FILE LENT

By Peggy Weber

So how is your Lent going?

Lent has reached the halfway point and it’s a good time to reflect on the next 20 days before Easter. Much is written about Lent before it begins but now might be a good time to re-read the words of Pope Francis as he gave his Lenten message on Feb. 26. (And it is interesting to note that he wrote it on October 4, 2018.)

In his message he encourages the faithful to make the most of this “joyful season.”

He also instructs and reminds everyone of the main activities of Lent.

He states”

“Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.”

And as everyone tries to re-charge their batteries and increase their commitment to a meaningful Lent they also might want to focus on the concluding words of Pope Francis’ message.

“Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.”

So do not let this second half “season of grace pass in vain.” It is never too late to have a good Lent.

Photo courtesy of CNS

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SCOTLAND SUNSET

By Iris Alderson 

Growing up my mother would scold me by saying, “Stop daydreaming.” Sometimes my schoolteachers would say the same phrase. But I prefer to think of it not as daydreaming but rather, “using the imagination,” even though adults frowned upon it as though it were a forbidden fruit, a time waster, unworthy of pursuit. But I believe the imagination is a gift from God.  If God honors us with gifts, surely he expects us to use them.
Michelangelo once told of how he imagined he saw an angel in a block of marble, so he chipped away at it, until he set it free.
If we believe we have no gifts, but have the gift of imagination, like Michelangelo we have a great gift indeed.
While we may think of the gifted as the artist who creates magnificent masterpieces, the singer who possesses the voice of an angel, or musician who plays a musical instrument with such clarity, we may rarely think of the imagination as a ‘gift,’ which can carry us to places where we would otherwise not go.
Our imagination, can free us.
How freeing for the man or woman whose vision is gone; whose imagination can take him or her back into the sighted world.
Or the prisoner of war trapped behind walls, whose imagination can lift him up and grant him freedom for a little while and urge him on to freedom that will surely come.
Imagination frees us from a world, often dark, and inspires us to walk in the light, leading us to a world where Christians meet challenges and indifference with forgiveness, hope and love.

AUTUMN BISHOPS CLIMATE
This can be a world where the commandments are met and the Beatitudes lived.
A keen imagination looks beyond the raw seeds of life, to see the spark of truth, glimpsing not only what can be, but what should be. It can be what God expects from those who love him, without fear, without compromise, neither second best nor indifference, but simple love and all that love is.
Imagination makes possible a world of living in peace with all mankind, where love, caring and compassion go beyond the joy of Christmas, when peace and goodwill reins our hearts. Enabling us to follow closely in his footsteps as we live out our days in a weary world.
Lord, thank you for your wonderful gift of imagination.

Iris Alderson is a Christian writer with more than 200 articles/poems/fillers published in numerous publications including: Catholic Digest, Christian Educators’ Journal, Christian Leadership, Decision, Family Digest, Key to Christian Education, Live, Living with Children, National Christian Reporter, Positive Thinking, Purpose,  Religion Teachers Journal, Standard, The Writers Journal, Teachers, Teachers Interactive Journal, The Gem, The North American Voice of Fatima, The Upper Room, and others.

Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service

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By Peggy Weber

Sister of St. Joseph Patricia Francis Sharron died on Christmas morning at the age of 93. Her obituary, like most, listed her background, her family and where she ministered. It noted that she taught first grade at the former Holy Name School in Springfield from 1947 to 1967.

All of that information is appropriate and accurate. However, as I read it I wanted to let people know that from 1960 to 1961 she taught me and 63 others featured in this school picture. I have been told that there were 67 in my first grade class and three kids were absent for photo day. But it is certain that every morning Sister Patricia got up each day and faced 64 of us. That’s right — 64!!!!

Honestly, I do not know how she did it. I do not remember her as a harsh disciplinarian. I have no memories of rulers being used as threats. I recall a calm place where we learned and grew.

