Sunday, February 05, 2017

CHRISTIAN LIFE...a TEAM sport

Some time today before tonight's 6:30 kickoff two coaches will address their teams one last time before they take the field for Superbowl 51.  Their messages will most likely not be addressed to individuals but the team as a whole.  They will direct their teams' attention to the gifts and talents that they already posses and challenge them to know that those gifts exist for the purpose of bringing their team to victory. Some time later at halftime those teams will be back in their locker rooms and winning or losing at that point their coaches will speak again.  The coaches will point out the successes and the failures of the first and instill in them a hope that using those gifts and talents they will succeed.  And win or lose both of those teams will return to the locker rooms at the end of the game and the coaches will speak once more and even the non victorious team will hear their coach speak perhaps of some individual achievements but will once again acknowledge the universal gifts and talents that brought the team to success that season.  The victories and the losses of life are reflective of the team not one individual.

Today's Gospel continues Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; his address to the team that are his disciples.  He speaks to their gifts, calling them salt and light, and teaches them that these gifts are to be used for a victory that serves others and gives glory to our heavenly Father.  He isn't telling them to conjure up these gifts or intensify them - as a team they are already salt and light, they simply must dedicate themselves to using them.

Salt and light elements that do not exist for themselves, they are made for the other. Salt preserves and brings out flavor.  Light highlights beauty helping us to appreciate it more and it also illuminates what is evil, dark and dangerous.  In commissioning his "team" Jesus is identifying them as gifts that are made for others.  To be salt, bringing forth the flavor, the presence of God and preserving the goodness of his kingdom.  To be the light that helps all to acknowledge the beauty of God's presence and to illuminate the darkness of sin and evil.

So in the midst of the game, how is this team, this church, these disciples doing? Looking over the course of some 2000 years of history, we can see the effects of the salt and light of the church.  In the care for the poor and infirm, the team has responded.  In the education of young and old, we have seen victory.  In laying down lives in sacrifice for those who are treated with injustice, persecution and violence we have known triumph. 

But as a team of disciples we must also be attentive to our
failures.  How did genocide and holocaust take hold in Christian Europe and anciently Christian Russia?  Why did slavery and racism take root in a land founded by Christian pilgrims?  Why does gun violence prevail in the streets of cities with churches on every block?  Why in a country that was born under the Christian premise that all are created equal do we see abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, bigotry and bias being celebrated as a right?  Quite simply these are examples of the team, Christian disciples not being salt and light.

Today we mark the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. We celebrate and give thanks for the professed religious men and women who through their communities have been at the forefront of manifesting the gifts of salt and light and even more so modeled for us the unity of team.  We may mention a particular sister or brother who taught us, but we speak of being educated by the Dominicans, the Jospephites, Sisters of Mercy, Christian Brothers, Franciscans and Marianists. We not only give thanks for what they have done for the mission of Jesus Christ in the church, but pray fervently that consecrated life may continue to grow and flourish.

As we receive the Holy Eucharist, we are reminded of whose
team we are on and through it we are empowered to be salt and light as a team.  We are the team of the universal church. This week we celebrated the installation of our new Bishop, John Barres and from those days one image of team stands out for me.  The seminarians of the diocese were assembled to take a picture with the bishop.  The formed a semi-circle with some standing and some on one knee waiting for the Bishop to slip into his spot.  Before he did that though, the Bishop stood before the group of seminarians and spoke with them for about five minutes.  He looked like a coach speaking to his team.  I expected them to run a play after he was done. As church we can never forget that we are a team united around our bishop who stands before us in the fullness of Christ's priesthood.


Our families are the most basic of our Christian teams, where salt and light are fostered.  Our families are fractured, not necessarily in the sad brokenness that is a reality for many. But by simply having two and sometimes three generations in one household our families can be simply a group of individuals living under the same roof.  We pray for the unity of our families, the first team of Christian life so that they may be salt and life for each other and the world.

Its half time, the struggle is real.  The gifts have brought successes and our failure to use them have hurt us.  Let us hear Jesus speak to us, recognize the gifts with in us and use them to be salt, light and share in the building of his kingdom


Sunday, January 29, 2017

RISE ABOVE THE CROWD - Learn Happiness



The audio for this homily can be found here January 29, 2017 homily audio

For the last week or so, I think the most popularly used word was, “crowd.”  The crowd at the Inauguration.  The crowds at the Women’s Marches.  The crowd at the March for Life.  We looked at the sizes of the crowds to tell a story.  How many supported the president.  How many opposed him.  What issues have the greatest support?  These are fair topics for discussion.  Those of us who have gone to the March for Life in Washington have long lamented the lack of attention given to the size of the crowd.


