Gospel Reading Matthew ch 21:1-111
We begin our journey in the Holy Land here at the place in which Jesus sent his disciples to fetch a donkey tied. They were asked to untether the donkey and bring it so that Jesus could make use of it.
Seldom if ever does Jesus require the need of anything in the gospel. But in this spot, at this time of his journey he needed one thing, something to ride on as he made his entrance into Jerusalem on this beginning of what we now called “Holy Week.”
Jesus walked everywhere never needing anything for transportation, always relying on his own two feet to get the job done. When he was in in the womb, he needed the donkey to get to Bethlehem, and again to flee to Egypt to escape the hostile intentions of King Herod he required the use of a donkey. No where else in sacred scripture would he saddle up and ride until he approached the time at which he would lay down his life.
Here he does so to fulfill scripture. To show to all that in deed the prophet Zechariah was correct when he prophesied that the king would come riding the colt of a donkey.
Yet, even at this late hour things were not what they seemed. Those who gathered to welcome Jesus into the Sacred City of Jerusalem had it all wrong. They would soon discover that Jesus was not who they thought he was. Their thinking was too shallow. Their thinking was getting in the way of God’s revelation, God’s plan for salvation.
How often is this the case for us? How often does out thinking get in the way. How often must we surrender out patterns of thoughts realizing that we too have it all wrong in our own minds. God is not a slave to our thinking and our imaginings.
Like those who gather on palm Sunday as we journey with Christ we too must let go of our thoughts , surrender them so that the true Identity of Christ can shine forth. At the end of that week, we call Holy, we too realize that Jesus wasn’t who we thought he was, but rather he is everything we had hoped for.
As we begin our pilgrimage we must surrender our thinking so that the hope revealed by God in Christ can take over and lead us forward, onward into something more.
Only then can our thinking be transformed, can we experience the renewal of our minds illumined by the hope that shines forth through the heart of Christ crucified.
Then we give Jesus permission to ride through history in and through us, like the donkey 2000 years ago, Jesus beckons at us that we might allow him to catch a ride on the faith we profess and bringing light to those scattered in darkness.
Gospel reading: Luke 2:1-14
The Buddha says that happiness is never decreased by sharing it, but rather it is magnified exponentially. This is true. Think about happiness. The more we share it the more it abounds in abundance.
Happiness is created to be shared with has many as possible. We know this is realized in the story of Christ's birth. First we see it pressed upon the lips of the Blessed Mother as she says yes to the angel at the Annunciation. Her yes to God brings forth an abundance of rejoicing as she addresses her cousin Elizabeth, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my Spirit rejoices in God my savior.” It is echoed in the womb of Elizabeth as John leaps with joy. Happiness is contagious.
This is the spirit of Christmas. This is the Spirit of Bethlehem, where every day is Christmas and the spirit of Christmas never dies, for to us is born a savior.
Not far from the hallowed walls of this church built over the manger of Jesus the Christ are the fields in which the shepherds kept watch. In that night of nights, the heavens opened and the first Christmas hymn pressed upon the lips of the angelic choir continues to echo even today, “glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will.”
Happiness finds it source in glory given to God; Glory given to God reigns down peace upon men. This is the equation revealed to us on that silent night in which the Child is born, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
God makes himself small so that we might receive him. As we enter in the Basilica of Bethlehem to go and see the place the child was laid we too must bow low. We bow low, making our self small, in imitation of our God, so that God can receive us.
It is in this smallness that the greatness of happiness resounds for the whole world and glory reigns supreme. God has shared his happiness with us. This is why we give gifts at Christmas. We give because we have received an din giving we help magnify the happiness God offers to us as his love becomes visible in this child in the manger.
God becomes defenseless love and he invites us to let down our defenses, in receiving him and in such manner that through us the world may come to know true rejoicing, true and lasting merriment in this place we realize the significance of Merry Christmas.
Gospel reading Luke 19:1-10
We gather in this historical place where many believe the first of our ancestors to the human race may have gathered some 10,000 years ago.
It was here that Joshua led the battle that brought the walls of this ancient city crashing down in obedience to the call of God who asked him to march for six days around the city with the ark of the covenant.
It is here in this ancient city Jesus comes first to a blind man, Bartimaeus and then to man short in stature, Zacchaeus. Both men had deep desire for something more. Both men refused to settle for less. Both men had to face the obstacle of the crowd that pressed around them and wanted to keep them out and away from Jesus’s outstretched hand.