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When I think back to first grade I recall being in the Christmas show. I was Jill in a “Jack and Jill” skit. I still have the costume. And I also have to this day the ornament all of us made that year. Santa is featured in all his glory with a Mary and Jesus sticker as his belt buckle. I presume Sister Patricia must have had some help that day when we pieced the ornament together. But maybe we didn’t. Sister Patricia seemed capable of doing everything.

And I recall her kindness and sense of justice to me. One day, I came home with a paper where the students were supposed to color in the picture of words that ended in double consonants. I colored the picture of a muff with a white crayon. Sister did not see the coloring and marked it wrong. I showed it to my mother and explained that I had done it correctly. My mom said to ask Sister about it. So I did. Sister did not shoo me away from her desk. She did not dismiss my concern. She felt the paper and fingered the waxy, white crayon. She turned my 95 into 100 and put a sticker on it. But she also advised me not to use white again.

I do not know what my other 63 or 66 classmates recall but I am still in awe of Sister Patricia’s ability to do what she did.

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(I am the curly-haired girl with the snazzy bow tie!)

When she worked at the bishop’s residence I would see her occasionally. I asked her how she handled all of us She just shrugged her shoulders and acted like it was no big deal. But it was. She and countless other teachers took care of us “baby boomers” and gave us a good education in  classes that had an incredible number of students.

So thank you Sister Patricia, for the Christmas ornament, for changing my muff paper, and for taking care of all of us that year.

Sr-Patricia-Francis-Sharon

 

 

 

 

WASHINGTON FRANCISCAN MONASTERY

By Julia Dennis, Grade 8,

St. John the Baptist School, Ludlow

Editor’s note: Students in Sister of St. Joseph Jeanne Branchaud’s class were asked to write an essay on the Christmas season. We are sharing Julia’s work and hope you enjoy it. 

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Throughout my younger years, Christmas has always meant something special to me; I delighted in the bright, twinkling lights, the aroma of evergreen trees, the meaningful nativity scene, and the delicately wrapped presents under the Christmas tree. And while I still enjoy these festive traditions, I’ve come to realize, in my slightly “older” and more mature age, the “secular world” has taken Christ out of Christmas; consequently, you cannot spell“Christmas” without “Christ.” The day after Thanksgiving, businesses are already advertising Christmas gifts; Black Friday comes along and mobs of people scramble and fight each other for the “perfect gift.” How slow they are to see that the perfect gift was already given to everyone: “ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger.” -Luke 2:16. God gave us the perfect gift that keeps on giving, his beloved son, Jesus. It is just up to us to accept God’s gift and to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

ISRAEL TEL AVIV CHRISTMAS MARKET

In the past few years, society has been becoming more “politically correct.” During Christmas, some refuse to say, “Merry Christmas,” they use an alternative such as, “Happy Holidays.” The whole “reason for the season” is centered around Jesus and his love for us by coming into this world to save us from sin: “I have come into the world as light, so whoever believes in me, may not remain in darkness.” -John 12:46, “For I have come down from Heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” -John 6:38.  Religious carols have been replaced with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and instead of “Christ is Coming to Town,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Hollywood has made Christmas out to be some romantic holiday,while in other movies, everything that can go wrong on Christmas will go wrong, and it is up to the family to come together and save Christmas.

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In conclusion, it is up to us fellow believing Catholics and Christians to save Christmas. Indeed, it is the season of giving…not the gift that is a thrill for only a few days, or even minutes sometimes…it’s the gifts that keep on giving. Gifts don’t always have to be materials items; they can be spending time with a grandparent who is lonely, and helping them around the house. It can be a donation of food to the Survival Center; during these cold winter months, that one meal can change someone’s life. Particularly, in our own classroom, we have a gift list for foster parents and their children. The list is fairly simple: socks, blankets, soap, bed sheets, etc. When the person receives these gifts on Christmas morning, they will be so grateful and overjoyed to receive the things they needed. Hopefully, they will witness God’s love in their gift, and come to believe in Him and His message. In my opinion, the most important thing to do, after receiving a gift, is to thank the person who gave it to you. You can thank them in person or send a letter, text message, email, etc. filled with kind words of gratitude. I feel like most people these days just tear open the gift, then run off with it, not even thanking the person who gave it to them for their thoughtfulness and generosity.