Jesus had crowds following him too and by all accounts they were massive given the population and the limited means of communication in 1st century Palestine.  But what was our Lord’s relationship to the crowds?  They were fickle, praising him as he rode into Jerusalem only to call for his crucifixion a few days later. Sometimes their size drove him to escape in a boat or to a secluded place.  While he did he miraculously feed the multitude because he took pity on them, one such occasion he had to flee because after they ate and were satisfied the crowd tried to carry him off and making him king.  The enthusiasm of crowds can be exhilarating and validating but they can lack substance and sometimes be dangerous.


Today’s Gospel passage begins

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 
He began to teach them

As much as the crowds could be understood as a sign of affirmation for Jesus’ mission, it was not within that throng that the real work took place.  Jesus goes “above the crowd” and his disciples come to him to be taught.  A disciple a follower and student of a teacher.  The 12 apostles were among the larger group of learners but not the only ones.  This is a substantive group who are not simply caught up in the fervor, but seek a deeper understanding.  And so they too rise above the crowd and follow Jesus to a place where they can learn with depth and greater understanding.  And Jesus doesn’t simply run up the mountain and hide, but he finds a place and sits down, the position of a teacher in his time.  We think of a teacher who stands in front of a classroom, perhaps behind a podium and lectures, but in Jesus we see a more natural and organic approach.  


Think of young children returning to a classroom after running around outside.  What might be the best way for the teacher to calm this crowd down? Instead of speaking loudly and ordering them to their seats, she might invite them to come join her in sitting on the classroom carpet, speaking softly as she reads to them from a book.  This is Jesus and his disciples sitting at the feet of the master, rising above the crowd and hungering for knowledge.


This is the context of the Beatitudes, which is the bulk of today’s Gospel.  The definition of beatitude is a state of supreme happiness. 

The lesson Jesus teaches is simply but profoundly what it takes to be happy.  The crowd left below might be joyful and exuberant but they are not engaging in what will ultimately make them happy. I remember reading the story of a musician who was touring the country giving concerts.  He said there was nothing greater than the cheers of the crowd.  But those cheers don’t last and there is nothing lonelier or joyless then riding back to the hotel alone in a limousine. That is not happiness.  In the beatitudes Jesus teaches his disciples how to be joyful.

The happiness and joyfulness of the beatitudes is counter intuitive to our worldly wisdom.  Happiness is not found in money, pleasure, power or glory but a single hearted focus on doing the will of God by ministering mercy and peace.  Look at what makes us truly happy in our lives, fulfilling the will of another who loves us; making our parents proud, providing our children with a tender and caring home. Happiness comes to us when we do the will of God who loves us.  And what is God’s will to be merciful and to foster peace.  This is the lesson of the Beatitudes, this is the lesson we learn when we sit at the feet of the master and rise above the crowd which often is about seeking pleasure not happiness, power not peace, glory through submission and not mercy.


So here is the question.  Are you a part of a crowd or are you a disciple? Are you here at this celebration of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist because you hunger and thirst for supreme happiness?  If so, then you are a disciple.  And you are learning through every celebration of word and sacrament that happiness is found perfectly in the heavenly kingdom that awaits us but is obtainable within the human experience as well. We ultimately seek and find happiness not just when we are seeking it for ourselves but for others as well.


We live among the crowd, we hear those voices, we join in their passions and engage in their fights – but we know that none of that makes us happy, so we come up the mountain each and every Sunday to learn who we really are called to be.


Several months ago as we prepared for the presidential election I was asked to read Bishop Murphy’s letter on the preeminence of the right to life.  That letter was an attempt to form us as disciples and help us to rise above the crowd.  I think today it is important for us learn and be formed by other words as well.  Bishop Joe Vásquez chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration


"The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion… including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity…

We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans

This is what happiness means.  This is what it means to rise above the crowd.  But that’s the U.S. Bishops, they should stay out of politics. Right?


Then there is Pope Francis


“It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help. If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.” -  Oct. 13, 2016


But Pope Frances is too liberal.  Right?


Pope Benedict then


Anyone who can kneel before the Eucharist, who receives the Body of the Lord, cannot but be attentive in the ordinary daily routine to situations unworthy of the human being (the hungry, thirsty, naked sick and imprisoned.) – September 11, 2011


But he was old and out of touch.  Correct?