The crowd tried to silence Bartimaues but he refused to be silenced but rather cried out the more louder to grab the attention of Jesus. The crown wished to keep Zacchaeus down, yet he climbed a tree and went out on limb that he might move closer to Jesus and get a better look, that he might be seen by Him whom he desired.
Isn’t that us on this pilgrimage. Have we not gone out on a limb? Have we not put ourselves at a disadvantage in this strange place, strange language, strange customs, this strange food and mostly this strange time change? Have we not gone out on a limb that we might get a closer look at Jesus and so that he might with his merciful gaze get a more penetrating look at us?
We too like Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus refuse to settle for less; we refuse to let the crown hush us and keep us down. We desire more.
In fact the whole Christian life is about desire. Desire is to the Christian as breathing is to being alive. We do not remove desire but we redirect it and ask God to guide it.
St Augustine put it best when we spoke about God entering into our lives and purifying our desire, “you called, you spoke, you broke through my deafness; you flashed, you shone you dispelled my blindness; you touched my and I burn for your peace. I have tasted you and hunger for more…”
We make this journey not to quench our thirst or hunger but to deepen it. We want to hunger for more! We want to thirst for him who thirst for us! We want him who desires us to inflame our desire more and more for Him.
As we stand in this place of Jericho we reflect on the story of the Good Samaritan. We remember that the story comes as an answer to the question, “who is my neighbor.” Jesus doesn’t show us who our neighbor is but rather teaches us how to be a neighbor to all, to let our desire be touched by his grace so that we no longer measure sparingly the love we offer to those we encounter and thus fueled by desire we too can imitate Christ in loving God above all and loving our neighbor, each one we encounter, as Christ loves us.
Jericho continues to offer to us much as we continue in the footsteps of Christ learning the path way of love.
The way of the cross and the Holy Sepulcher
Gospel reading: Luke 24:1-8
We made our way along the way of the cross. As we did so, we were pressed in on every side by the markets, the smells, the laughing, the talking, the calling out for attention that we might be persuade to shift our focus from the cross to the merchandise. We were pushed and shoved. We were given looks of disbelief. For many it was business as usual. They were seeking to take advantage of the crowds who had come to see these holy places, trying to make a quick buck or two.
But this is no surprise. It was the same in the time of Jesus, when at the 9th hour he took up his cross and made his way to Calvary. Many gathered for the spectacle that day, as they had done before on previous occasions of these crucifixions. The merchants rushed in seeking to take advantage of the crowd that had suddenly befallen the neighborhood. Business as usual with no mind or attention to the reality unfolding before them.
We must remember only a few stopped to take notice of things that were unfolding as Jesus carried the cross and made his way to Calvary. Only a few were attentive to the significance of these events, just a small handful refused to be distracted.
We represent that small few who refused to let this be business as usual. All around us Jesus was present. All around us the grace of God revealed himself, in the smells, in the merchants all the way to Calvary. It is the same in our daily life. We will be invited to get lost in the business of the day and let each day become a transaction like the one before. Yet something about the heart of the believer knows there is something more. We look upon the world not with ordinary eyes. We know that behind the facade of the daily grind lies the presence of Christ who beckons at us each day anew.
We heed the words of the angels, “why do you seek the living amongst the dead.” How often have we sought the living amongst the dead? How often have we settled for less in seeking the dead realities hoping they would give us life, dead merchandise, dead souvenirs, dead material possessions, dead pleasure? How often have we drunk from the poison of the world and found ourselves empty and still longing for life? We have pressed Jesus upon our lips as a profession of faith and yet our heart has been full of the world.
But we stand here in this sacred place, Where Jesus was buried, where he rose, where he offers us life and choose to live differently. Easter changes everything.
We must decide to let it change us. It has to be more than a catch phrase but become for us the ground of reality. We no longer seek the living amongst the dead but we seek the source of life itself who stands triumph over death and all that belongs to it.
In this place our sin quiver for we stand it the place of mercy. Here the cross stood firm in the rock of Calvary and Mercy is offered to us below. Forgiveness stretches out to embrace us and becomes the air we breathe and life begins to be renewed. Forgiveness makes love and life possible. Here in this holy place life and love are offered once again freeing us from the shackles of death that have gripped us for way too long. Justice and Mercy meet here in this cross roads of Calvary and the cold stone that dared to contain his dead body and the ray of light and hope that continues to shine from the empty tomb.