VATICAN CHRISTMAS NATIVITY

 

Lastly, the best way to spend Christmas is with family and friends, at Mass, preferably both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We should be going to Mass every Sunday during Advent so we can better prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. During the Christmas Season, let us resemble in our actions, Mary’s obedience to God, Joseph’s acceptance of Mary and his role of being Jesus’ earthly father, Jesus’ love for God and the world, and the Wise Men’s determination to find Jesus and escape Herod, and their generous heart, giving gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service.

           

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By Bishop Emeritus Timothy A. McDonnell

As we celebrate the Red Mass today, there are red vestments, yes, but redder faces.  I know for myself and for the Church, I am ashamed and saddened by the scandal of criminal abuse by too many (one is too many) Catholic clergy, and of disheartening oversight by too many bishops.  It has been a millstone moment.

As a bishop, I want to thank those who shed light on the darkness – members of the legal profession, judges and jurors, court officers, lawyers and attorneys, and all the adjunct personnel whose efforts have focused attention on bringing the scandal to light and to righting wrongs.

I take the opportunity of this Red Mass to offer apologies: apologies first and foremost to all the victims and survivors of predator priests; and apologies as well to the families of those who were abused.  I know apologies aren’t enough. I just can’t find adequate words.  But for myself and for my brother bishops, we are sorry beyond words that so many failed you.

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There’s another apology I must offer as well.  It goes to all the good priests who find themselves subject to wonder, innuendo, or suspicion because of the actions of a small number of other priests.  The great majority of priests, good and faithful men, are carrying that cross of being suspect.

And apologies certainly have to go to all Catholics and to the whole society of which they are part.  There’s no question that trust was betrayed, betrayed as surely as Judas betrayed Christ.  If there is a glimmer of hope, it lies in the fact that human beings may fail, but Jesus is everlastingly faithful to us.

To right the wrongs, a concerted effort will be needed and the expertise of judges and jurors, attorneys and lawyers, and all the legal profession will be needed along with that of so many others, particularly victims and survivors. I’ve often quoted Mother Teresa’s line, but never more so than today: “There’s nothing so bad that God can’t bring a greater good out of it – if we let Him.”  I hope, I dream, that we let Him, that an end to every form of child abuse, and all other forms of abuse, will be a good that comes out of the terrible evil that’s been unearthed.

I know that realizing hopes and dreams involves risk.  Let us be risk-takers.

In your field, the field of law: your hope is that being a nation of laws our country’s judicial system will always be just.  Yet, that justice depends on men and women dealing with situations that are often convoluted and complex, as events of this past week have evidenced so intensely.  But, even in a legal practice having little to do with the courts, the human element – the imperfect human element – is part of every day.

So, you try to bring your best into your work; you try to be your best in what you do.  All that you are is placed at the service of the law.

Let me digress for a moment: there will be a connection.

There’s an image from the thirteenth century engraved on an altar.  It is the rim of a wheel with four spokes in the shape of a cross.  Circling around the rim are the words “Jesu Christe esto nobis.”  In the middle of the cross is an “X”, on each of the four spokes a Latin word that ends with that central “X”: Lex, Rex, Lux, Dux.  Taken together, the words make a prayer very appropriate for the legal profession: “Jesus Christ, be for us rule and ruler, light and guide.”

If we are truly followers of Christ, He is with us wherever we are – in our private lives or public.  In accepting His presence, we appreciate the prayer of Moses in today’s first reading: “Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all.”  That in your field is a challenge to bring into the legal arena a conscience formed in Christ. Doing that you take a risk for there are those who would say your religiously-formed conscience has no place in your professional life.

As your presence here today testifies, however, you are not afraid of that challenge; you are willing for Jesus Christ to be your rule and ruler, light and guide.  That is not easy.  At times, it can be daunting.  I invite you, at such times, to think of Thomas More who faced that selfsame challenge.

