September 26, 2019

When Nothing Makes Sense and All Seems Useless - Pray

"In this world, you will have trouble" John 16:33. There are trials so severe that they seem to render prayer impossible. A soul might want to pray and may even try to pray, but the ability to actually pray seems frustrated -- drowning in discouragement and exhaustion. It would seem far fetched to such a person if one were to attempt to explain the greatness of the gift being offered in the midst of such a difficult crisis.  The gift is not seized in some great sensational feet.  Instead, by the frailest act of surrender to love, for love and by love one offers to the Lord the trial that besets and in this humble offering, in what seems of so little worth, that unfamiliar inflow of love untold springs forth. A naked, vulnerable act of faith makes space in time and space for the glory of God.  The threshold of this mystery is the foot of the Cross, and those who suffer are invited to cross over this threshold into a new kind of fruitfulness. 

To offer up one's own suffering to God seems useless. After all, it does not produce anything tangible. It does not lessen the suffering itself or shorten the length of the affliction to be endured.  No one, except God, ever knows whether the offering was accepted. It is never really known how God uses this difficult to give gift.  Yet it is our teaching that the suffering of the faithful is meant to participate in the redemptive work of Christ. Somehow, what seems utterly useless in the eyes of the world the Lord renders useful. He seems to love to endow what is meaningless with inexhaustible riches. What else is Christian death but our last offering of that which we have tried to offer all our lives? Yet, even the death of His beloved is precious in the eyes of God, and He counts it a no small gift when the faithful offer their afflictions in intercession for the salvation of the world. 

Dear Reader, if you have such a sacrifice to offer the Lord, please offer this oblation now on behalf of the Pope, the bishops and our priests. Offer it for those who are discouraged by scandal and who are confused by failures of leadership in the Church.  Offer it for those who attack the Church and her teaching authority. Offer it for families who are trying to hold together and for others that have fallen apart and need healing.  Offer it for the prodigal who has forgotten the way home and for the prideful whose indignation has driven them from their home. Offer it for all those beat up by bandits and passed by on the road of life. We need your prayers.

We need the glory of God that comes through your heroic effort to pray even when prayer seems not to come.  Entrust to Him all your struggles and failures, your hardships and renunciations, feelings of abandonment and loneliness, of fear and powerlessness, your humiliations, all the little sacrifices of love that you have made for others- even if not very successfully in your own eyes. Give all of this to Him in humble surrender -- this is our human poverty, and it is the only thing we really have to offer that is truly our own. Ask Him to join these sufferings to His sufferings so that His life and love flow through them even when your own love falls short. A great mystery is manifest in this - for when we implicate ourselves in Christ's work of redemption in this hidden and humble way, the hope of God for humanity is made manifest anew in ways that no one can contain. 

September 24, 2019

To Attend to the Reading and Be Absorbed by It

"Attend to the reading, the exhortation, the teaching" (1 Timothy 4:13). Reading - Lectio - is the basis of the Church's exhortation and the teaching. Paul commands Timothy to read and by this command, every minister of the Gospel is likewise obliged to ponder the Scriptures in ways that will build up the whole Church. Through reading the words of the inerrant and inspired Scriptures, we encounter the Word of the Father. To read, in this sense, is to plant one's whole mind, not merely in the words of a text, but in the truth that those words convey, the Truth that biblical teaching bears.

The Holy Bible, though inerrant and inspired by the Holy Spirit, is safeguarded and rightly used only through the most prayerful reading, a reading that is "absorbed" and "diligent" (1 Timothy 4:15). To truly read the Bible is to prostrate one's whole being in adoration. This is because the mysteries conveyed in the inspired text helps one find a reference point that is higher and more noble than one's own judgments.

Not only does this kind of reading demand total concentration with the entire strength of one's mind, it also requires prayer, prayer that suffers deep silences. It is in the difficult to enter silences of heart that the Word has chosen to dwell. He makes our home in human poverty where one lives only by reliance on God, and this includes in the poverty of a mind that has emptied itself of all other unworthy occupations.  This is where the reading of ministers of the Gospel must take them - whether one is a bishop or a parent, a priest or a catechist, a deacon or a teacher.

To say that we meet the Word made flesh in such a reading is to affirm that the words of Sacred Scripture convey more than the limits of created human cognition can grasp. Since inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Truth Biblical teachings bear is greater than any created language can ever convey.  Since committed to writing by men chosen by God, the words of this sacred teaching can seize us with holy fear. Since inerrant, these Spirit breathing words silence the cacophony of disordered judgments that have drowned out the sweet harmony of all that is most tender and good about life. Sin is revealed, a desire for conversion is conceived, and hoped filled contrition is born. There are even moments when a passage from the Bible suddenly baptizes the heart in mysteries that surpass every longing one has ever known.