No, nothing is business as usual once we have walked the way of the cross and followed in the footsteps that lead us to Calvary. Our eyes have been opened. We see things anew. Life leaps forth from every glance and we are invited to see again the face of our Savior, victorious at our side as we seek to stand at his.
Feast of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-11; John 20:19-23
We celebrated the feast of Pentecost at Bethany. Bethany is famous because it was in this spot that Lazarus after being dead for four days was raised from the dead. Jesus called him out of darkness into new life.
We all are familiar with the raising of Lazarus, in fact just above us is the tomb that boast to this day that incredible reality of the dead coming to life at the command of a simple word uttered by Christ.
But there are other things to become aware of as we enter in this place call Bethany.
Think about the other places in this Holy Land, how quickly we know why they are famous. Bethlehem is where Jesus was born. Cana is where the wedding feast occurred and water was changed into wine, and who doesn’t remember that or desire that it happen again. Nazareth is where Jesus was raised under the tutelage of the Carpenter. The Sea of Galilee is famous for the calming of the storms and the walking on the water as well as the calling of the disciples. Then of course we all know about the Mt of Beatitude where the sermon preached continues to echo to this day of happiness. Gethsemane is well accorded its proper place where the blood of Jesus in droplets of sweat was shed. Then of course Calvary stands alone as the singular place of homage for there on the hill our savior hung.
But what of this place of Bethany, outside of the raising of Lazarus, what treasure does it hold for us who have journey thus far.
It is here in Bethany the shortest verse of the bible comes to life: Jesus Wept. Is there any thing more sublime than those two short words that brings to focus with no greater clarity then Jesus was fully human. Is humanity is congealed with the drop of the tear to the ground. Jesus wept. Jesus lets people in. He lets them become a part of his inner circle and he is affected by their trials, their struggles, their experiences in life.
This of course points to the one thing most relevant for us as we journey in this pilgrimage. Jesus had friends. As we read in the gospel, the news spread that the one Jesus loved was sick. Yes, not the one who loves Jesus but rather the one that Jesus loves. Jesus had friends.
Do we count our selves in that circle of companionship? Do we consider ourselves as part of that group who are classified as the ones Jesus loves? Should we not? Why do we delay in attributing to us also that same tone of affection? Does not Jesus wants us also to belong to him as friends?
Is this not what he does on the night before he dies! He looks at his disciples, as he looks at us, and states so clearly I no longer call you servants but friends. Jesus offers us friendship.
In our day and age friendship has lost some of its importance. Facebook as destroyed our understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a friend.
A friend is one who is no longer concerned with his own gain but rather with gift. He no longer concerns himself with what he is gaining for himself but giving to the other. This is what we experience fully realized in Bethany as Jesus weeps.
As we celebrate Pentecost we are reminded that to be alive in the spirit means to be nothing less than a friend of Jesus. To often we get caught up in the other gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy and the like. But what good are these if friendship with Christ does not take precedence.
To be alive in the spirit is to have friendship fully animated in our lives.
A bishop friend mind once said that we have three simple tasks at hand in life: 1)be a friend of Jesus, 2) make a friend, 3) introduce a friend to Jesus.
A simple recipe for life in which we are guaranteed friendship that last forever.
We must remember of all relationships experienced on this side of heaven, it is friendship alone that ranks the highest and last into eternity. Of marriage Jesus says we are not married in heaven, but of friendship, that alone shall carry us to the other side.
Be a friend of Jesus, make a friend, introduce a friend to Jesus. To know him and to make him known and thus we are on our way to living where the Spirit leads.
As the psalmist invites us to examine the theme of our life, we too pause to ponder. What is the main message of our life? What is the main theme of the life we have lived? What do our decisions and choices reflect outward to the world? Is it the friendship we have in Christ? Do we let the spirit lead us on?
Church of Primacy of Peter
Gospel reading: John 21:1-19
We find ourselves overlooking the sea of Galilee. The water crashes upon the shore. Its rhythmic beat transports us to another time and another place.