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All were after him to give in – not to be so stubborn – even his favorite daughter, Meg.  After she wrote him urging him to take Henry VIII’s Oath of Supremacy, More replied from prison in a letter filled with good cheer, lots of puns, and deep insight.

He told Meg the story of Company, a member of a jury, “an honest man from another quarter,” as More describes him, who disagrees with the other jurors. They’re angry with him and urge him to be “Good Company,” to agree with their position. Company is willing to listen if the others want “to talk upon the matter and tell him … reasons” why he should reverse himself. They can’t and Company decides to keep to his own company; otherwise, “the passage of [his] poor soul would passeth all good company.”

As More reminds Meg, he himself “never intended (God being my good Lord) to pin my soul to another man’s back … for I know not whether he may hap to carry it.”

When our own conscience is formed in Christ, we stand with Thomas More, realizing we are each responsible for acting according to our conscientious beliefs, never pinning our soul to another’s back, for he may not hap to carry it.

A few years back, Pope John Paul II said of the Saint: “precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, showing the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity.”  Moral integrity, what the spirit of the Lord, what faithfulness to conscience makes possible for any of us.

Thomas More faced death proclaiming: “I die, the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”  Your variation on More’s words might be: “the law’s good servant, but God’s first.”  I pray that for all of you Jesus Christ may truly be your rule and ruler, light and guide. And in a very particular way, I pray that with God’s guidance you may help not simply the Church but all of society deal with the scourge of child abuse.

Jesu Christe esto nobis lex, rex, lux, dux. Amen.

Priest blesses a 17-foot-tall cross formed by steel beams and recovered from rubble left by 9/11 terrorist attacks

 

The following reflection is by Passionist Father Paul Wierichs who was an FBI chaplain on September 11, 2001. He wrote these words after ministering at Ground Zero on that fateful day. As the nation honors the 17th anniversary of 9/11, the Passionist Community shared the reflection again. It’s words ring true and recall a day in history that most will never forget. Father Wierichs is a classmate of Passionist Brother Terry Scanlon, host of The Chalice of Salvation in the Diocese of Springfield. 

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Traveling into New York City was in itself a harrowing experience. I was lucky enough to meet a NY State trooper who led me to the Long Island Expressway. What struck me on the Expressway was the amount of New York firemen and policemen being called back to work. Everyone was rushing and the whole city went on an emergency shutdown. This enabled myself and others to get into the city with the utmost speed. What struck me just before I entered into the Queens Midtown tunnel was that I was the only car. I stopped for a moment and looked over in the direction of the World Trade Center, and I saw nothing but billowing smoke. It sent shudders through me!

As I rushed into the FBI’s New York office, close to the World Trade Center, I was met by FBI agents and FBI support employees. The office was frantic – faces were grim – something I have never seen in this office. The mood was somber. These are the people I have come to know, love, respect, and appreciate over the past 11 years. However talented, no journalist, TV reporter, photographer or the vividness of description from people who had been there, could prepare me for what I was about to see in person at Ground Zero. The dust which permeated the air, the acid smell, and the carnage all around. All workers putting their own lives at risk to find survivors. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul – looking into the eyes of everyone around reflected an inner wound to the soul itself. God was also present in those eyes; He gave us all the strength we needed to go that extra mile in our own way. His presence is in the unity of humankind at this time, and the outreach of love and compassion for one another. His presence is seen in the new appreciation of family, friends, faith, country, and that special way we express openly our appreciation of how special they are, and how fragile
life is.

Nothing and no one will ever be taken for-granted again.

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Being at the site – Ground Zero – was like nothing I have ever experienced. Many men
and women my age (57) served in Vietnam while I was living in a Monastery. I could never truly appreciate the horror they went through. Upon talking to some of the people
at Ground Zero, who had served in Vietnam, they said “nothing prepared them for this. “This was more horrific.