Then there is Saint John Paul II


Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble. For Christians, the migrant is not merely an individual to be respected in accordance with the norms established by law, but a person whose presence challenges them and whose needs become an obligation for their responsibility. – July 25, 1995


Are we going to argue with a saint?


We come up the mountain, we rise above the crowd because the crowds that tell us our happiness will come from isolation and the establishment of enemies. The crowd on the Washington mall, in the presence of the Vice President of the United States, fervently celebrated a new found administrative support for the Right to Life movement, but we who are disciples must find happiness not in slogans or others joining our crowd but in a single hearted desire to do the will of God who is merciful to the vulnerable.  Our joy is found not simply in assuring a right to be born but a right to live with human dignity.


We celebrate Catholic Schools this week not just for those who attend it.  The presence of a school within the mission of the parish serves as a reminder that we are all students, we are all disciples, seeking happiness.  Our parish finds happiness in knowing that we provide an opportunity for learning in the context of faith.  And our school finds happiness in awakening in each of us the necessity of learning; doing what it takes to rise above the crowd and sit at the feet of the master.  You and I are challenged today to remain with the crowd or to be disciples.  To go up the mountain so we may know that mercy and peacemaking are essential to doing God’s will and that mercy and peacemaking are essential to our own pursuit of true supreme, earthly and eternal happiness. And so share in the building of God’s kingdom.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

CHRISTMAS - We Are Made For the Child

So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.

What is it about babies?  Why are we saw drawn to them?  I suppose not everyone is, but it seems that most people are instinctively moved by babies.  In saying this to you, perhaps you might verify these thoughts from your own experience – you have seen how people react to a baby.  This response is not only an adult response; children respond to babies as well.  I recently observed my 2 young nephews interact with another friend’s baby.  All other play came to a halt as they were transfixed by an infant.  Even babies respond to other babies, they are drawn to the face, the smile and the eyes of one who is so similar to them. 

Not too long ago I read an article that researched this question from a scientific perspective.  The article acknowledged that it was Charles Darwin who originally pointed out that there is something about infants which prompts adults to respond to and care for them which allows our species to survive. A zoologist further proposed that it is the specific structure of the infant face, large head, big eyes and cheeks that elicit a parental response. But a study from 8 years ago took this hypothesis a step further, finding a key difference in the brain activity of normal adults when they viewed infant faces compared to adult faces.  Their study showed that a region of the human brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex (I guarantee you – no other Christmas homily is using the phrase "medial orbitofrontal cortex") becomes highly active within a seventh of a second in response to infant faces but not to adult faces.  The study determined that these responses are too fast to be consciously controlled and are therefore perhaps instinctive.  This study gives us the ability to acknowledge that we are biologically made to respond uniquely and positively to a baby.  -- I guess God knew what he was doing.

Is not our celebration of Christmas a faith expression of what may also be a biological reality?  We are made to respond to the child.

In a few moments we will profess our faith.  Together we will say…
He came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day.



As we gather to celebrate the birth of the Lord, we are professing that what we ultimately see on the cross, we see first in the manger. In the cross, the mystery of God’s plan for salvation is fully revealed; by his act of sacrificial love, granting us hope through the power of the resurrection.  In the manger we see a child who engages the instincts of our biology and our faith and from this very moment the world is transformed

The child is mystery.  No matter how much knowledge we have about biology, genetics and reproduction, a newborn child is a profound mystery.  We stare in amazement, because we can’t quite wrap our minds around the full mystery of the birth of a new life.  We need mystery in our lives, making us aware that there is something beyond what we see through eye and mind.  Mystery impels us to continue to seek, to wonder and to be filled with awe in the presence of God.  The child born in mystery sets us on the path of the mystery of our salvation.

The child is Love.  We love babies. We caress them and hold them, expressing the depth of our affections.  But children evoke in us a deeper love, a sacrificial love.  The baby needs the sacrifice of the sleepless nights of parents, who work two jobs to support him.  The sacrifices of time, energy and finances are just some of the ways in which the parent offers loving sacrifice.  The child in the manger needs the sacrificial love of parents and in so doing prepares the way for the sacrificial love that he offers of himself on the cross.

The child is hope.  We have big dreams for our children.  In them we the solution of world problems, joyfulness in the simplest of things, and a passion for knowledge.  A child gives hope to the generations that precede her, trusting that she will provide the care for them as they provided for her.  The child in the manger is the hope that God has not forgotten his people, that all is not lost and that sin and death ultimately have no power over us.


