem seems to put into question.  Joachim and Anne are alive.  It is believed Joachim passed early in Mary’s life and Anne probably was deceased before her betrothal per mystical revelations of Maria of Agreda. The musical also seems to suggest that she had other siblings, Rebekah and Deborah, who are sharing a bedroom with Mary at the moment of the Annunciation.  This is not consonant with the tradition.  At the end of the musical, the birthing scene is very minimal, so the question of Mary’s pain in labor becomes irrelevant and not a topic to be dwelt on in defense of or in response to the film.  In a powerful Marian maximalism at the end, Mary declares Christ has come to save the lost and she stands up to the threat of evil. 

In addition to a different portrayal of Mary, Journey to Bethlehem offers an interesting depiction of St. Joseph.  St. Joseph seemed to be promiscuous during a chance encounter while in the marketplace with Mary, who he did not yet know as his future betrothed.  As the movie unfolds though, he pursues Mary, believing and defending her, and she believes she can learn to love him too.  Mary also points out to Joseph that it was not her alone that was chosen, but he was chosen too. 

A Chance To Reflect On The Incarnation

Journey to Bethlehem allows a person to reflect on different aspects of the incarnation. For example, the Annunciation takes place while Mary is sleeping and in her bedroom. Where did the Annunciation take place?   At her house?  A spring?  Somewhere else?  Other interesting presentations in the film are the betrothal and the very odd place for the marriage of Joseph and Mary, at a time and place I had previously never considered.  After the Annunciation, when did Mary tell Joseph?  Right away?  After the Visitation?  Journey to Bethlehem offers one possibility. 

One line in a musical song could be taken as an ignorant assertion by the writers.  Joseph, in discerning what to do, sings, “This is no immaculate conception.”  The Immaculate Conception in Catholic belief does not refer to the conception of Jesus but rather to Mary’s conception without sin. 

A powerful line in a different song spoke to me.  It is the doxology of the Our Father recited by Protestants: for thine is the kingdom, the power, and glory.  In the beginning of the film, King Herod sings “mine is the kingdom, mine is the power, mine is the glory”, while at the birth of Jesus, the magi sing “thine is the kingdom, thine is the power, thine is the glory.”  Hearing the transformation of those words was powerful, reminding us to whom the true power and glory belong. 

Journey to Bethlehem is a unique presentation of the nativity story, turning the story we know so well into a musical. It takes creative license that allows for meditation, but also could communicate alternative positions to the tradition of the Church. 

Can a Catholic Watch Journey To Bethlehem?

Reflecting on the incarnation and the events surrounding the Word becoming flesh is praiseworthy.  Journey to Bethlehem offers a musical meditation on the nativity.  Personally, I cannot recommend the movie.  If a person does see it, I’d encourage them to notice what might seem off and to investigate it further.  Don’t take what the musical conveys as a gospel truth. 

Fr. Looney’s Rating of Journey to Bethlehem

5/10- Inadequate portrayal of Mary and bad theology.  

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