I have been asked many times “What was it like at Ground Zero?” My only response would be “I have been to Hell and I have seen the Face of Evil.” I have many stories could share of the heroism of firemen, policemen, and rescue workers, but what struck me was their total dedication to the task at hand. Most law enforcement and emergency workers do not express emotion. Not the case that day, or even now! There was an outpouring of motion and the mood was somber.

During the first couple of days, standing there at the site with my FBI raid jacket with big yellow FBI on the back, and the word Chaplain underneath it, I was overwhelmed by the amount of firemen and policemen, and other rescue people, who came up to me saying “Chaplain may I speak to you for a moment?” I must also share with you as a priest, I have heard more confessions in two weeks than I have done in years. As a Passionist we are called to preach the Passion of Jesus. For me that always means entering into the Passion of people’s lives, particularly when they are called to carry a cross. We offer them Hope, Consolation, and Love. Never in my years as a priest and Passionist has that been more the forefront of my life. I am honored that I have been able to be part of such heroic people’s lives.

Boy places his hand on firefighter's shoulder during ceremony marking 14th anniversary of 9/11 attacks
The thing that brings me to tears most is that when I was standing inside the American Express building, six Firemen were carrying out a body and it was one of their own brothers. I said, “Let me offer a prayer?” The Lieutenant called them to attention, hats  off, and brought not only those men but also myself to tears. THESE ARE THE HEROES!

There was outpouring of generosity from all people of all faiths, with their prayers and donations for the various wonderful earth angels from all the various organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and many volunteer organizations. People came together in unity that day. Heads of all faiths blended together as one! As for the firefighters and the policemen – did we ever really know before September 11th what brave and wonderful people they are? They are like brothers among their own groups, each with a specific job in the rescue, each relying on each other as an integral part of the teamwork of survival for others. This was never so evident as it was during this time of extreme crisis. Their eternal hope that they would not give up looking for survivors amid all the tons of rubble, dust, glass and steel for more than two weeks, shows the character that each of them is made of.

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On one occasion people were running out of harms way, myself being one of them, while firemen were running towards the crisis risking their own lives to help others who needed assistance.
My work as chaplain included counseling survivors, workers at or from the site, FBI agents, firemen, policemen, rescue volunteers and frankly anyone who needed someone to pray with, or simply to talk to. The monumental task of blessing the bodies of the innocent victims of this tragedy, and I myself being comforted by so many wonderful, courageous, dedicated rescuers. Last Sunday, the 21st  of September, I said Mass for 30 seniors. I shared with them that on September 10th they woke from sleep and were  BOYS. On September 11th, 2001 – they became MEN! All of us were changed on that day, and we pray that this change will only make us a better human being. In reality that is what God calls us to be.
Let us pray for all those people who have lost their lives, and for their families, who are
our true heroes!

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By Peggy Weber

It can be easy to get discourage about a lot of things in the church. There are headlines filled with more scandals. There are disagreements among different factions and groups in the church. And there are many who look around at Mass and see smaller congregations and fewer young people.

However, there are so many wonderful things in the church that should be seen as signs of hope and joy and vitality. Just a quick look at the Diocesan Calendar that is available on iobserve.org shows a Catholic Youth and Family Day at Six Flags, a Marian Celebration in Greenfield, lots of Bible study programs, parish picnics, community trips, and many more events.

And every summer there is one more event that is held in many parishes across the diocese that should bring awe, praise and celebration. The Vacation Bible Camps that are put together really are labors of love that plant seeds of faith. I am always astonished at the great art work, planning and organization that go into these events. They need the help of many wonderful volunteers of many ages and abilities. So if your parish hosted one of these impressive efforts then say thank you. If not, you might consider the undertaking because it offers fun and faith to many of the young people the church is trying to reach.

Finally, offer a prayer of thanks for all who are trying, in so many different ways, to keep our beloved faith going.

EL SALVADOR ENVIRONMENT

By Peggy Weber

People are looking all the time. They look for bargains. They look for the fastest routes to get somewhere. They look for the latest news and weather. But where  an how do they look for God?

Pope Francis has some advice.

He said, “God’s grace often presents itself to us in surprising ways that do not correspond to our expectations. God does not conform to prejudices.

