The Way of the Lord

jerusalem-churchI studied bible history from the time I was 5 years old and a kindergartner at St. Bonaventure Catholic Elementary School. I have heard over and over all of the stories of Jesus’ life on earth – from birth until his death at age 33 (well, except for that large period of life that is missing from the scriptures). But I never actually gave much thought to visiting the Holy Land, particularly after it got more and more dangerous.

Little thought, that is, until taking a bible study class a couple of years ago, and listening to the teacher talk about her trips to Israel when she was able to spend time where Jesus was born and lived his short life. “I could hardly breathe, she told us. “I couldn’t believe I was visiting the places where Jesus actually lived and did his work.” I knew it was some place I’d like to visit some day.

So when my sister Bec decided she was going to the Holy Land as part of a tour sponsored by a Catholic priest – in fact, the pastor at All Saints Catholic Church where Bill and I attend Mass each Sunday when we are in AZ – I was ecstatic that she was going to have that opportunity. One of the things that was important to her was that she go with a Christian group that would make visiting the holy places actually a holy experience, and this fit the bill.

Bec travel days were packed with the opportunity to see the history of the Jews in the Old Testament as well as the important places in Christ’s life. They visited the cave in Bethlehem at which it is believed that Mary gave birth to her precious baby. She saw the field where the angels sang glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will towards men. Her group went to Cana to see the city where Jesus performed his first miracle at the behest of his mother.  She saw the places where Jesus taught and rested and ate meals with his friends – and even raised one of his friends from the dead. She walked the path that Jesus himself walked as he carried the cross to the place where he would be murdered – Mount Calvary. She witnessed where he died, where he was buried, and where he rose from the dead three days later.

All of this was amazing, she admits. Imagine walking the same path that Jesus walked. Still, those events took place over 2,000 years ago, so clearly it was unlikely that she was looking at the actual stones on which Jesus sat. Nevertheless, she was able to get a really clear picture in her mind of the places we read about every week in the gospel.

As she walked the path to Mount Calvary, she – along with three others – carried a wooden cross, similar (though not as large) as the one Jesus himself carried. As she walked, she said at first she was bothered by all of the talking and the noise around her, wanting to quietly experience Jesus’ passion.

bec-and-others-carry-cross

“But I reminded myself that the day Jesus carried the cross, it wasn’t quiet,” she said. “In fact, there was noise all around him. People crying. People jeering. The noise of the city.” After that realization, the experience became more meaningful for her.

“I couldn’t believe how close together some of those towns were,” she said. “It became really clear to me why Jesus’ apostles kept saying ‘Are you sure you want to go there? That’s reeeeeeeally close to Jerusalem, and you don’t have a lot of fans in Jerusalem, if you’ll recall.’”

In fact, a lot of the geography hit a note with Bec. In addition to being struck by the nearness of the places Jesus visited, other geographical conditions took her by surprise. Mount Tabor, for example, which is the mountain upon which Jesus took John and Peter and James, and he becomes radiant with light, and Moses and Elijah appear.

“It is REALLY STEEP!” Bec said. “This excursion was not just a simple ‘let’s take a quick walk up to the top of this mountain.’ It was a serious hike.”

The locations of many of these historical and religious events are apocryphal, of course, since Jesus lived thousands of years ago. And yet, it is believed by most historians that the locations are pretty accurate. It wasn’t that long after Jesus rose from the dead – no more than a few hundred years – that people began thinking, hmmmm, perhaps we should mark these spots in some way. And it was the original members of the Catholic Church (the ancestors of Jesus’ original followers) who were responsible for building the churches that indicate the locations.

This is a grotto located below the church where the Holy Family is thought to have lived.

This is a grotto located below the church where the Holy Family is thought to have lived in Nazareth.

In some case, while it isn’t certain that what they saw was actually touched by Jesus (the jars holding the wine in Cana, for example), what WAS certain was that the jars are LIKE the ones that he would have touched, and from the same time period. There was only one case, Bec says, in which the guide told them that it was historically confirmed that a particular rock was one on which Jesus sat.  It was for this reason that Bec really liked visiting the Jordan River (where Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist, and where she and her fellow travelers were sprinkled with the river water and blessed by Fr. Caruso) and the Sea of Galilee, which she was able to wade into and imagine Jesus walking on the water in the distance.

Wading in the Sea of Galilee (left) and standing on the banks of the Jordan River.

As we know, Jerusalem (a spot that was perhaps Bec’s favorite) is an important city for three major religions – Jewish, Christian, and Islam. The complex religious atmosphere was clearly apparent one evening as her group stopped on their way to the Western Wall to observe a bar mitzvah. As they listened to the band playing, joyfully honoring a young Jewish boy coming of age, she said she heard the call to prayer for Muslims in the background. It was a somber reminder that the struggles which have gone on for centuries continue.

When I asked her if she would make the trip again, she said, perhaps, at least to Jerusalem. She is so very glad to have had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land. There is no doubt that each Sunday when she listens to the Gospels – the stories of Jesus’ life – the impact will be profound as she will be able to picture what life looked like as the Gospel was taking place.

Thursday Thoughts

No Reward
Monday day I was at a Michael’s store in Mesa. The cashier was a young woman, dressed up like a cat as it was Halloween. There was a woman ahead of me, and I was next to pay. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between the cashier and the woman ahead of me.