We go back to where Peter and the disciples go back to where the original encounter with Jesus occurred. Three years prior, Peter and Andrew and James and John encounter Jesus on the shore inviting them to come and follow him. Intrigued they left off the family business, set aside their livelihood and began to follow where Jesus would lead.
Now three years later a lot has transpired. A lot has occurred. Jesus had been betrayed, arrested, denied, crucified, raised.
Here we find Peter go back to what he had always known. HE was reverting back to his old ways. But do we not do the same. How often in our life we have an encounter, rich experience, and yet after some time our resolution wanes and we too find ourselves drifting back to old familiar ways, habits of old.
We hear that sentiment in Peter’s remark, “I’m going fishing…”
What was Peter struggling with: buried past, memories in need of healing, self forgiveness perhaps needing to be embraced. Rather than deal with the issues at hand, Peter wanted to stay busy and active. Rather than slowing down and truly face the demons of his past, he continues to hurry along into the future.
How familiar! When we don’t want to deal with past hurt, failures, and the like do we not also stay busy, masking our fear and hurt and pain with activity.
Anything and everything will do just as long as we don’t face the elephant in the room. So out to sea, busy, busy, busy!
Then a new awareness begins to take shape. On the horizon the presence of Jesus beckons and we have a choice. We can refuse or we can embrace. We can continue to hide or we expose ourselves to his penetrating gaze. Peter finally jumps headlong into the ocean. No longer able to hide the shame, he opens himself up wide to the healing gaze of Christ.
To bring to light the denial, Jesus asks three times, Peter do you love me. Peter had to face the harsh truth and only in staring it down was he able to move forward and become the man Jesus knew him capable of being.
Three times: Do you love me? Three times Peter’s response: Lord, you now everything, you know that I love you.
In greek Jesus ask Peter do you Agape me. Are you willing and ready to sacrifice yourself for me, to give yourself totally and freely. Each time Peter response with Lord, I philos you or I like you. Then finally the third time Jesus ask peter, do you like me (philos). Jesus comes to meet us where we are.
Jesus will come down to us in order to bring us where we need to be. Jesus is not ashamed to lower himself so that we might be encouraged. Only in this humble gesture of our Lord is Peter able to forgive himself and embrace the forgiveness offered.
Peter is damaged goods and yet He becomes the leader of the early church. Some things never change. Jesus continues to use those who are damaged and bring forth his light and grace for the world.
Lastly Peter is asked by Jesus to embrace the unknown, “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will lead you where you do not want to go…”
Again, who of us cannot relate to this sentiment, this reality. Who of us have not been asked to say yes to the mystery of tomorrow, the darkness that lies hidden behind the veil. Our entire life we are asked to say yes to the unknowable and in this we discover the strength of faith.
Faith is about hoping in that which we cannot see. Peter realizes this most properly at the end of his life as he is crucified upside down. He trust. He lets go. He has found freedom in being forgiven.
The old hurt and pain had been unearth. Memories of denial had been healed. Strength of faith sustained for the journey.
He followed Jesus. The beginning and end of our life find its source and summit in this simple reality, “follow me.” Forgiveness, healing, strength all are located in the call of Christ and the heart that never tires of following where he leads.
Church at the wedding Feast of Cana
Gospel Reading: 2:1-11
A story is told of a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. In this setting, one of the young grandsons asked his grandfather how he did it, that is how did he continue to keep the marriage brimming.
The grandfather told the boy that it all began during his honeymoon. It was there that he known he would be faithful and true. Him and his blushing bride took their honeymoon in the grand canyon area. On day two they decided to take a mule ride down to the base of the canyon. As they began their slow trek down, the bride’s mule stumbled and knocked her to the ground. She got up, dusted her self off and then pulled out a club from her purse, unfolded it, then hit the donkey square in the head and exclaimed, “that’s one.”
She got back on the donkey and continued their journey down into the canyon. Then as they drew near to the body, the mule again stumbled and knocked the bride to the ground. She calmly dusted herself off, pulled out the club and hit the donkey in the nose. The donkey was stunned and fell to his knees. Then she exclaimed, “that’s two.”
She climbed on the donkey and down to the canyon they went until the donkey stumbled a third time. Again the bride was thrown to the ground. She got up, dusted herself off, then pulled out a 38 and shot the mule dead. The husband appalled at what his Wife had done, asked her what she was doing and didn’t she think it was extreme to shoot the mule. The wife looked at her husband and sais, “that’s one.” From then on, the husband made up his mind to be faithful and true.