“God does not conform himself to preconceptions. We have to make an effort to open our hearts and minds to accept the divine reality that presents itself to us,” Pope Francis. added.

He made these remarks at a recent talk in St. Peter’s Square while reflecting on the gospel about how the people of  Nazareth who could not believe that Jesus was the savior. He wanted people to realize that God can be found right in front of you but you often do not see it.

So this summer, while looking around for lots of things. Take a moment each day and ask, “Where did I find God?” The answer might both surprise and delight you.

 

St Joseph's Statue

By Fr. Brian McGrath

Pastor, St. Mary Parish in Lee

Holy Land Pilgrimage January 23-31, 2018

The Eucharist stood before us on the altar. Several hundred persons from all over the world knelt in silence before the mystery, a mystery all the more profound because we were gathered at the house where the angel Gabriel greeted Mary. Her “yes” resounded through the ages, echoed in our hearts as we gathered in adoration and wonder and awe.
It was the end of our first full day in Israel. Monsignor Shershonovich  (of St. Joseph Parish in Pittsfield) and I were leading a group of pilgrims through the Holy Land. It was fitting that we ended the day where most of our Gospels begin. From Tel Aviv we traveled up the coast to Galilee. What was once a small little village is now a medium-sized city. Nestled in the heart of Nazareth are two churches, one at Mary’s House and up the hill another at Joseph’s.
It takes a little imagination to see beyond the bustling city to the little village of Jesus’ day. For me it was captured inside the church. The sounds of the city melted away. The humble house so well preserved in the lower church.

Mary's House
On the altar is a word we will see over and over throughout the trip. “Verbum caro factum hic est.” We all know the phrase: “the word was made flesh.” But there is a little word in the middle of quote: “hic” … “here.” “The word was made flesh here.”
We celebrate a historic faith. Jesus really walked our earth. He was conceived in Nazareth. Born in Bethlehem. Fled to Egypt. Raised in Nazareth. Ministered throughout Galilee and Judea. Died in Jerusalem. Rose from the dead and ascended on high in Jerusalem. We would be visiting these places. We would be walking in his footsteps.
There is a bizarre movie “The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzi Across the 8th Dimension”. If you like bad 80s science fiction, you will love the movie. There’s a line the hero of the movie keeps saying: “Wherever you go, there you are.” We were not just there … we were here! Hic. Verbum caro factum hic est.
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Church of the Transfiguration
We spent several days traveling around Galilee. It is a mountainous region surrounding the central Sea of Galilee. It was on those mountains that we celebrated the feeding of the 5,000, the giving of the Sermon of the Mount and maybe my favorite the Transfiguration.
It was a cloudy, rainy day when we drove up Mt. Tabor. The church materialized out of the low lying clouds like an apparition. It was so powerful to be up on the mountaintop where Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John. There is a beautiful church there now. I can’t help but smiling thinking of Peter’s request to build booths. Now we have a stone church. Off of the main church there are two side chapels. We had Mass in the chapel of Elijah (the other chapel would be in honor of Moses). There were 45 pilgrims packed into a tiny space retelling the story, reflecting on the mystery, worshiping our loving God.
When we came down the mountain we visited many sites along the lake: a Jewish kibbutz, the house of Peter, the excavations of Capernaum. They were all around the Sea of Galilee.

Sea of Gallilee
The Sea of Galilee is actually a fresh water lake, about the same size as the Quabbin Reservoir. We saw it in a storm with waves cresting a couple of feet high, and we saw it in the sun with the light sparkling off the surface like so many diamonds. You could see how it dominated the lives of many of Jesus’ first disciples. When he called Peter, Andrew, James and John, they were doing what many still do today,  making their livelihood as fishermen. The images of casting nets, calming the storm, becoming fishers of men was palpable in the docked boats, the crashing waves and the pilgrims I journeyed with those who now make up the next generation of fishers of men.
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We traveled through Jericho, a city whose first settlement was over 11,000 years ago! We waded into the Dead Sea. You can’t swim in it because the salt content is so great you just pop out … besides the day we were there the waves were so strong the lifeguards wouldn’t let us in over our knees. We walked on the plateau of Massada.
We visited Bethlehem. What was once a small hamlet south of Jerusalem is now a small city in Palestinian Territory. Even getting there was an adventure with military checkpoints reminding us that not all is well in the Holy Land.

