O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!

I have a bit of a reflection to share today. This morning, we visited Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. We had the great privilege of being able to celebrate the Mass at the Grotto of the Manger, a small, intimate space where it is traditionally said the crib sat. Unfortunately, our hope for a silent, prayerful Mass was dashed due to the fact that not ten feet away from our altar was the Grotto of the Nativity. The poorly drawn green line in the image to the right illustrates the constant flow of a large crowd of pilgrims and tourists whose noise we were unable to ignore. In addition to this, after seeing the Grotto of the Nativity many would come over to the Grotto of the Manger and attempt to push past us to see in while we were having Mass and take photos (note the space was maybe 35 square feet, tops. Very small). I think I speak for most, if not all, of us when I say these interruptions to the Mass weren’t very appreciated. However, just as I was about to turn and get angry at the umpteenth person pushing me, I prayed and put myself into the scene of the Nativity of 2,000 years ago.

Though our Catholic tradition teaches that Mary delivered Christ without pain, I’m sure she was still exhausted from the experience of travelling to Bethlehem, searching for accommodations, and giving birth. I imagine that after bringing forth her Redeemer, all she wanted was some time to look upon the Christ child and get to know her Son and Savior. Yet shepherds began to show up, wanting to see the Lord and spend time with him, and then the three Magi as well. A 1941 song suggests perhaps there was a Little Drummer Boy in attendance – and I think the comic to the side may, tongue-in-cheek, exhibit how Mary may have felt about all the visitors.

Mary and Joseph probably wanted a quiet moment with Jesus. Their initial feelings were probably similar to ours during Mass: annoyance and wishing the outsiders would hush up and go away. Yet despite all the doubt a certain Christmas song would attempt to sow, Mary did know who her Son was and what He was going to do. She knew He was not just hers, but He came for the entire world. The Gospel of Luke records that Mary “treasured all of these things in her heart.” It was this that made me pray, during Mass in that rowdy cave, that all who came to experience Christ here in Bethlehem would have that grace. If Mary would not turn the shepherds away then neither would I let myself have resentment towards those pilgrims and tourists around me. For the rest of the Mass, Mary’s patience and love became my goal. Even when people are irritating to us, our desire must always be that they encounter Christ – and I should not get upset at those people of good-will who are attempting to do so (even if they probably should turn the flash off on their phone).

Gloria in excelsis Deo! et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis!

-Paul Hedman