Steve Martin, one of my favorite comedians writes in his biography about his early days doing stand up comedy that is was quite a challenge. He said being great was easy. Every entertainer has a night where everything was clicking , like getting a great poker hand, it happens. The real trick of good stand up wasn’t being great but rather being consistently good, day in day out.
This is true in life as well.
Think about life for a moment. Most of life consist of routine or repetition. Where would be with out routine and repetition. Imagine having to wake up each morning and have to create a new how you would go about your day? It would be terrible. Routine and repetition is what keeps us sane.
It is in the routine of life we learn the path of love. It is in the routine of life that we learn to give ourselves freely without reservation and to love and honor all the days of my life. In is in the ordinariness of life we are invited to reach new heights.
Perhaps this is why Jesus uses a wedding to perform his first miracle. Perhaps this is why Jesus uses water and turn it into wine. Can you think of anything more ordinary than a wedding feast and water and wine?
Think about weddings. They are geared for the ordinary routine of life. People get married so that they can have access to the routine of living. Jesus performs a miracle so that the routine of living can open up to the source of life itself.
And we miss it entirely too much, the invitation to experience the source of life in the routine and repetition of life. Cana reminds us of this reality. God comes right smack dap in the middle of ordinary life and fills it with his grace, as water turns into wine, so to our blandness in life becomes enriched for it is touched by glory in the hand of Christ.
So we celebrate the renewal of vows. We celebrate the routine of living give way to the source of life. We celebrate the avenue by which love and honor become more than words but alive reality, routinely each day anew.
1 kings 18:1-45
“Elijah went up to the top of Carmel, crouched down to the earth, put his head between his knees…”
We see Elijah the prophet of God, prostrate himself to the ground. He sticks his head between his knees as he prays.
Now many of us are able to do that. Yet, Elijah reminds us in a not so literal way that to follow God demands a certain yes of flexibility. Have we not discovered this in the journey over these past ten days? Have we not been invited by the Lord in many ways to be flexible with one another, to be flexible with ourselves, to be flexible with the people of this land?
Flexibility and patience are hallmarks of the journey of those who seek to follow God. Here on this mountain of Carmel we are once again invited to reflect and examine our lives.
For this day’s reflection, this last day of the journey, I invite you just meditate on the what we have experienced thus far. We will back track a bit and go back and see anew what we have experienced and where we have traveled.
We gathered in various airports across Texas in anticipation of the flight over the pond. We braced ourselves for the next 10 to 12 hours. We were excited, afraid, unsure and many other things.
Then we were off. Soon we landed in Tel Aviv, bags in hand ready to move forward. On the bus we gathered and onward to Jerusalem the group was directed. The brown hills rose to meet us as we, tired and worn out, longed for a bit of respite.
But yet as tired as we were there was something exhilarating about being in the Land Jesus was born, grew up and did his ministry. Even as the hills rose up to welcome us, there was a faint echo that reverberated from the same hills, an echo of gladness and rejoicing for having been chosen to witness the Savior of the world.
Then we finally arrived at the airport, only to discover it was the feast of Pentecost for the Jews and no work was to be done by them. In fact, we recall the elevators that refused to rise or fall because it to was observing the feast in Jewish fashion.
Dinner was served, Drinks were had. Conversations ensured. Then off to bed to begin fresh where the journey would take us.
We began our first day in Bethpage. Here we recalled the words of Jesus to his disciples, “go to the village and untie the tethered donkey and bring it to me and tell the owner the master has use of it.”
We began in the spot that marked Jesus’ historic entrance into Jerusalem, the moment that would be for us as Christians the beginning of the holiest of weeks, where it would culminate in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Cries f Hosanna filled the air as Jesus made his way not just to Jerusalem, or calvary but his way into the hearts of every human person past, present, and future.
We followed after him so that we might make our way back to our hearts and into his open heart waiting for us.
From there we went to the Mt of Ascension, where we gathered on the spot where Jesus leapt into eternity. Full circle we have arrived. We recall the words of the great commission, “Go there fore make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, teaching them all I have commanded you and behold I am with you always until the end of the age.”
