by Thomas Merkel
The last few days in the Holy Land have been a whirlwind of holy sites and events. This weekend we went to the Holy Sepulchre and walked the wall of the old city. On Monday, we were able to go to Bethlehem and visit the Church of the Nativity. It was a very fun adventure that started with saying Merry Christmas on the bus and ended with singing Christmas songs alongside other pilgrims from around the world.
The Church of the Nativity is a large building. One of the first features which stands out is the size of the door. The door is very small and you have to bend over in order to step through it. We learned that the door used to be much larger, but some of the Muslim leaders shrunk the door to prevent the more zealous followers from turning the Church into stables for their horses. Everyone who enters the Church needs to go through this short door. This means everyone must bend their head and, in a way, bow to God before entering his house. Everyone from the President to the Pope to the average pilgrim and tourist is humbled in the same way upon entering. This was a good reminder to me of how God came to save everyone and how we are all called to holiness.
Our tour guide took us through the different chapels and art of the Church which was all very interesting (especially if you like history). Underneath the church, there are caves and tunnels, one of which was the site of the Nativity. Underneath an altar is a slab of stone which is believed to be the site where Jesus was born. The altar where we had Mass was in a very small chapel only a few feet away from the site of the Nativity. This chapel marked the place of the manger where Jesus was laid after being born. Our two priests said Mass as the 18 seminarians crowded around them. To be honest, this was the most distracting mass I have ever been at! There was barely enough room for all of us. It was very hot and uncomfortable and the constant flood of other pilgrims through the tunnels trying to take pictures with their smartphones seemed rude. There was confusion during communion and many of us ended up in different seats. Yet, even though this was all distracting, Jesus was still present.
When I thought about the day, later on, it occurred to me that when Jesus was born in the manger it probably wasn't the most reverent event in history. It is easy to get too caught up in the Christmas card image of everything being perfect at the time of Jesus' birth. God humbled himself in a way that bowing through a door doesn't even begin to come near. God took on flesh and was born in a cave that had other travelers and animals in it. He was able to be born in the lowest of places so that we can meet him in heights of Heaven. The humility and love of God were shown to us in the Nativity and is continually shown to us in how God loves us.
Thomas MerkelThomas Merkel is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of Detroit.