Thursday, January 13, 2011

Holy Land Pilgrimage 2010: Day #13 Church of the Holy Sepulcher Part II

December 31, 2010 1:15 AM
Day #13 (strictly speaking)

We're nearly in the home stretch now. These people never sleep- the Greek nuns have literally taken all night to just mop a small ring-shaped corridor around this place. It's incredible. Everyone rang their bells at around 11:30 PM, the Greeks have incensed everything in this place twice since then. So have the Coptics and the Armenians, actually. They've been singing their Mass the last thirty minutes, I think. Even the Latin priests all got up and prayed Matins and Lauds this evening around midnight-ish for thirty or forty minutes. They chanted the whole thing in Latin.

I read and meditated upon the Easter Vigil readings for a while and prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries on Calvary. I think I'm going to wander around for a little while then try to almost finish out the night by reading the Gospel of Luke. We'll see what happens.

I've been doing fine thus far, but I'm fading. My mood is good, but the singing and the bright artificial lights are starting to get to me...

(Note: I did not have another journal entry until after I was back in Rome. The evening finished at 4:00 AM and they opened the doors to let us out and let the pilgrims waiting for entry into the church. There were several guys from our pilgrimage group, looking to get a little last minute prayer in there, so it was like the NAC changing of the guard. We went back, I showered, then we got a few hours of sleep, packed, went to Mass, and headed back to Rome. All went well enough- I was feeling a little sick and was totally sapped after the previous evening, but it was all 1000% worth it. Praise God!)

Holy Land Pilgrimage 2010: Day #12b Church of the Holy Sepulcher Part I

December 30, 2010 10:45 PM
Day #12

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

Holy Land Pilgrimage 2010: Day #12a Bethlehem

December 30, 2010 11:00 AM
Day #12

Well, we should be having Mass right now, but another group is taking waaaay too long. We're here in Bethlehem, a hilly, dirty, overdeveloped little hovel of a town. The Church is surrounded by riot police right now because they chose this blessed day to clean the grotto of the Nativity, which of course has caused all the Christians to come to blows over who has the right to do the cleaning. AND since they are cleaning right now we are not permitted in to see the place of Jesus' birth. If you can't tell, this isn't the quiet, peaceful, prayerful place I expected. Well, whatever, such is life. I just hope we make it back to Jerusalem in time to get everything done before spending the night in the Holy Sepulcher. "Let us too go to die with Him." +AMDG

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Holy Land Pilgrimage 2010: Day #11b The Franciscans and the Praetorium

December 29, 2010 6:15 PM
Day #11

So I wound up going to Pilate's place, St. Anne's Church where Mary was born, and the Pool of Bethesda. I also went to a procession in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the Franciscans this evening. It was very beautiful- a ton of ancient hymns and chants. It also never made you so proud to pray in Latin, in the midst of all of the other rites and eastern orthodox in that Church. You quickly realize here in the Holy Land how necessary a strong ritual identity is. It makes you proud to be a Latin-rite Catholic. These Franciscans aren't your run-of-the-mill Franciscans, either. These are pretty hardcore by all appearances, the defenders of the Catholic tradition in the Holy Land.

Tomorrow we go to Bethlehem and to the site of the Visitation, then I need to quickly finish my shopping and get ready for a night in the Holy Sepulcher. +AMDG

Holy Land Pilgrimage 2010: Day #11a Mass at the Sepulcher

December 29, 2010 7:30 AM
Day #11

What an incredible morning- I would say these have quite possibly been a few of the best hours of my life. I was hit by grace like a bombshell this morning. We left the pilgrim house at 4:30 AM to celebrate Mass in Jesus' empty tomb. That was so humbling, to receive the sacramental Risen Lord from an altar maybe two feet above the slab from which He rose. I got to touch the original tomb rocks, which are hidden under an icon of our Lady.

After Mass I prayed a holy hour back up on Calvary. How much Jesus loved us! I was thinking of the love I sometimes feel for my family and closest friends and how much infinitely more Jesus loves each and every one of us, yet I thought that so strong a love would surely kill a man! But is that not exactly what happened? Is that not exactly what our Lord did? Did He not love us to the end? He did not need to die to redeem us, but He so desired out of love- He loved us so much that He died to show it, that, with His consent, it killed Him. Who are we to merit such a Redeemer, such a Lord, God, and friend?

That homily one of our priests gave discussed how we see so many instances in the Gospels of people just longing to be with Jesus, and how we, too, long to be with Him, yet how very much He longs to be with us, so much so that He gave us Himself in the Eucharist! Last night we had our holy hour at Gethsemane and a friend of mine who's pretty good with his Greek noted that the word used for 'stay with me' by Jesus in addressing the disciples in the Garden is almost always used by the disciples addressing Jesus, but here He is asking them to do the same. God longs for us to stay with Him- as He told us from the cross, 'I thirst.'

That time praying before our Lord in the Garden was very good. I realized just how beautiful that Church really is. I spent my time praying with Isaiah 40-42 and the Suffering Servant stuff from Isaiah 50-55ish. How beautiful and how obviously Christological it all was. It is easy for us to ask it in hindsight, but how could they not have seen this in Christ?! How could they not have understood the prophecy? How good our Lord is to us poor followers of little faith.