His presence remains with us. We may be lonely but we will never be alone. From there we went to Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem in anticipation of the destruction that would follow. We stood beneath the shadow of the church shaped like a tear drop commemorating this event in history. Over looking the Kidron Valley at the remains of the temple that had been destroyed as Jesus predicted.
We thought about our own tears, destruction we have experienced in our own lives as we continued to journey downward to the Garden of Gethsemane and rock of Agony. We arrived in the ancient olive grove we heard the clarion call of Jesus to the disciples, “stay awake and keep watch.” From a stones throw away, he went into agony seeking to surrender to the Father’s will, “let this cup pass, let it be your will not mine.”
We stood in the place where Jesus was betrayed with a kiss by Judas: A night of surrender, a night of betrayal, a night of Arrest. Then we went in and touched the rock of Agony where Jesus sweat became like drops of blood.
When have we agonized? When have we struggled to surrender? When have we given ourselves over to the mystery of tomorrow trusting in the divine providence? When were we courageous enough to let go and let God lead and we see in Jesus himself.
From Gethsemane we back tracked a little and found ourselves in the upper room, where Jesus gathered with his disciples to share a meal, to institute the Eucharist, to give us a legacy of service and charity as he stooped low to wash the feet of the very men that would abandon him in the hour he needed them most.
“What I have done, you must also do.” “I no longer call you servants but friends.”
From the upper room, we went to St. Peter of Gallicantu, or the place where the cock crowed three times as Peter denies Jesus. There we went down in to the dungeon where Jesus was kept for the night awaiting trial.
We crawled in to that damp and dark place reciting psalm 88 “my only friend is darkness.”
We asked ourselves when have we denied Christ in our life? How often has the rooster crowed for us? Yet, the mercy of the savior to endure this forsakenness rises above our own shortcomings. Jesus didn’t need us to be perfect in order for him to show his love for us but rather while we were sinners he died for us. He flexed his muscles of charity even when we had no muscles to flex.
We eyed the steps that led through the kidron valley, the very steps that Jesus would have walked as he made his way to the Garden of Gethsemane from the upper room, the very steps he would later be dragged back up to be tried after his rest.
The steps called to us. Are we willing to let those steps lead us closer to Jesus’ heart?
Thus we ended day one and prepared ourselves for our journey to Bethlehem.
We arrived in Bethlehem where Christmas waited for us once again: Christmas in June, for it is Christmas everyday in Bethlehem.
We touched the star the marked the spot where Jesus was born and laid in the manger. It was a star that brought notice of the savior’s birth; it is a star that continually brings notice to all who come.
We visited the tomb of the Holy Innocents where we were reminded that when the prince of peace entered the world it was violence that greeted him, violence that sought to eliminate him. Anyone who seeks peace will need to stare down violence at every turn.
From the Basilica as we waited in line, pressed and crushed by the crowd trying to get to the place of Jesus’ birth we went out to the open fields where the shepherds kept watch that night in which the savior was born. It was there over looking the fields we the heavens burst once again with the first Christmas Hymn, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to the people of good will…”
Again we paused to the deeper realization that peace comes only when God is given glory and God is given glory by good will. It was God’s good will that brought Jesus to us and in return our will must be purified by that goodness.
Happiness never decreases when it is shared. God has always had a plan to share his goodness with us, which doesn’t lessen his goodness but magnifies it as we hear pressed upon the lips of the blessed Mother, “my soul magnifies the lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
How do we share the happiness with others that God first shared with us?
From Bethlehem we journey to the birth place of John the Baptist and the church of the visitation.
What was striking how unlike was this place than Bethlehem. There were no crowds, no pushing and shoving here. We had the place to ourselves. How fitting. For it was John Baptist himself who said “I must decrease, he must increase.” Here is a recipe for us in life. How do we decrease so that Jesus may increase? How do we push aside our selfishness so that the reign of Christ can be magnified?
We then journeyed to the hill country following after the Blessed Mother who went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who became pregnant in old age. Elizabeth was hiding out for the sake of privacy.
It is here in the hallowed place we recalled the words of Elizabeth addressed to Mary, “Blessed are you amongst women, blessed is the fruit of thy womb…How is it the mother of my Lord should come to me. The moment I heard your greeting the babe leapt in my womb.”
