Holy Land – Humility in the Nativity, Exultation in the Shepherds’ Field

The silver star marks the exact spot of the Birth of Christ inside the Basilica of the Nativity. (George Martell/TheGoodCatholicLife.com)

The silver star marks the exact spot of the Birth of Christ inside the Basilica of the Nativity. (George Martell/TheGoodCatholicLife.com)

Fr. Stephen Rock is Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Reading in the Archdiocese of Boston. He is one of 29 priests joining Cardinal Seán O’Malley for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land between April 8 and April 15. We’ve asked him to share his experiences on their fifth full day in the Holy Land.

By Fr. Stephen Rock

April 13

A few hours after celebrating Mass at the empty tomb, we left for Bethlehem, full of anticipation. Our guides have been terrific and today was no different. Most of us knew that Bethlehem means “House of Bread”, but were surprised to learn that in Arabic it is “House of Flesh“: ”And the Word was made Flesh.” Another interesting point was that Herod’s Tomb, lost for centuries, was recently found in ruins just a few miles from Bethlehem. He who tried to destroy the “newborn king of the Jews” is remembered by a pile of rubble, while people still come on pilgrimage to see the Grotto of Light.

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At the Church, Father Francisco led us in through the narrow gate and asked us to open our hearts to God’s great example of humility in becoming one of us. How often we have rebelled from God’s call. Now in this place we have the opportunity to open our hearts as did Mary and Joseph. This place reveals the wonder of God’s plan to send his Son to serve us and call us all to loving service. As we entered the nave we marvelled at the Church’s ancient beauty. Our fanciful mingling of faith and history came to a crashing halt as we encountered the crush of the crowd all trying to enter a four foot opening. We were humbled.

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To keep us focused, Father Francesco pointed to a beautiful icon of the Nativity with Saint Joseph sitting with another man, outside of the grotto. Satan was tempting Joseph, “The child is not yours, you are nothing.” Joseph remained faithful. Do we remain faithful as we struggle with the crush of ministry? The crowd got worse the closer we got. Most of us just wanted to get it over with. We reached our goal and said a quick prayer and were pushed out.

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For me, it all came together at the Shepherds’ Fields, where angels appeared to the poor, outcast shepherds, proclaiming the birth of Jesus. “Do not be afraid.” “Glory to God in the highest.” Christ’s birth has changed the world and this place helps us to appreciate the wonder of God’s plan.

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Fr. Stephen Rock, left, and Fr. Kevin Sepe take dip in the Sea of Galilee.


Cardinal Seán and a group of 29 priests of the Archdiocese of Boston have traveled on an Easter pilgrimage to the Holy Land this week, and they’re bringing the readers of TheGoodCatholicLife.com blog along with them.

All this week, our colleague George Martell is traveling with the pilgrimage, embedded with the Cardinal and his priests so we can bring you photos, blogs, videos, and audio reports from the Holy Land from the pilgrims at such places as the Basilica of the Annunciation, Mount Carmel, the Sea of Galilee, the Church of the Transfiguration, Qumran, the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Upper Room, and more. This once in a lifetime opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus with Cardinal Seán and the Archdiocese’s priests as an Easter retreat experience.

Please stay tuned to www.thegoodcatholiclife.com, as well as www.BostonCatholicPhotos.com and www.YouTube.com/BostonCatholic and our Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/bostoncatholic and Twitter account: www.twitter.com/bostoncatholic for the latest updates from the Holy Land.

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