Many have called the Holy Land the “fifth Gospel” because there you can experience all of the principal events of the liturgical year in a little over a week. There are special Masses to be celebrated at each of the holy sites that take precedence over whatever else is in the liturgical calendar.
In the empty tomb, you celebrate Easter Sunday every day of the year; on Calvary, the Triumph of the Cross; in Nazareth, the Annunciation; on Mount Tabor, the Transfiguration; and in Bethlehem, Christmas.
It’s unforgettable to celebrate Christmas in May, June and September and Easter in December, January and February. It’s more memorable to enter into those mysteries of faith on consecutive days. Most indelible of all is to mark those events in the sacred spots where they occurred.
In the Holy Land our lectio divina easily becomes a visio divina, a visual meditation that forever impacts how we contemplate the mysteries we mark.
I’ve been thinking about the visio divina of Bethlehem a lot lately, as throughout Advent I have been preparing myself and those I serve for Christmas.
One of the perpetual challenges for pastors is to help people focus in December not on tinsel-decorated pine trees, colorful wrapping paper, candy canes, jingle bells, ugly sweaters, reindeer, sleighs and the North Pole, but, rather, on the City of David, on Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
That task is easier this year because of the pandemic, as far fewer of us are going to malls and box stores, attending scores of Christmas parties, or even traveling. With so much of what Dickens in A Christmas Carol called the “hustle, bustle, push and muscle, rushing to and fro” on COVID hiatus, there’s an opportunity for people to focus on the essential.
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