Thursday, January 31, 2013

In the Presence of the Lord

Church of Lazarus

Today was another truly blessed day.  We had the opportunity to visit the Church of Lazarus, which sits above the tomb of its namesake.  This holy church is both meaningful and impactful for our future priestly ministry. 

We were able to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in this Church, which in beautiful mosaic form depicts the Gospel story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42).  This story holds a special place for me and my brothers as it offers us three things for meditation: our Lord teaching and preaching in the home of His close friends, Mary sitting at His feet and contemplating His message, and finally Christ showing compassion to Martha in her time of struggle. 

As I sat in this magnificent church, I meditated on these three elements of the story, aided by beautiful  artwork that surrounded me.  My thoughts drifted toward my future ministry, following in the footsteps of Jesus through preaching the Gospel and comforting the sorrowful.  And as my gaze shifted back to the altar, I could not help but feel the blessing God had bestowed on us in the Mass we had just celebrated.  Did we not, like Mary have the blessing of sitting in our Lord’s presence to ponder His very words and teaching?

Our homilist also reminded us that Martha, Mary and Lazarus, would have been intimate friends of Christ.  He probably visited their home whenever He travelled to and from Jerusalem, for their home was situated just outside the city in the town of Bethany.  We can infer from the Gospels, that these were people whom Jesus loved dearly and cherished as friends. 

In the evening, we too celebrated the gift of friendship by gathering as a class for a social/game night.  I think it would be fair to say everybody had a great time watching our brothers try to act out some pretty challenging words and phrases as we played a round of charades.  All in all, today was truly blessed and fun - Praise God for His marvelous deeds!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Unless the Lord Build the House


Today the journey took us down toward the Dead Sea, down the western slopes of the Jordan Rift valley, to two very unique locations:  the historical sites of Masada and Ein Gedi.  The first location testifies to King Herod’s struggle for power, his accomplishment of a marvelous engineering task, and finally a story of tragedy and death.  The other site, an oasis of plant and animal life in the midst of a desert, is associated with the Biblical events of king David’s life.
Our cable car ride to the top of the mountain of Masada took us about 900 feet up in elevation.  After making our short way from the cable car station we came upon a vast, flat area which contained the remains of fortress.  King Herod the Great throughout his reign (37 B.C. – 4 B.C) engaged in numerous building projects including this one, which was meant to be a military outpost and one of his hideaways.  As we made our way through desolate area, we were overwhelmed by its engineering complexity, a vast system of aqueducts with water collecting cisterns, different bathhouses and pools, even a palace on the northern cliff of the mountain.  This enormous construction must have taken much “sweat” towards its completion, 1,000’s of laborers and slaves!
Our next stop was Ein Gedi. In the First Book of Samuel chapter 24 we read a story of how David fled to the regions of Ein Gedi because Saul was after his life.  On one occasion, after the pursuit of the Philistines, Saul came into the cave in En Gedi where David and his men were hiding.  This gave David an opportune moment to kill Saul, yet being a man of humility and trusting in God, he restrained himself from this act saying:  “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, as to lay a hand on him, for his the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam 24, 7).
The story of the two kings associated with Masada and Ein Gedi can draw for us an interesting contrast, as one of our classmates commented.  David proved himself to be a God fearing man, humbly respectful of God’s “logic” and appointments, a person who trusts in God’s providence.  King Herod on the other hand was a man full of fear and insecurity, constantly in search of stability through worldly means.  Seeing possible enemies everywhere, he destroyed many of those around him.  Despite all of his efforts he ultimately was overtaken by severe sickness and died.
As David made his way to the hills of Ein Gedi he remained near the “living waters,” a life giving spring, trusting in God’s goodness and providence over all his needs, including triumph over his enemies.  As we continue to make our ministry in the kingdom of God, we too must remain near the “living waters” of Christ, the One who ensures His goodness and providence over our daily lives.  We must resist the tendency of constructing structures and fortresses that are meant to secure our future and our place in the world solely by our own efforts and labors.  We must be always able to cooperate with God who is the one who builds and further expands His kingdom.

Ein Gedi

Unless the LORD build the house,
 they labor in vain who build.
 Unless the LORD guard the city,
 in vain does the guard keep watch.
 It is vain for you to rise early
and put off your rest at night,
To eat bread earned by hard toil—
all this God gives to his beloved in sleep. (Ps 127, 1-2)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Stuff of Fairy Tales

When we reached the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, someone asked, "how far did we travel today?" Father Vincent's answer: "As far west as we can without getting wet." 
It'll do. 