With a simple greeting, because she carried Jesus in her, Mary affected her surroundings and brought joy and rejoicing. We too carry Jesus with us. Yet, how often it isn’t joy we bring to our surroundings. How can we imitate Mary, so that with every greeting, the joy of Christ rushes forth to meet those we encounter?
Then after a bit of respite and ice cream, trying to take it all in, we gathered ourselves on the bus to make our way back to Jerusalem, to the hotel to refresh ourselves and prepare fort the day ahead.
Day three we found ourselves in Masada: The fortress of the rebels, formerly King Herod’s hideaway. It was on the mountain we revisited the Jewish rebels refusal to become captives to the Romans. We walked around and pictured in our mind the comfort and luxury of two thousand years ago.
We peered out and caught the valley of the dead sea. Then we went for a float in the Salty Sea. Many got busy with rubbing mud on themselves, others just dipped a toe in and that was enough. Some were hoping to look a little longer, so they made mud pies and whether they looked younger at least they felt younger as they rediscovered their childhood that often gets buried beneath the debris of our lived experience.
From the Dead sea we were off to Jericho, a city that was ten thousand years old. The oldest human settlement greeted us. But we recalled the meeting of Jesus with Zaccheaus the short man who climbed a tree, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who wanted to see, and of course the Good Samaratan who teaches us how to be neighbor.
We crowded around the sycamore tree for a picture. We wondered would we climb a tree to get a closer look at Jesus? Would we let Jesus get a closer look at us?
Then we visited the base of the mountain of Temptation, where we were tempted to ride a camel and assaulted with salesmen continually. We were certain Jesus’ temptations were a little different. Yet we looked upon the mountain where Jesus was asked to bow down so that he could rule as the devil desired not as God desired.
We too are offered a deal daily in our life. We struggle to surrender to God to overcome temptation. We fight the good fight. We run the race of faith.
Day four we began in Bethesda, near the pools of healing.
How fitting for us to gather at this place known for healing as we prepare for the way of the cross which is the ultimate journey of healing for all of humanity. In and through the cross God’s healing remedy is made known.
We began the via dolorosa among the merchants and vendors and crowds pressing in around us. Motorcycles honked and sped past us. Everyone wanted us to stop and buy from them. We were pushed and shoved as we made our way to Calvary.
It was business as usual for them. But it was not business as usual for us. Like in the time of Christ, crowds pressed forward trying to make a buck from the spectacle of the crucifixion, yet only a few stopped to take notice, only a few were aware of the events unfolding before them. We step in line with those few as we journeyed upwards: single hearted, single minded, unperturbed by the pushing and pressing and shoving.
We entered the place of the tomb of Christ and a certain stillness fell upon us as we celebrated mass. For a moment the noise of the crowd gave way to silence. Then we reached upward to the place where the cross was fixed in the earth on which hung the savior of the world. We reached in and touched the cold stone on which the blood of Christ was shed.
What wondrous love is this!
From the Holy Sepulcher, we were invited to go to the western wall to pray for peace. How fitting that thoughts of peace filled our hearts and minds as we left the place on which peace was established, where the king of peace rose from the dead.
After a very emotional and electric day we made our way to the Museum depicting the model of the city of Jerusalem. From there we could see in greater detail the places and distance travels as Jesus made his way from the upper room to the arrest and trial to the Calvary. It all began to come into focus once again.
We went back to our hotels to prepare for our journey to the Sea of Galilee.
We began this Sunday stopping at Bethany where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We gathered just outside the tomb of Lazarus in a little chapel built by the crusaders and here we celebrated the feast of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit the gift which makes us friends of God.
Bethany we encounter the place Jesus’ friends called their home: Mary, Martha, Lazarus. The Spirit of God desires to make us friends as well to deepen our intimacy with Christ daily.
From Bethany we journeyed to the Jordan river. There on the banks we looked out over the river and began to imagine Jesus standing on the banks himself in preparation for the beginning of his public ministry he stands in line of the mass of sinners seeking renewal. Jesus starts his ministry by being in solidarity with all of humanity.
We renewed our baptismal promises on the banks of the Jordan: do you reject Satan, all of his works, all of his empty promises, do you believe in God, Father Almighty, Jesus his son, Holy Spirit giver of live?
We all proclaimed with one voice: I do.
The water was sprinkled and we marveled at such simplicity. God makes good on his promise as we give him ours.
