Friday, March 18, 2016

The Holy Land

          Our pilgrimage has officially come to an end. We arrived safe and sound back at Mundelein late Tuesday night. It's hard to believe that we just spent two full months in the Holy Land, it went by incredibly quick. But the graces of staying in the Holy Land are already being felt, just the very next day as a group of us were reading the upcoming scripture passages for Palm Sunday, I couldn't help but be transported back to the Holy Land at the mention of Bethphage, Bethany and the Mount of Olives. The Bible was coming to life in a new and very real way. Often our guides would say that the geography and the landscape of the Holy Land is the unofficial "5th Gospel" of the Bible. I can understand that now, reading the Bible will never quite be the same for us.
       We would like to thank all the friends, family and benefactors back home who have been praying for us. None of this was possible without your love and support. God bless you all and have a joyful Easter!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Our last social event!

          Sunday night marked our second to last night on pilgrimage and our final social event. This final social consisted of skits, gags, parity songs and "thank yous" to various persons. Many people were roasted through imitation and song lyrics. One classmate surprised his brother seminarians by having his head shaved in front of our live audience (it was getting a bit long).  One hilarious skit was performed by two of our classmates who imitated the different ways guys dealt with jet-lag during the first few days of class.

          The night was a fitting conclusion to a highly grace-filled pilgrimage. As the night unfolded, gratitude became the major theme. In the midst of the humor, it was obvious that this pilgrimage has changed us. In the midst of this realization, there was much gratitude expressed to our brothers, our staff, and God.

Monday, March 14, 2016

One Last Site

Today we travelled to the last place on our pilgrimage which is coming to a quick end. Jaffa is an ancient port city and was home to many miracles and stories including Jonah from the Old Testament, and St. Peter in the New Testament.

In Jaffa, Peter saw a vision of a sheet lowered from heaven filled with all sorts of animals, which he considered unclean, and he was told to eat. We did not see such a vision, but we encountered the Lord in the Eucharist in almost the same place. This pilgrimage has been one of longing for many of us--longing to see God’s will fulfilled in our lives and longing to be changed by the living Gospel we encounter.

The centerpiece of the Church was a dove flying in front of what appeared to be the sun. This representation of the Holy Spirit was hovering above the altar, and in the same way, entering into our hearts as we explored the city.

We also visited the tomb of a very important saint. St. George is often depicted as slaying a dragon, but the other significant story about him is his courage against a tyrannical emperor. St. George, a man in charge of a thousand men, proudly defended the Christian faith against the Emperor Diocletian and was martyred because of it. We spent some time praying there for the courage to stand up for our faith when the odds are not in our favor.

The trip ended with one last visit to the Mediterranean Sea. As I stood in the flowing waters and gazed out across the horizon, there was not much to see. I know that home is somewhere on the other side of this vast expanse of water, but a haze blocked my vision. Maybe that is the Lord showing me that I should keep my focus on the pilgrimage for these last few days. “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself." (Matthew 6:34)

Dormition Abbey (Day of Recollection)

Our final Saturday in the Holy Land took us just outside Jerusalem’s Zion gate to the Church of Dormition Abbey. This is the site where Mary “fell asleep” before she was assumed into heaven. I was inspired by the colorful mosaics depicting the life of Mary, and touched by joyful singing of the “Hail Mary” in multiple languages as other pilgrims filtered through this sacred place.
It was in this magnificent chapel that we celebrated Mass, and then began our silent reflections for the day. We took time to pray and be present with Jesus who was ever present with us during the pilgrimage. We thought about the encounter we had with Christ at all the places like Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, and the Via Dolorosa. We asked Jesus to reveal to us how well we cooperated with His amazing grace these last nine weeks. Did we truly love our brothers as ourselves? I personally asked myself: How can I grow in my walk with Christ?

Then at dinner, we shared the fruit of our reflections with each other. It was a great opportunity to see how the Spirit moved the hearts of my brother pilgrims, and how truly we appreciate those who are praying for us! God clearly continues to work in and through us even in the final days here. Without a doubt, our day of recollection and this holy site made for a most memorable encounter with Christ.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Holy Workout

We've been eating a lot of good food here in the Holy Land.  I go through the same pattern when I'm in the serving line.  A little bit of this.  A little of that.  Pretty soon my plate is full and my stomach quickly follows suit.  To offset this occasional (or frequent) overeating, it's important to get some exercise.  The good thing about our time in Jerusalem is the amount of walking and exploring many of us do on a daily basis.  To go a step further, some enjoy running, others prefer deep stretching, and still others engage in full body workouts.  For example, during Lent, some of us have been doing a Stations of the Cross workout, which involves a short reflection on each station along with a workout.  A nearby park provides one such outdoor setting to get the blood flowing.

As our studies demand some personal discipline, so do our attempts to exercise.  Gone are the days of high school and college when exercising was a mindless, everyday thing, and we had a lot more energy and motivation.  As our bodies grow older and begin to betray us, working out requires a little more will-power.  Nevertheless, it's an opportunity to give glory to God through our bodies (cf. 1 Cor 6:20).