Madonna and Child, Trappist Monastery at Latroun
Our initial stop was at the Trappist Monastery at Latroun near Jerusalem. As the entrance doors into the main chapel opened, the morning light illuminated the statue in the main sanctuary - an image of the Madonna holding the Christ child in her arms as He in turn embraced His future cross. After Lauds, we toured through the monastery winery, paused at a memorial site for the seven Trappist monks who were martyred in Algeria (as seen from the movie "Of Gods and Men") and then we travelled to the crypt containing the tomb of St. George inside the Greek Orthodox Church near Tel Aviv.

The real story of St. George is probably even more derring-do than the fantastic and pseudo-romantic legend that followed him. Yet the damsel and the dragon slayer depicted in the icons we see today still have their stories to tell. After all, can't God inspire fiction, too? St. George, the patron defender of our very seminary, may or may not have been a knight in shining armor, but his martyrdom is the story of a true knight of Christ during the years of the emperor Diocletian. Like the Trappists who were martyred almost two decades ago, St. George was also known to have been tortured and finally beheaded. These martyrs wore the breastplate of faith, and their fair maiden was the bride of Christ. 

How far did these men go to remain loyal to God? I suppose as far out into the shores of eternity as they could in this life without getting wet. 

As we stepped down toward the crypt, said a prayer for Cardinal George, stepped back out toward the other end and back to the sanctuary, many stopped on the way up and looked at the ornamented tomb of the saint one last time.
St. George's Tomb

It can hit you like a ton of bricks, when from a final glance, you come to appreciate the ones who went before you. An almost nostalgic sigh escaped some of our lips. This was the burial sight of a brother in Christ.  We can look upon one another, too, and realize that it is neither marble nor stone that is the most important element to encounter, but the human person, our brothers and sisters - those are the holiest sites to see. To peak into each other's lives is a pilgrimage all on its own. But sometimes the world of Christianity is so fantastic, and the mind of God so imaginative, that our account of one another can actually become the stuff of fairy tales. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Just outside of Jericho once stood the great palace of King Herod.  What a sight it must have been in its day! Luxurious Roman baths, a well-appointed dining room, great towers constructed of massive stones.  A river ran through its heart, providing the city with fresh, clean water.  Great bridges were built over it, uniting the two banks into one thriving city.  Imagine this place, teeming with life and the wealth that royalty brings.  Picture its markets packed with goods for trade. Listen for the sounds of halls filled with feasting guests, talking and laughing into the night.

We can only imagine. King Herod's once great palace now lies in ruins.  A few outlines of walls and a bit of mosaic are all that are left. Desolate and abandoned, the site sees few tourists. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Nearby is Mount of Temptation, the site where Jesus is believed to have fasted forty days and nights.  At the end of this time, when he was weakened by hunger, he faced temptations from the devil.  We know that because He became a human being these temptations were real.  It wasn't some charade, a chance for the Gospel writers to show off how well Jesus knew the Scriptures.  In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin." Christ knows our weaknesses, intimately, because he lived, suffered, and died like one of us.

Why was Jesus up on this mountain? The Gospels tell us that after his baptism, he was led (or driven, in some versions) to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.  John was baptizing in the Jordan River, not far from Jericho.  The site we visited was a very quiet, peaceful place. It was easy to imagine that day, when the heavens opened and the Father's voice was heard: "This is my beloved Son."

Through our own baptisms, God has spoken these same words to each of us. We have truly become adopted children of the Father. And what more could we really ask for? The temptations that we face in the world are real, and they can be hard to resist. But we have such a great example in Christ, and such a great gift through baptism and the sacraments that help give us strength and courage. And if we feel ourselves starting to flag or tire, we can keep in front of us the image of Herod's ruined palace. The things that this world promises us are fleeting. They do not last forever. But the love of God never ends.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Day of Rest…

Today we were given a free day, in which we could venture off to explore, or visit some of our favorite sites which we’ve already discovered. For some, this day brought them back to the Holy Sepulcher for an early morning Mass at the place where Jesus was buried. A group of seminarians also made a short journey on foot to the Mount of Olives, St. Peter in Gallicantu, and other holy sites in the vicinity of the city of Jerusalem. Others ventured back to Ein Karem, to hike the hill country of Judea where Mary would have walked as she approached her cousin Elizabeth. A few from our group even went to the local Benedictine Monastery where they attended a priesthood ordination!

