So I'm sitting in front of the Holy Sepulcher right now. We're locked in for the night. To continue from my last note, the rest of our time in Bethlehem was very blessed. Mass turned out just fine. I was very moved at the sign of peace, since up to that point I had been pretty irked by the preceding series of events. I tried very hard to offer that anger and annoyance to our Lord early in the Mass so that I might worthily participate and, lo and behold He took it.
We then ate a decent lunch and I made a ton of purchases. I bought numerous rosaries and Jerusalem crosses, which I touched to the stone of Calvary and to original wall of the Holy Sepulcher this evening, praying for each of the people who would receive them. They finally opened up the Nativity grotto and I was able to go down and pray there while the shop owner put together a beautiful crucifix for me (well, beautiful for something in its price range, anyway). I was able to spend some time praying there, which was incredibly moving.
We had also visited Ein Kerem, which is where Mary visited Elizabeth when she was pregnant with John. It was nice but nothing spectacular. They did have some beautiful Marian artwork; my favorite was one with Mary wrapping her mantle, with the help of some angels, around all the people praying for her intercession. Please wrap us all in your mantle, dear Mother!
So we returned to Jerusalem, had a sharing of graces after our pilgrimage, which was very rich and is always so edifying and encouraging, then we had a quick dinner and came here. We are almost half-way through the evening, now. (They imposed three rules on us when we got here. The first was that we couldn't light any candles and walk around with them. The third was that there was absolutely no sleeping during our time in the Sepulcher. I cannot remember the second, to be honest. It was probably something like 'leave the Orthodox alone.') Anyway, the evening began with the ritual door-closing ceremony, after which they kindly offered to give us a tour of some of the off-limits areas. We got to see the Armenian excavations to the foundations of the original Holy Sepulcher Church of Constantine. Then the Franciscans showed us their private chapels and the upper levels of the church. We also got to see their living quarters- one was riding a stationary bike just a level above the Holy Sepulcher, which we found hilarious. They actually used to even sleep in the rotunda a level up all around the Holy Sepulcher. How incredible would that be!
I then spent time praying at Calvary, followed by a Holy Hour in the Holy Sepulcher. No visions or ecstasies, but it was a good time of prayer. I was able to focus for most of it and really mean what I prayed, so praise God. The Orthodox just took the Sepulcher from us not long ago, but they've been pretty quiet thus far. We'll see what happens as the night progresses. +AMDG