It was here at this spot the Israelites entered into the Promise Land after 40 years and the Manna ceased. It was here that the true bread of life had come to make himself known.
We continued our journey to the Sea of Galilee admiring the country side. We took in the surroundings as we drove for several hours on the bus. Then we spied our hotel overlooking the sea of Galilee and we marveled at the beauty and simplicity and the serenity of the place.
Day 6 we headed out across the see of Galilee. We loaded up on the boat and headed to the other side, just as we read about in the gospel. There we were on the waters on which Jesus calmed the storms, Jesus walked on Water, Peter began to sink.
We sang and danced upon the deck as our destination drew nearer and nearer. Remember the peacefulness of the lake.
Upon docking we hurried into the shop to catch a glimpse of the Jesus boat and then we were off to the races.
Our first stop was the Church of the Primacy of Peter where we celebrated mass over looking the sea of Galilee. The peaceful calm of the sea mesmerized as we recalled the scene of Jesus offering the disciples breakfast by the sea. Jesus asked Peter Do you love me more than these and we continue to wrestle with the same question. How often do other things interfere with the love we have for Christ?
Peter who denied Jesus; Peter who is damaged goods; Peter who is rash; this Peter is asked to be the leader for the church. Follow me, Jesus tells Peter once again and he tells us as well. Our journey back to God always entails a following where Christ leads.
We ascended the mount of Beatitudes and recalled the Sermon of the mound in Matthew chapter 5-7. Blessed are the poor…Indeed happiness follows us.
The mount stood overlooking the sea. Happiness beckoned at us to leave it all behind and trust in the words of Jesus.
From the mount we stood on the ground of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Jesus took what was scare and made it abundant. Where man saw impossibility Jesus made possible.
Give them some food yourselves Jesus told the disciples as he continues to tell us. We shouldn’t worry about running out or running low or not having enough. Jesus supplies.
From there we went to the restaurant where the catch of the day stared back at us.
Capharnaum awaited us. We entered Jesus home base of operations. We saw the first century remains of his home where he cured Peter’s mother in law. We went into the synagogue where Jesus cast out the demon and where the centurion asked him to cure his slave and showed great humility, “Lord I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the world and my servant shall be healed.”
Jesus lived in a lake house. Jesus ministered to the daily needs of those who came to him from his home. How does our home become a place of healing and ministry? How do we let our home become a dwelling for Jesus?
On to Tabor. We took the little vans upward. We went in stood upon the ground where the voice was heard, “this is my beloved son, listen to him.”
Has being on Tabor helped us to listen better? The church was striking in its icon of the transfiguration.
We peered across the Megiddo valley. Hard to imagine this land of farming and crops is expected to be the place of the final battle at the end of time.
We slowly made our way down the hill to head back to the hotel, to pack and get ready for the marathon to Cana and Nazareth to Haifa.
Day 7 we rose with our bags packed and headed to the Mediterranean Sea. Along the way we stopped at Cana and renewed our wedding vows. In the routine of living we discover the source of life. Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding, This ordinary common experience something extraordinary occurs.
How often do we long for the water to turn into wine time and time again. In the ordinary moments we are invited to reach new heights.
The couples with us renewed their vows, they said I do all over again. Then we went to celebrate with a toast as we shopped for wine.
Quickly we transitioned to Nazareth. We went to the place of the Annunciation. There we spied the many images of our lady donated by all the countries. We prayed the Angelus together: The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary and she conceived by the Holy Spirit; Behold the handmaid of the lord, be it done to me according to thy word; the word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Hard to imagine in this quiet hamlet God becomes flesh in the womb of Mary.
We went to the home of Joseph where Jesus was raised. We reflect on his hidden life, those 30 years we no so little yet we know he grew in wisdom and grace.
How much of life is this way. How often do we subtly obtain wisdom in our life? How often is hidden grace availed to us out of sight of others? We too must tend to our hidden life for the Father sees what is hidden and repays.
Then we made it to the Mediterranean Sea, Haifa and Mt Carmel. We pause to reflect, to examine, to ponder all these things as Mary did throughout her life.
We end our days in the holy Land in the cave of Elijah, in this mountain top dedicated to our lady of Mt Carmel. Why not. Every end is an invitation to begin a new and we hear those words a fresh: be it done to me according to thy word and we learn anew to follow where the Savior leads.