The gift of leisure is a beautiful thing. It allows the soul to escape the daily grind, and for once to be spontaneous, creative, and recreational. For each of us, we were able to respond to the particular places we felt the Lord calling us back to.

This evening many of us went to view the Western Wall, where Jews from near and far gather by the hundreds, and even thousands, to welcome in the Sabbath day. Beginning on Friday at 2pm, all public transportation in the city of Jerusalem closes down, and shortly after, all the shops do as well, in order to prepare for the welcoming in of Shabbat, the Sabbath. Then, from sunset on Friday evening until sunset on Saturday evening, they stop from work, they gather for prayer and even song, eat an extra special meal, and spend time together with family and friends. As we reside in Jerusalem for these weeks, we realize how this day of rest is so deeply ingrained into their Jewish faith and culture.

It reminded some of us of distant memories we’ve heard from grandparents, regarding shops in the United States being closed on Sunday for the Christian day of rest, the Lord’s Day. What we’ve known growing up has often fallen quite short of this reality, which is better known as the Third Commandment. Extra work, shopping, and the television seem to have taken the podium.

Then we began wondering, what if we as Catholics began to reclaim the Lord’s Day, just as the Jews have maintained in their respected faith. Why can’t we too use Saturday as a day of preparation, for doing chores, grocery shopping, and yard work? Then at sunset on Saturday evening, usher in the Day of Rest by actually resting! Perhaps prayers and a nice meal and fellowship with family and friends, prepared and eaten together - perhaps even candles, sacred scripture, and songs at the close of the day. And why not center Sunday around our source of life, the Eucharist, and our afternoons spent in leisure reading a book, or taking a nap, or going to a park, or spending time with loved ones, playing games, or [insert your litany of possible good deeds here]. 

The list could go on, but the bottom line is, this day is a gift from God, we are meant to enjoy it, unburdened by the strenuous labors, which occupy our weeks. When the sun sets on Sunday, let us feel refreshed, thanking God for the many gifts he has bestowed on us, and above all for the gift of life. Let us praise the Lord!

A Jerusalem Sunset

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Father Who Keeps His Promises

Olive trees at Noet Kedumim

Whether for early Christians or contemporary ones, a constant question plagues the heart and mind of the disciple: ‘Will God provide for me when I need Him the most?’ ‘When I have emptied myself of my dreams and desires in favor of following Jesus, will God fill the void?’ ‘Will He take over when I promise others that He is trustworthy enough to surrender their lives completely to Him?’

Today we visited a place which strengthened our faith that God, indeed, remains faithful and will always continue to keep His promises.

It is called Neot Kedumim. Haven’t heard of it? That’s because it isn’t recorded in the Bible nor is it a holy site regarded by the Church (or any religion for that matter). Neot Kedumim isn’t like the other holy sites we’ve visited over the past few weeks because it is a Biblical landscape preserve. Built on 620 acres, it is a reconstruction of the plants, trees, animals, and ancient tools at the time of Jesus. Though we learned a lot this day, water and grain harvests were the two major concerns which seemed to call God’s providential care in question the most.

The replica of an ancient cistern (a water storage pit dug into the ground up to 30 feet deep) highlighted the constant worry of the Israelites. In fact, they would pray for rain three times per day. As our guide said, for the Israelite “the sound of water was the sound of life.” Even the Hebrew word for Heaven is translated as “there are the waters.” When God freed the Israelites from slavery under the Egyptians, they complained because they were promised a fruitful land but were roaming in the desert instead. “Were there no burial places in Egypt? Far better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11).

Does the lamenting of the Israelites echo in our voices today? Do we forget how much God actually cares and provides for us at every moment of everyday?

God not only provided water for His people but cisterns and wells became places where a love relationship was established. Some examples include the meetings of Isaac and Rebeccah (Gen 24), Jacob and Rachel (Gen 29), and Moses and Zipporah (Ex 2). Likewise, it was no accident that Jesus met the Samaritan woman by a well and presented her with “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

In addition to the cistern, we visited a threshing floor where we learned the process of harvesting grain. Like the Eskimos who have 15 different words for snow, the Israelites had 7 words for harvest because it was so integral to their daily life. The challenge to farmers was their lack of seed. The sowing of seed was far from an exact science. Much seed was thrown on rocky soil or among thorns and totally wasted. Only some seed would actually fall on the rich soil but good weather and sufficient water were no guarantees. Sowers had to decide whether to use the seed in the making of bread to feed their families immediately or to re-plant the seed for the next harvest. Their plea is gut-wrenching: ‘Lord, what should I do?’ ‘Will You provide for us?’