St Jerome at the Church of the Nativity
The Church of the Nativity is run by Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholics. I was lifted by the chanting, the various forms of dress and worship. The statue of St. Jerome watches over the courtyard outside the Catholic section of the church. His hermetic lifestyle was extreme but his zeal for the Word of God brought the various books and languages of the Bible into one, the Vulgate. In the main church the line is long to descend the stairs to the place of Jesus’ birth. There is opulence beyond description in the icons and gilded decorations. But in the end, I knelt on the stone and put my hand on the star where countless Christians before me have put their hands. I was in that stable on a cold winter’s night in the meekest of places where Jesus Christ was born to us.
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Dominus Flavit
We spent our last three nights and three days in and about Jerusalem. “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And now our feet are standing within your gates, Jerusalem” Psalm 122
We had an amazing walk into the city from the Mount of Olives. It is a stunning view across the Kidron Valley to the ancient walls and the Temple Mount. From inside the church of Dominus Flavit we could see the old city of Jerusalem spread before us. Jesus wept over Jerusalem from this spot, desiring the love of the people. I was swept up in emotion. On that holy mountain Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed, David united the 12 Tribes into one nation, the temple was built by Solomon and rebuilt by after the Babylonian exile. Jesus would have ascended to the Temple on the major feast days along with countless faithful through the years. And in that city he would give his life for me and you and all of creation. Now I was going to be walking through the Garden of Gethsemane across the Kidron Valley and into the city!

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The Garden of Gethsemane remains an olive grove even today. Surrounded by enormous churches there is still a profound spirit of prayer. I have been in the Garden at night as a seminarian so many years ago. Now in my 25th year of priesthood I was blessed to return and pray and pause in silence. “Not my will, but yours” was Jesus’ prayer on the night of the Last Supper. I pray it is my prayer too.
One of the mornings we walked the Way of the Cross with our group. Everyone took turns carrying the cross from Pilate’s House and the Chapel of the Flagellation through the narrow streets all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Later that day the markets would be bustling and you nearly have to elbow your way through the crowded streets. But for that morning we were nearly by ourselves, able to feel the wood of the cross, the stone of the pavement, the passion of our Lord. We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your holy cross you have saved the world.

Way of the Cross
A thing I forgot from my previous journeys to Jerusalem but is so obvious when you think of it, is that the last five stations are within the compound that makes up this amazing church. It is called the Holy Sepulcher, the Holy Tomb. So we climbed the stairs to the roof of the basilica. It is now the home to a small but faithful group of Ethiopian Christians who literally live on the roof! Talk about doing anything you can to get close to the holy site. We descended into the beauty of the church itself. On one end of the church is the stairs that sheath the hill of Golgotha where I knelt to put my hand into the niche that held the very wood of the cross. Down the stairs again we prayed at the stone that marks where Jesus was placed in his mother’s arms before his burial. But most intense was the tomb itself.

Holy Sepulchre
Once again the line is long. But it gave me time to reflect on this great mystery. We had just finished Mass in the side chapel. As a priest I am still overwhelmed by the gift of holding Jesus’ very body, blood, soul and divinity in my hands as I pray the Eucharistic Prayer: “This is my body which will be given up for you.” These words of the Last Supper are fulfilled on that holy mountain and brought to their fullest meaning in the empty tomb. We don’t stop our faith at the Last Supper. It is not petrified in the rock of Golgotha. We go to the tomb and encounter the Risen Christ!
We rounded out our days in Jerusalem visiting the four quarters of the Old City. To see so many cultures and faiths trying to live together is both a concern and a great hope. I was reading a book while we were on pilgrimage that told the history of the city. Thousands of years of triumph and catastrophe. Intense times of great faith and the depths of apostacy. There were two places that made tangible for me both the complexity and the profundity of this amazing city.