If ministers do not allow themselves to be taken up into the Sacred Scriptures through their own devoted reading, they lack the wisdom that they need to exhort and teach righteousness. Through the Bible, those powerful stories, teachings and songs, God manifests where we stand in relation to Him, His unimaginable kindness to us, and the response that we owe to Him. This rallying point is set higher than the affairs of the work-a-day world because we are meant for something higher than our own affairs. The Sacred Scriptures make known the affairs of God in our midst, and these Divine concerns are the measuring stick for our own concerns. It is this rallying point to which every exhortation calls believers.  Only such a reference point lays bare the righteousness of God needed to instruct the members of Christ's Body.

Those who diligently suffer being absorbed by the Word gain a wisdom that the whole Church needs today more than ever. A minister absorbed in the Word has a confidence that solicits the confidence of others. Although this directive to "attend" and "be absorbed" is particularly addressed to Timothy, he has come to represent all those who received the "imposition of hands from the presbyterate." Every deacon, priest and bishop should be "diligent" and "absorbed" in reading, preaching and teaching. Ordered to God's holiness by Holy Orders, the mystery that they have received is irreplaceable for the transmission of the Gospel.

This is not an optional effort: the communion of the Church is at stake.  Even in today's myriads of podcasts and blogs, and no matter how big the personalities involved, the preaching of those whom Christ has set apart by His Holy Mysteries can not be duplicated. This means that members of the lay faithful, such as myself, teach only in collaboration with the ministries of those God has chosen and raised up by Holy Orders. Sometimes our collaborative role is to encourage and to remind those whose first duty is this task. Privately, it even can be to correct. Whatever else, we support and we submit ourselves to the authority of the Church with which these men have been entrusted, and we never usurp their role, but defend it and help them embrace it.

To act otherwise begets confusion in the communion of the faithful. If it is shameful to be ambiguously silent when the clarity is needed, it is likewise disordered to spew noisy rancor when the power of silence is demanded. Only the Word can give this clarity. Only He evokes the silence truth demands. To speak the truth into the difficult hardships that men and women face today protects the unity of the Church and the unity of a family. If many ministers fail to offer such a word, perhaps this is because one cannot utter it without being vulnerable to difficult hardship and rejection. Fear comes by nature ... by grace audacity. And grace comes by prayer. Yet, what a poverty when our courage fails and we neglect the duty that love imposes.

Conversely, when a minister summons the fortitude to speak the truth with love, no matter the cost, something good always results, even if cloaked in rejection and hostility. Such a man embraces that suffering by which alone one soul can call another "father." Lay teachers of the faith have every reason to rejoice whenever their imperfect efforts help a preacher of the Word find this courage. When one minister regains heart, he helps thousands take heart too. On this note, St. Hildegard of Bingen describes the preaching of the ordained as the radiance of the Bride of Christ -- so that through her, the Lord draws those in need of salvation to Himself.

We are bound together by the Holy Spirit -- the baptized and the ordained.  As the Holy Spirit empowers their devotion to teach us, He inspires us to receive those words and enflesh them in human affairs.  We cannot do this on our own. To ween us off self-reliance and to help us learn obedience of heart, God has chosen to work through others in our life. Because this is a time that calls for bold courage, we need those to whom God has given the power and authority to teach His Word for our sake with boldness and courage.  It is through these Divinely imbued servants of the Word that we are able to receive the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.  

September 21, 2019

The Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible

Since "all scripture is inspired by God" (2 Timothy 3:16) and "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of personal interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20), we need the manifold ways that the Holy Spirit works in the Church to enter deep into the truth of the Holy Bible. He who inspired men to write these words of the Word is the very One who can help us penetrate their deepest meanings when we allow those who He has chosen to minister to us. Yet this demands from us humble surrender, not to human authority, but to the Divine Authority exercised in the Church.  Such an obedient surrender can only be learned in the school of prayer, fasting and sacrifice.  Only insofar as we, the hearers of the Word, are surrendered to the Holy Spirit can the words of Sacred Scripture be "useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). Only then, do we become "doers of the Word" (James 1:22).

If Christians are to be "competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17), ministers are charged to help them engage the Word of God not only with their heads, but with their hearts. In ways that go beyond human understanding, God empowers a minister to lead disciples beyond all that is familiar, comfortable and convenient.  With not only eloquently spoken words but also silence sobered with holy joy, a minister who has contemplated those writings inspired by God can render a heart ready to encounter the Risen Lord.

If "no prophecy ever came through human will" (2 Peter 1:21) then the response to the prophetic message demands more than the white knuckled efforts of unaided human will. The conversion that the Bible calls for is not the product of our own determination, though we must be more determined about this than anything else in life.  It is not the product of self-generated desire, though the greatest desires are demanded. It is not a matter of assent to ideas, but of total conversion, a whole new way of life.