What begins in the manger, is fulfilled in the cross and his lived here on this altar whenever we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.  Through mystery, love and hope, the one born in a manger, the one who is raised from the dead, is the one whom we encounter today and every day in the Holy Eucharist.  We are made to respond to the child, who comes to us.  Let our innate desire for him, awake in us an awareness of his desire for us.  For he longs for us to embrace the mystery, love and hope of his presence, and so share in the building of His Kingdom.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 09, 2016

HOLINESS AND MISSION


Twenty years ago, on December 9, 1996, I received the Sacrament of Holy Orders for the first time when I was ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop John R. McGann, the second Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.  On the day of my ordination I wrote the following, in a journal I was keeping:
Everything is new.  All of life is different now.  God let me enter into this awe and wonder more and more.  Let me let go and experience the mystery of your presence.Thank you. I love you and love what you have done for me.  Thank you for this sacrament, this grace, this love.  Keep me from being jaded, arrogant.  Let me always be the servant that I am called to today.
It was good to read these words again today as I reflected on these twenty years.  They renew me in the fervor that I had and remind me of the mission I understood myself being called to by God. The sixth months between that day and my ordination to priesthood were an opportunity for me to "fall in love," with my identity as clergy - one who is ordained to serve.

It was with particular joy that on this the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate, Pope Francis announced his appointment of our new diocesan bishop, Bishop Joseph O. Barres. Bishop Barres episcopal motto is "Holiness and Mission," derived from a phrase from the final section of the encyclical Redemptoris Missio written by Pope Saint John Paul II.  In the document, His Holiness identified the Church’s missionary spirituality as "a journey towards holiness.”  In Bishop Barres appointment today I am reminded that my mission of service to the church is intimately tided to my own journey toward holiness.  

May I ask all who read this blog to pray that I may be faithful to his mission and that our new bishop will lead the church on Long Island to holiness through his own personal journey to holiness.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving LAFTR

Thanksgiving Homily 2016

“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”

The Gospel passage just proclaimed tells us that, having been set free from the demons that has possessed him, the man implores he may be allowed to get into the boat and depart with Jesus.  But the Lord tells him to “go home to his family.”  In my mind I imagine him pleading with Jesus again – “Go home to my family?  Where do you think my demons came from?”  I imagine that some gathered here this morning, at Thanksgiving mass may be thinking the same thing as you anticipate the day ahead.

In seriousness though, there are legitimate questions here.  Why was the man’s initial instinct to get in the boat and follow the Lord; rather then return to family and friends?  Earlier in this chapter, St. Mark describes the gravity of this man’s possession:

The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.

Because of his possession, this man’s humanity was no longer recognizable. His shame at what he had become may very well have removed any desire he had to face the family he once knew. In addition, wouldn’t it be hard for his family and friends to accept such a change?  Would he still be seen as the possessed one?  Such is the case in our own family dynamics.  Over the course of our lives, we change, for better and for worse.  We might have shame for past indiscretions and old wounds.  Further, while we may recognize growth and conversion in our lives, others may refuse to do so or be unable to see those changes.  Like the formally possessed man, our anxiety over others disbelief or lack of mercy is real and can keep us from sharing who we have become.

So why then does the Lord not let the man remain with him?  Most assuredly Jesus would have been aware of such fears, but this moment of healing happens for this man “and for many.” Who better to be a witness to the good God has done then one with whom we are familiar?  This man’s family and friends knew the depth of his possession, only they could appreciate the magnitude of the healing.  Jesus heals and sends them man back to his family so that he may be an evangelist; a bearer of good news and a cultivator of faith.  The man does as Jesus tells him and – all were amazed.  Or more literally from the Greek translation - they all marveled and wondered.  In simply telling the story of what happened to him, the man provoked within others a desire to know the work of God.

We give thanks today because as St. Paul says, Jesus Christ strengthens and considers us worthy to be his ministers. [1Timothy 1:12] The word that we give to the blessed sacrament we receive today is “Eucharist;” a Greek word meaning, thanksgiving.  By this Holy Eucharist we are strengthened so we can be bearers of the good the Lord has done for us.  Regrettably our instinct is to keep this thanksgiving private.  We recoil from the notion of evangelization and are particularly averse to considering ourselves one to our friends and family.  But Jesus kicks us out of the comfort of this boat and commands us, if we are truly thankful for what we receive in this Eucharist, to go back to our families and tell them all that the Lord has done for us.