Western Wall
The Western Wall is the remnants of the foundations King Herod the Great put into place to take Mount Moriah and make it into the Temple Mount. What was an uneven hill was made into a flat hilltop that contained the Temple and various courtyards and gathering spaces around it. When the Romans destroyed the Temple they literally tore it down stone by stone, carrying away the precious items as booty. The top part of the wall was rebuilt (you can see the difference in the stones from the foundation stones on the bottom) so the Temple Mount is still a flat hilltop. Faithful Jews and people of all faiths gather before the Western Wall to pray. One of the customs is to slip pieces of paper into the cracks between the stones so your intentions remain there. The temple was the place of the Holy of Holies … the very presence of God. This is as close as you can get to the “temple” today. So people pray before it and place their prayers within it. I put my family and parish and school and prayer intentions people asked me to bring and my personal prayers within a little crack, nestled among many other slips of paper. I was surrounded by orthodox Jews and fellow pilgrims as we sought the grace of God.

Dome of the Rock
We also ascended to the top of the Temple Mount. After the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD it was never rebuilt. Instead it was used for many different functions. For the early Christians it was not nearly as important as the places of Jesus passion, death and resurrection … so our ancient site is the Holy Sepulcher. But in the Muslim faith this is the place where Mohamed was transported in a vision. There is a rock there which is said to contain the footprint of Mohamed. Over it is built the Dome of the Rock, a magnificent shrine covered with elaborate tile mosaics and a gilded dome. Also, on the Temple Mount are various other Muslim shrines and the Al Asqa Mosque. We were blessed to be able to visit the Temple Mount and walk amidst the various shrines. I know in these modern times there is still too much division amongst the faiths of this world. It was good to be reminded of the beauty and depth and fervor of others.

Solomon's Mine
We had a free afternoon before our flight back to the U.S. I was able to fulfill a hope of mine that I have had for many years. I toured the newly excavated foundations of the Temple Mount. You enter over by the Western Wall and journey underground through the arches that held the ramps up to the Temple, along a nearly 1500 foot section of the original stones (that haven’t seen the light of day since the Romans buried them in the rubble of their destruction back in the first century) walking all the way past the fortress of Herod and through the original mines of Solomon. I entered over in the Jewish Quarter by the Western Wall and came above ground in the Muslim Quarter almost at the Gate of Herod. It was a spectacular tour with profound insight into the various stages of the development of Jerusalem and the Temple.
I was one of 45 pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem. For me it was a wonderful time of renewal in my faith, deepening in my understanding of our faith and dwelling in the mystery of salvation history. We live a beautiful and profound and wonderful and gritty and jubilant and tragic and amazing faith. God be praised!

 

 

NEW YORK MARATHON

By Peggy Weber

Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service

There are only two weeks left until Easter. For many, this Lent might have been transforming. Perhaps you prayed more. Maybe you got to Mass more often. And maybe you have been able to avoid the sweets, chocolate or whatever else you gave up.

For others, like myself, there are always stumbling blocks during Lent. It seems as if I am running a marathon and not keeping pace. I mean to get to daily Mass but do not make it. I could blame the weather or my busy schedule but I also know I could get up earlier and make it to a 7 a.m. Mass in the area. I have stayed away from ice cream and lottery tickets. However, I have faltered with my “giving up butter” idea.

But Lent is not over! I can sigh and bemoan what I have not done or rejoice that there is still time left to make this Lent special.

POPE LENTEN PRAYER SERVICE

Here are three tips that I think can help.

  1. Go to confession. It will really bring home the penitential season and re-calibrate your thinking.
  2. Attend a talk or mission or parish activity like the Stations of the Cross or a luncheon or fish fry. The iobserve calendar is filled with choices.
  3. Just take one minute each day to sit in quiet. Five would be better but one is a start.

Good luck and have a good and blessed end of Lent.