Trusting God in moments of trial is an integral part of discipleship. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths” (Prov 3:5-6). However, the psalmist reassures us that our trust in Him will always be fruitful: “those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy” (Ps 126:5).

Neot Kedumim combines Biblical scholarship with botany and zoology to bring the Bible to life. More importantly, it helps us to recognize how God used Biblical artifacts to speak to the ancient Israelite culture and encourage them to faithfully respond to His invitation of discipleship.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Graced Day

A professor of ours at Mundelein often says that “grace is something we don’t deserve, but receive anyway…”; his point is God’s extravagant generosity. Our days are full of His blessings and, though we don’t have a right to any of it, God continues to give. Today was such a day, a day of grace, of “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over…poured into[our] laps” (Lk 6:38).

At least twice a week we are given a substantial portion of the day free—free from classes, trips, or pilgrim obligations. Today was such a day, with a whole afternoon to spend as we chose. What does a pilgrim do in Jerusalem with an entire afternoon to himself? Some took care of necessities like laundry, changing money, or finding a quiet place for prayer and journaling. Several of us decided to visit sites we had not yet seen, and for us that meant the sites on and around the Mount of Olives.

Located just across the Kidron Valley east of the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge important for both Jews and Christians. It has been a prominent burial place for Jews since biblical times, with more than 100,000 graves dotting its slopes. The New Testament, as you already know, places Jesus here several times during his ministry. Its pinnacle, we discovered, provides the best panorama of the Old City of Jerusalem.

After a long gaze at the Old City and a few readings from Scripture, it was time for us to descend back down the side of the slope and enter the church Dominus Flevit (or “the Lord wept”). It is so named because it stands on the place traditionally understood to be where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Lk. 13:34). With this passage in mind, Architect Antonio Barluzzi designed this church in the shape of a tear, symbolizing the tears Jesus shed over the city.

After visiting Dominus Flevit and reading the passage from the Gospel of Luke, we trekked down to the foot of the Mount to enter the Garden of Gethsemane. After entering, we noticed that the Garden was surrounded by a waist-high gate to keep pilgrims and sight-seers from touching the olive trees. These trees, we were told, have roots dating back to the time of Jesus. It is no wonder, then, why they are protected!

But as I said, today was a graced day. As we walked around the Garden to enter the church proper, an old Franciscan friar was standing at the gate to the Garden, looking out onto the trees. Being seminarians and having visited several sites in the Holy Land under the Franciscan’s protection, we felt comfortable approaching him to chat. He didn’t speak much English, but when we discovered he was from Spain, one of the seminarians started conversing with him in fluent Spanish.

After a few minutes of conversation, the friar smiled, unlocked the gate, and waved us into the Garden. “Take your time…” he said. And there, as other groups looked on, we were free to walk among the trees in the place where Christ took his disciples after the Last Supper (Mt. 26:30), where He was betrayed (Mt. 26:36-50), and where he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-12). Overwhelmed by the place, we prayed a passage from John 17: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent…” (17:3). After touching our rosaries to the roots of the trees, we exited through the same gate by which we had entered. We thanked the friar again for such a privilege, and told him that we were seminarians studying to become priests. “Yes.” he said. “I could tell.” Overwhelmed by such an experience, we headed back home, thanking God for all we had experienced that day. We certainly didn’t deserve it, but we received it as a gift from the God who loves us.

Today was a graced day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Today we were taken back to the era of the Prophets and Kings of Israel; we found ourselves in the early morning at the present city of Abu-Ghosh.  Standing upon a mount, looking over hills and valleys, a brisk and clear day, we were told that this is where the Ark of the Covenant was held for a time before King David brought it back to Jerusalem.  We stand in a church that still preserves fragments of early Christian mosaics commemorating this place, proclaiming the faith of centuries past; a faith that echoes down through the ages and speaks to us even now.  There is an echo of that ancient Ark, which stood upon this ground 3,000 years ago, and a faint echo of King David and ancient Israel. Enjoying some time outside in the surrounding garden, the echo still lingers on this beautifully normal day.