So what am I asking us to consider today?  Am I asking you to approach the Thanksgiving table with a bible in one hand and the catechism in the other?  Probably not a good idea.  Your family might think you are as possessed as the man in the Gospel.  Let me show you a subtler way.  The first pastor I served with as a priest, liked to offer acronyms as a way of remembering his homily.  So let me offer you one to guide you today.  Using the first letter of words taken from this morning’s scriptures I offer you the acronym LAFTR, L-A-F-T-R, LAFTR

Love – In first reading the prophet Isaiah tells us, because of love, the Lord redeems.  We are called to tell love stories.  Not just tales of romance, but the ways in which love, or our passion for someone, or something, brought about change in our life.

Amazed – The people were amazed at the man’s story in the Gospel and therefore pondered this divine intervention.  What ability, talent, skill or act of kindness have you observed in someone or even yourself?  Find an opportunity to share your wonder and awe, allowing another to be aware of mystery that comes from the divine presence.

Faithful – In the second reading St. Paul tells us that God is faithful to us.  So often we tell the tales of infidelity.  We repeat gossip or relate how we’ve been wronged. A story of another’s faithfulness can counter that negative inclination and restore hope in the fidelity of God and those he sends into our lives.

Thanks While this one might seem obvious, remember how St. Paul begins that second reading, “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus.”  We can so quickly point out flaws in the other.  St. Paul give thanks for the gifts of God that he observes in the people.  In so doing he shows us how necessary it is to acknowledge the good we see in the other.  This is particularly important to offer to those who lack esteem and self-worth.

Recall – The passage from Isaiah begins with his commitment to recall the loving deeds and acts of God.  How many of our gatherings of family and friends devolve into the rehashing of old arguments or past mistakes?  Instead recall a shared memory of the good of your lives, the blessings you have encountered and the joy you have shared. Positive recollection transforms that inclination to dwell on the negatives of the past and instead establishes hope in remembering the good the Lord has done for us.

As you go back to your families today, in a moment when the attention turns to you or better yet, if you have the courage to initiate a conversation, interject some LAFTR - love, amazement, faith, thanks, recall - and be the thankful evangelist the Lord has called you to be.

In his proclamation that created the national Thanksgiving holiday in 1863, amidst the Civil War, President Lincoln, asked the Almighty to heal the wounds of the nation & restore peace, harmony, tranquility & union.  It is with the very same desire that we go forth from the Lord’s Table today.  We need to be bearers of Good News at our Thanksgiving tables today.

A CNN poll has found that 53% of Americans dread the idea of talking about the Presidential election over dinner today.  There are also found numerous articles online suggesting topics other than the election to be discussed at family gatherings, so as to avoid strife.  There is a need for healing and not more animosity in our world.  So I pray that as a result of the strength we receive in this Holy Eucharist, this sacred thanksgiving; we may be grateful for the opportunity to go home to our families, enjoy the blessing of a meal shared and through LAFTR announce to all, the good the Lord has done in us.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Holy Land Pilgrimage Day 9 & 10


Our final day of touring on our Holy Land pilgrimage began at the Cenacle, also known as the Upper Room.  It honors the place of the Last Supper.  The building itself was also the location of a mosque and is all the place reverenced as the Tomb of David.  Today the place is a symbol of religious tolerencance and mutual respect.  How appropriate the at the place honoring the location of the institution of the Eucharist, there is a desire for oneness among the peoples who revere the place as holy.  I was honored to receive a beautiful chalice and patten from two of our pilgrims.  They presented it to me here at the first Eucharist.  Before departing we visited the place honored as the Tomb of the great king David.

From the Cenacle we took a few steps before entering the Monestary of the Dormition of Mary.  The upper church was cast with beautiful streaks of sunlight coming through the window.  It was in the lower church, however, that we felt closest to Our Blessed Mother.  The church represents the site of the home where Mary lived after the Resurrection of the Lord.  The depiction of her falling asleep at the time of her Assumption is quite peaceful.  There was also a beautiful mosaic depicting the Blessed Mother with the disciples at the Pentecost.  Before departing the chapel we honored our lady by singing the Hail Mary together.

We then walked a little further to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu.  The church takes its name from the Latin word "Gallicantu", meaning cock's-crow. This is in commemoration of Peter's triple rejection of Jesus "... before the cock crows twice."  Located on the spot believed to have been the home of Caiphas the High priest, we were able to go down into the cistern where Jesus was likely held prisoner on the night before his trial before Pilate.