Later today we go to the Wailing Wall and St. Anne's Church. I also want to go to Pilate's place, the praetorium, and the 'Ecce Homo' Arch, and try to get back to the Dormition Abbey and St. Peter in Gallicantu.

Holy Land Pilgrimage 2010: Day #10 The Room and the Rock

December 28, 2010 3:00 PM
Day #10

This morning we had Mass at the Franciscan chapel abutting the Cenacle (which is now a mosque, remember). One of our priests gave an excellent homily about the Eucharist and God's desire to be with us. I broke away rather quickly from the group after Mass and went to visit the Dome of the Rock/ the Temple Mount/ Mount Moriah. It was nearly closed when we got there, so we didn't have long, but we got to look around and spend some time up there. They informed us that we would never be able to go inside and see the rock, but we got to see the rest of the place. It was more edifying than I thought it would be, especially after a talk given to us by a Legionary the night before which helped to pull all the places of salvation history together for us. I was walking in the place where Abraham was ready to offer up Isaac, his 'only begotten son.' Jesus probably would have been able to see that spot from Calvary, the Only-Begotten, the Lamb of Sacrifice offered up just as the Father had promised to Abraham that short distance away so many years prior.

I tried to go to the Dormition Abbey again to pray, but it was closing just as I arrived, so I ate lunch with some of the guys. I really enjoyed myself with them. They're a good group of God-fearing men. Afterward, two of us decided to try to make it over to Gethsemane, but it was closed, so we tried farther up the mount at Dominus Flevit, which was also closed. I didn't want to go all the way back when it was going to open in an hour, so I decided to pray a Holy Hour in the Jewish graveyard just across the way on the Mount of Olives. It was a huge sea of white tombstones, all marking people resting in the hope of the resurrection of the dead, yet without the full understanding of the hope which Christ brings. I prayed for all of them and I offered a Divine Mercy chaplet for all of us. Then I went back and am now here in Dominus Flevit (well, I was there at the time I wrote this...), overlooking the city of Jerusalem.

I ended up (rewriting tenses to prevent awkwardness) spending another hour there and at the Garden, went back and rehydrated and took a nap, then went back to the Garden of Gethsemane for a Holy Hour that night, which I discussed more in my next journal entry.

Holy Land Pilgrimage 2010: Day #9 Calvary, Peter in Gallicantu, Dormition Abbey, and the Cenacle

December 27, 2010 6:00 PM
Day #9

Today we rose early and had Mass at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After that we walked the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus supposedly took carrying the cross from the place of Pilate's judgment to the final stop on Calvary. I got to carry our cross briefly on the Way of the Cross, which was powerful. Then a little later we went to Peter in Gallicantu, where Peter betrayed Jesus and Jesus was held in a cistern awaiting trial in the grounds of what once was Caiaphas' House. We also visited the Church of the Dormition of Mary and the place of the Cenacle, supposedly. Those are the place where Mary is supposed to have been assumed and the upper room of the Last Supper, respectively. I think we can safely say that the Upper Room is no longer the same upper room that it was before, but it seems fairly undisputed that the current place was at least the same site of the original, from everything I can tell. The current Cenacle seemed sketchy to me because it is currently a small mosque, but I guess there is a long tradition on that spot, at least.

The place of the Dormition was beautiful. It managed to be more modern looking while still maintaining a relatively high level of beauty. I prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary there with Our Lady and lit a candle or four for my mother. The place of Peter's Betrayal was very powerful. I spent some time praying in the dark cistern where Jesus probably would have been kept awaiting His trial- it was very busy down there but I hid under the set of stairs and so found some quiet time by myself with our Lord. I got trapped for a while by some charismatic Nigerians who were all speaking in tongues, but it just gave me some extra time to pray, as well. I had a very good day in prayer, so praise God. I guess I had enough material for a little meditation!

It was funny, though- a lot of guys really had dry pilgrimages, which is a good reminder of the fact that prayer isn't about feeling, it's about faith, love, and trust. The priest leading our pilgrimage even said at one point that if we weren't feeling what we wanted to be feeling at these places, that we ought to remember that Jesus' disciples probably weren't, either, and that we should take that with us to prayer. What a chaotic and disorienting week Holy Week was for them, moving from joy and expectation to total desolation and abandonment and betrayal. We shouldn't expect our prayer to feel moving all the time; we should stay with it whether it is or not, though. Prayer is a relationship, and it has its ups and downs like any, which help to purify the relationship and provide us with an opportunity to prove our dedication to one another. God's dedication is proven, but He desires opportunities to show it to us, anyway, and what a beautiful thought that is! It should move us to a greater desire in prayer. What a perfect school in God's gratuitous love Jerusalem is, where He came to die for us, proving His desire for each and every one of us!

P.S. Upon further reflection, I could write a great deal about each of these places, but I simply don't have the time now (nor did I do so in my original journal). If you want me to explain a place a little more in this post or others, please just feel free to ask!