Garden at Abu-Ghosh

--> Next we came upon the tomb which, according to local custom, is none other than the tomb of Samuel the prophet.  This is the Samuel who anointed Israel’s first kings, who uttered those often recited words—words which we as seminarians seek to emulate every day in hearing and responding to our own call from God—“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” (1 Samuel 3:10).  Somewhat surprised to find out that it is not a Church (which I guess should not surprise us since it is 1000 BC), we cover our heads as we enter the holy place, walking amongst our elder brothers and sisters in faith, the Jewish faithful, in order to venerate the tomb.

Our last stop found us transported 2,000 years into the future, from the times of the prophets and kings all the way into the Middle Ages.  As we looked upon the gray, hewn stones of this ancient Church and cricked our necks looking up into the heights, some noticed that the sound of our feet seemed to traverse all around, glancing from wall to wall.  Then out walked Benedictine monks and nuns in procession—Mass was about to begin!  The only word to describe what happened next is ‘heavenly’.  Singing in harmony, now together, now separate, now one, now all, the intricate music danced across that church, from wall to wall and back again.  It may have even seemed to some of us that the music was in fact echoing down from heaven...  It was the sound of peace; it was the sound of joy; it was the sound of men and women who have fallen in love, with God. 

Benedictine Monastery

Back to the present, walking into our rooms, lying on our beds, staring at the ceiling, there is a reality becoming more and more apparent to us.  As we visit the places of the prophets and kings, the place where Mary conceived Jesus, the places where Jesus preached, taught and healed, the place where He was crucified and died, the place where He rose from the dead—these places echo God’s commitment and fidelity.  This assurance echoes within our hearts and minds, sometimes louder, sometimes softer, as we walk through the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Jerusalem.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Light Up The Darkness

“Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured…he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins; it is his suffering which brings us peace, and by his wounds we have been healed.  For we had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.”  ~Isaiah 53:4-6

Psalm 127 reads:
“If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor.
If the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. In vain is your earlier rising, in vain is your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat: while God pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.”

In this, the Psalmist tells us that in all we do, unless we are doing what God has asked or prompted us to do in the Holy Spirit (i.e. God’s will), it is for naught.  In other words, everything we have in life, even and especially the inspiration and strength for our actions, is a gift that must be received from God.  We pilgrims can relate very well with this psalm, since we rose early (very early—at 4 AM!) the last two mornings to celebrate Mass at the Holy Sepulcher.  It was truly awe-some and surreal; a true gift.  And yet, since the site of Christ’s burial and resurrection and his crucifixion were so close (housed now in the same church, in fact), you cannot arrive at the Sepulcher without at least passing Calvary.  As in Our Lord’s own life, the experience of the cross comes before that of the resurrection.  “Darkness covered the whole land” (Mk 15:33) before the glory of the resurrection shone; death came before new life. 

This reality was no more clear on this pilgrimage than today.  We visited a hauntingly powerful church called St. Peter in Gallicanto, the traditional site where Jesus was beaten and jailed the night before his trial, sentencing, passion, and death.  As can perhaps be parsed from the name, it is also the traditional site where St. Peter denied Christ three times before the cock crowed. 

We approached the church on a downhill slope, overlooking a gorgeous view of south Jerusalem on a sunny day with perfectly blue skies.  As we entered the crypt of the church, the sun vanished and we were led into an increasingly dark place (both literally and spiritually).

As we descended further, our guide informed us that we were standing in the dungeon in the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, where Jesus would have been beaten and jailed the night before he was brought to Pilate for judgment and eventual execution.  The holes where the chains would have been anchored confining the divine prisoner remain intact.  However, the most disquieting of all was when we descended even further into a pit, the very pit, in fact, where it is believed that Jesus was lowered for the night after being beaten to await his passion and death…cold, dark, alone. 
While here, we read aloud Psalm 88:

Lord my God, I call for help by day;
I cry at night before you…
For my soul is filled with evils;
my life is on the brink of the grave.
I am reckoned as one in the tomb;
I have reached the end of my strength,
Like one alone among the dead,
like the slain lying in their graves,
like those you remember no more,
cut off, as they are, from your hand.
You have laid me in the depths of the tomb,
in places that are dark, in the depths.
Your anger weighs down upon me;
I am drowned beneath your waves.
You have taken away my friends
and made me hateful in their sight.
Imprisoned, I cannot escape;
my eyes are sunken with grief…
Wretched, close to death from my youth,
I have borne your trials; I am numb.
Your fury has swept down upon me;
your terrors have utterly destroyed me.
They surround me all the day like a flood,
they assail me all together.
Friend and neighbor you have taken away:
my one companion—darkness.