Our next stop of the day was the Jewish museum, where we not only were able to see portions of the dead sea scrolls, we had the opportunity to spend time at the massive outdoor model of Jerusalem and the Temple at the time of Herod the Great and Jesus.  The model really helped us to comprehend all that we had seen and all the places we had walked over the last few days.  It also gave us a deep appreciation for the remarkable abilty of the people of 2,000 years who built this marvelous city.

We then headed to the location of our final mass of the pilgrimage, the Church of the Visitation.  The climb up the hill was quite arduous, but well worth it.  It was truly a beautiful church and a fitting location for us to celebrate our final mass, marking this special week of "Visitation," which we shared together.  


Before boarding the bus for our final pilgrimage destination we visited the church marking the place of the birth of John the Baptist
Despite some heavy traffic we were able to visit our final pilgrimage destination.  Located on the ruins of a Byzintine era church, we concluded our pilgrimage at the spot venerated as place where the two disciples encountered the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus.  I felt this to be a fitting location for us to conclude the pilgrimage as it is my favorite resurrection appearence.  The structure of our celebration of mass is easily recognizable in the story as it is told.  And lastly I think it is an beautiful example of companionship on the journey. This companionship is what we experienced on our road of pilgrimage.

Our severly delayed flight home gave us a chance to visit the old city once more.  And so we said good night and farewell to Jerusalem, the Galilee region, the nation of Israel and the Holy Land.  We are so grateful for this grace filled journey and long for its seeds to bare fruit in our lives.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Holy Land Pilgrimage Day 8

We did not have any itinerary scheduled today and were free to make our own plans. Although we all made our way back to the Old City for a portion of the day, a few when off in different directions to explore other parts of Jerusalem.


The group I was with elected to walk the rampart of the North Wall of the Old City, with the Western Wall as our destination.  I imagined there would be a reasonable staircase for us to negotiate, followed by a nice easy stroll on the wall overlooking the city.  I was wrong, a winding circular stair case followed by a walk along the wall the mostly involved climbing and descending steep stairs.  Setting those challenges aside, it was quite amazing to walk upon the 1500 year old wall which did offer brilliant views and a different perspective on the Old City. 



Our rampart walk brought us to the Jewish Quarter near the entrance to the Western Wall, the last remnant of the 2nd century temple.  It was a perfect day to visit, as many young men were celebrating their Bar Mitzvah.  They were accompanied by family and friends, who sang, danced and played music along the way.  At the wall the young men carried the Torah Scroll for the first time. We met up with some of our other pilgrim friends who came as we did to witness the joyful celebrations and to offer our own prayers at the Western Wall







After some lunch, a little shopping and some strolling through the Old City at our own pace.  A few of us decided to return to the Church of Holy Sepulchre with the hope of getting closer to the chapels of Calvary and the Tomb of Jesus.  No such luck the crowds were still quite large.  


Unfortunately we also experienced some of the scandal of a Holy Land pilgrimage.  While waiting on the line to the Tomb of the Lord, our group of 5 attempted to pass what we thought was simply a large group stopped to listen to their guide. No sooner did we get past the group, did their guide make his way over to us and began to yell at us, despite our efforts to explain our mistake, he continued to yell at us - in the holiest of Christian places.  One of our group attempted to speak to the man in Arabic, hoping to calm the situation with some familiarity. Unfortunately it did not calm him but only caused him to insult the man's Arabic heritage.  






This is an unfortunate part of pilgrimage.  Some are simply tourists with no appreciation for the sacred. I also want to share what followed.  As we made our way away from the guide and his group, I took our small cohort into an empty chapel, to pray and diffuse our emotions.  It was only after visiting the chapel that I researched where we were.  The chapel was called the Chapel of the Apparition of the Risen Jesus to his Mother. The chapel honors a well-established tradition that does not appear anywhere in the New Testament descriptions of the appearances of the risen Jesus but is an encounter that has been imagined and meditated upon for centuries.  I first experienced the notion of this apparition when I participated in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  I always found it to be a beautiful and intimate reflection, that the Lord and his mother would have this private encounter, following the resurrection.  Amidst the hurtful moment we experienced just feet from the Lord's tomb, I was so grateful that our Lady called us into this chapel to have this private encounter with her son.

Our final day of touring is tomorrow.  It is a full day that will conclude with us boarding our overnight flight for home.