Today is the Solemnity of the Holy Family. I must say that it is very easy to feel close to the Holy Family here in Bethlehem. Every time I see a family together with a little boy I imagine that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph probably looked a lot like that. There is also a great sense of the presence of the Holy Family in all the holy places here. To help make the feast day special today we had a day of prayer which included a walking pilgrimage along the very route that Mary and Joseph would have followed into Bethlehem on that first Christmas night. I wound my way down Star Street, in through the Old City gate and finally to the Church of the Nativity. There were many pilgrims crowding into the grotto on this busy Sunday morning, but I managed to sit and pray for a while at the manger. Today is our last day in Bethlehem, so I was conscious that this would be my last visit to the manger, at least in person. From there I went to the Milk Grotto church where the Holy Family stayed for a while in Bethlehem. It’s been such a blessing to spend this past month here and to be able to really pray and enter into to mystery of this place. I will surely come back here often in my thoughts and prayers.
It is fitting that as we say goodbye to the previous year we also move on in our pilgrimage and say goodbye to Bethlehem. It’s been amazing to spend Advent and the first part of Christmas here, but even greater things await us in Galilee and Jerusalem. As we finished our class on the Gospel of Luke this week, I found myself looking forward to seeing the holy places where Jesus spent his public ministry and eventually gave his life for us. From the cave of his birth here in Bethlehem we will now travel to the cave of his tomb where his body was laid and where the greatest event of history took place, the resurrection. I’m looking forward to our return to Galilee tomorrow and the Church of the Annunciation. I want to see Joseph’s carpenter shop and linger in prayer for a while at Mary’s house. The close of the year brings a close to the first part of our pilgrimage, but I’m excited for what still lies ahead.
My special intention in my prayers today was for all families. I was also very mindful of how thankful I am for my own family. If only we realized how important families are and how much God has trusted His plan for history to families. May the Holy Family watch over and protect you and your family now and throughout the coming year. Happy New Year!