It is here that one realizes the full weight of Christ’s cross.  Not just the roughness and cruelty, not just the torture and pain, but the darkness, the aloneness, the absolute privation of love, the very essence of his being.  This was…this is hell.  

Peter, one of his closest friends, whom Jesus loved with all his heart, denied even knowing him not once, but three times, when Jesus needed him the most!  And if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we too have denied him.  “If Our Lord’s goal was to find sinners,” our Mass celebrant preached, “then he truly succeeded in his selection of Peter.  And, he has done it again with each one of us.”  Even if we haven’t explicitly denied Christ in front of others, we all (myself first and foremost) have denied his voice in our hearts, the voice of his Holy Spirit.  We prefer our way, or think we know better, or choose to rely on our own more ‘sure’ means of doing what we want to do and how we want to do it, rather than God’s.  And, as the Psalmist reminds us, we do it in vain.  “To rely on our own forces,” as one of our brothers said today in his reflection, “is a false and dangerous path, into which even the Prince of the Apostles fell.”  And yet, lest we fall into a degrading guilt, we hear also Our Lord’s own words repeated in the day’s Gospel reading: ““Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.  I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mk 2:17).  This is the Good News!!

Just as the symbol of the cross is not meant to show us how bad we are, but rather how much God truly loves us and what lengths he will go to to show us that love, so too the pit and the darkness are not meant to drag us into despair, but rather to inspire us to new heights of hope.  Christ suffered that awful night in darkness and abandonment, so that when we are ‘in the pit’, when we feel alone and are in darkness, when all seems bleak, when all seems lost, we might not despair, but rather might find hope in him.  Let us turn, then, to Christ here and now, who obeyed the will of the Father through the inspiration of the Spirit, and beg him for the grace to do the same whether in joy or in sorrow, in darkness or in light, remembering all the while that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it” (Jn1:5).

Enter Into the Death and Resurrection!

Today and the previous day we were split up into two small groups for Mass at the Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is a small tiny chapel with two small rooms that can really only fit about twenty people or so. 

 We got up, ready to leave at 5am! Few things get us out of bed that early, but Mass in the Tomb is definitely one of them! Mass in the very place where Jesus' lifeless body was laid and the resurrection took place is something that will get night owl seminarians up from their slumber. Jesus is beckoning us to His tomb and His resurrection!

 We took a short walk in a crisp early morning still very dark, and still very silent as the city is sleeping. After arriving and preparing for mass, our scheduled time arrives, and we pile our three priests and twelve or so seminarians into this tiny but stunning chapel.  For many you have to duck to enter the first section of the chapel. Once inside the first room, the priests enter deeper into the second room where the altar is above the slab where Jesus was laid to rest for three days. To enter into this second room, everyone must stoop low. Just as the apostles did when they came to the tomb on the morning of the resurrection, they had to stoop to look in to see that his body was gone,  and the cloth was laying folded up on the slab. You feel when you enter into that second section that you are entering deeper into the death of Christ until you look up and see the beautiful ornate icons and metal workings of the resurrection! They draw you into the mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection by physically bending low and raising your eyes to these images of the resurrection and this physical aspect draws you in deeper spiritually. As there are the two rooms through out Mass you're reflecting and praying on where you are and what is taking place right now in the Eucharistic liturgy, and hearing this voice, the voice of the priest, from the other room that is Jesus himself inviting you deeper into this mystery. And as we are so wrapped physically and spiritually into this reality of being in the tomb we are shown the glory of resurrection when the priest comes out to give us the Risen Jesus in the Eucharist. He not only shows us Himself resurrected, but then feeds us with that mystical bread of the death and resurrection that is His very body.  Being present for the liturgy in such a place as the tomb truly gives you a foretaste of heaven.

Christ beckons us, and you, into his death and resurrection in every Mass. He calls us out of the slumber of our laziness and sin to glimpse the light of heaven. Mass at the tomb was definitely a full experience of that death and resurrection.

That began our day, and truly was the pinnacle experience for us.  May we remember that every time we go to Mass, no matter where in the world we are, that experience in the Tomb is made real to us again and again glimpsing the resurrection and the foretaste of heaven receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.