Cashier: Are you a member of our Rewards Club?
Customer: No. Is it easy to join?
Cashier: Yes. You just need to give me your email address and your phone number.

As this conversation was taking place, I was thinking that perhaps I should consider joining the Rewards Club since I buy so much yarn. The conversation continued….

Customer: Ok. My email address is J-U-L-I-E…..
Cashier: J-U-I-L-E?
Customer: No. It’s J-U-L-I-E….
Cashier: J-U-L-L-I-E?

By this time I was ready to yell at the cashier, “It’s Julie, for God’s sake. Julie.”

The customer patiently spelled it again, and the cashier finally got it. Then she started on the telephone number, with the same sort of result. By this time, I had decided that the Rewards Program was a no-go for me. If the cashier struggled with julie, the whole kzmclain thing would do her in.

When the Saints Come Marching In
My favorite priest at our church in Mesa – All Saints Catholic Parish – is Father O’Neill. He is elderly, one of three priests from somewhere cold who retired in AZ, and work at our parish. He is probably 80-something, and speaks in a deceptively gruff voice. I say deceptively, because he has a wonderful outlook on life, and gives joyful homilies that never fail to feed me spiritually. November 1 is the Feast of All Saints, and is dedicated to all of those holy people who are models to us of how we should live our life. Or at least that’s how I always looked at it. Fr. O’Neill reminded us that we all have the potential to be saints while we’re here on earth. At the beginning of all masses at which he is the presider, he greets the congregation with a cheerful, “Greetings People of God.” On Tuesday, the Feast of All Saints, he greeted us instead with, “Greetings Saints-in-Training!”

Go Cubs Go
searchI babysat for Austin and Lilly last night because Mark was out of town on business and Maggie had to work. As you know (unless you are a hermit living deep in the woods somewhere in northern Canada), last night was Game 7 of the World Series. The Jensens are serious Cubs fans, as Mark spent his formative years growing up in Chicago. As is typical, he has passed his love of the team on to his wife and kids. Six-year-old Austin’s bedroom’s focal point is the W flag on his wall. His bedspread and pillows boast the familiar red, white, and blue Cubs logo. At some point prior to the game’s start, Austin brought out the cast-off telephone he uses for games and music, and turned on the Go Cubs Go song. It’s quite jazzy, and he knows every word. And he has choreographed quite an exciting dance to the whole thing. We watched the game together, but at 8 o’clock, I put him to bed. The Cubs were winning handily at that point. Maggie came home a few minutes later, and happily went upstairs to see if he wanted to watch the end of the game with her. After all, the Cubs were about to make history. Except then they weren’t. He finally went back to bed after the score was tied and the Cubs seemed destined to lose. But, at the bottom of the 10th inning — yes, I said the 10TH INNING — they pulled out a win and made many of my family members very happy. The Curse of the Billy Goat is over.

Ciao.

Gentle Shepherd

I am the good shepherd; I know my own, and my own know me. – John 10:14

Truly, who cannot simply love the notion that Jesus is the good shepherd and takes care of us all, in fact, knows each one of us by name? Every time I hear John’s beautiful telling of Jesus’ parable about the good shepherd, I am filled with joy.

These are words from You Are Mine, one of my favorite hymns….

Do not be afraid I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine. – David Haas

I literally cannot hear this hymn without crying, particularly at the words I have called you each by name. I think this notion that God loves each one of us is so hard to understand that we simply don’t think about it. But I think about it every time I hear John’s gospel about the Good Shepherd.

I'm pretty sure the black sheep in the front of the flock is me!

I’m pretty sure the black sheep in the front of the flock is me!

I always wondered about the notion that sheep really give a hoot about who it is that leads them around, that is, the shepherd. Seriously? Do the sheep really care? Deacon Gordon at All Saints Church in Mesa gave the homily yesterday. Though he grew up in Chicago, he married into a family who raised sheep. He talked about his mother-in-law, who really tended to the sheep. The sheep knew her voice and followed her commands, he said. In fact, one time his children – her grandchildren – asked if they could herd the sheep back to the pen. Grandma said yes. The sheep, however, had other ideas and went every which way except the way they were supposed to go. Grandma stepped in, called the sheep and they followed her. She knew each one of them and they knew her.

Just like the Good Shepherd.

My sister Jen’s pastor is a young priest of 35 or so. The same age as Jen’s son and mine. He is dying of cancer – an inoperable stomach tumor. In his homily, this brave priest said that people often ask him what he wants them to pray for – God curing his cancer or him accepting God’s will. His answer? This man who likely will succumb to cancer at a very young age said he believes that the prayer is one in the same. Because Jesus is our Good Shepherd, we must trust that God’s will most certainly will be whatever is the best for him.

Can I possibly ever have that much faith? Certainly I try. Every morning when I say my prayers, because I figure I can ask God for anything, I ask Him to cure Bill of his Parkinson’s if it is His will. That’s what I say, but what I REALLY mean is I don’t care or not if it is HIS will; it is certainly MY will and therefore – DO IT!

It is certainly a good reminder to listen to the story of the Good Shepherd and remember that he will care for us and love us forever.