If "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God" (2 Peter 1:21), then it is by the movement of the Holy Spirit within the Church that the heart learns to respond to God rightly. What is the right response? It is a humble, simple loving movement to the Lord - one that gathers speed as it roles through the history of one's life.  It is a life lived by love for the sake of love. Each instant of such a life opens to a new opportunity to receive that mysterious love that the Crucified Word of the Father unveils. At the very moment of reception, there is also a new opportunity to offer, to sacrifice, to give -- always in the form of a feeble response before the astounding generosity of God.

If the inerrant and inspired Word of God reveals a mystery of love so far beyond the limits of human industry, one cannot, on his own, summon the gratitude that is owed but feels compelled all the same. Thus, the form of the Christian life - that life revealed in the Bible - is Eucharistic, a thanksgiving.  Only with the aid of God who is Love can anyone offer that solemn "thank you" to love that God inspired the Holy Bible to witness to us through the words of a preacher.   Such total surrender requires Divine Assistance -- a sheer gift above and beyond anything anyone ever deserves, yet by the words of a preacher, that gift is ours. 

September 19, 2019

The Priesthood and Prayer

Christ is the Great High Priest -- and because of His priesthood on our behalf, our prayers are raised to heaven and heard by the Father.  The Risen Lord intercedes for us in the sanctuary not made by human hands, and He is at work in the world, fully present to our needs. This is what makes Christian prayer unique. By faith, the One who mediates the blessings of God the Father to us and who has won for us the forgiveness of our sins, also presents to the Father our sorrows and joys, hopes and fears in such a way that all of heaven becomes implicated in our plight.

What is more, the priesthood of Christ is not remote from those who are baptized. But baptism, each of the Lord's disciples actually participate in His priesthood as members of his mystical body.  He has given us everything, even allowing us to share in His intercession to the extend that we can pray for one another in His Name and by His Blood, have our prayers answered.  Yes, we need to ask with faith for those things that are in accord with His will and we need to persevere believing that He will grant what is most needed when it is most needed. Yet, our priestly dignity comes from the fact that our existence is rooted in Him and in His priesthood.

This fulfills something intrinsic to our humanity. Religion and spirituality is not accidental to our humanity -- it is at its very heart. Yet this spiritual reality of our existence is thwarted by all kinds of sin and evil. Constantly, we compromise the original priestly role we were meant to have in creation by neglecting our worship of God and by rendering worship to things that are far beneath our dignity. If the Word did not become flesh, humanity's vocation to offer the visible things of time and space to God would be lost.  Yet, the Word who orders all things to God has entered into our humanity and reordered us away from slavery to the merely material. When He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, He opened up for us a pathway so that our capacity to worship in a manner that is right and just might be realized.  Such is the greatness of our vocation - we are called into a communion of God and man to offer true worship, pleasing to God for the sake of all of creation.

To help us realize this great vocation, Christ called from among the baptized those who would minister to the rest of us through a new sacred ministry: the ordained priesthood.  The ordained priesthood, established by the sacrament of Holy Orders, is for the building up of the whole body. These men whom Christ has chosen and who have responded to His call, through the ministry of the Church, are raised into a special participation in Christ's saving work. Joined to Him in a unique way, they collect us together in the solidarity that the Lord has called us into so that we might worship in accord with His Will.

These priests who are ordained to participate in Christ's Priesthood in a unique way empower the rest of the Mystical BodyThose who receive the sacrament of holy orders devote themselves to the study of God's Word so that we who are incorporated into the priesthood of Christ by baptism might ponder the truth of who we are and remember the great dignity to which we are called.  They are empowered to perform sacred rites and confer sacraments - visible signs of God's grace - so that the rest of the Body might behold the wonders of the Lord and exercise our gifts in worship of the Father and in service to one another.  In this way, the prayer of the priest empowers the prayer of the whole Church.

September 18, 2019

Mary, Mother of the Messiah, Protection of Families

Mary is ready to protect the heart of our homes. As would the mother of an earthly king, the Mother of the Messiah is solicitous for the kingdom of her Son - his reign in our families. Just as she kept in her heart the grace of Nazareth, Mary is the safe guard of the grace of every Christian family. Her maternal protection over these spiritual riches is why she has a very special place in the life of the family. What is more, the way she safeguards our families is through all the treasures that Christ has given her - from this inexhaustible treasury, she wants to share with us. Those beautiful memories that she ponders of Him are transformative of our whole human existence when we welcome her into our life of faith.

Just as she received every gift to raise up her son with St. Joseph, so now with St. Joseph she shares these gifts with families that turn to her. How do we turn to her? To this end, we should make time and space for the for all forms of family prayer: the Family Rosary, Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary in our homes, Family Consecration of ourselves to Jesus through Mary, reading the Scriptures, singing songs together to the Lord.

Such prayer makes concrete the new solidarity that Christ won for our families.  As we persevere with one another out of devotion to Him and love for one another, the power of family prayer helps us hold together. Christ has given everything for this purpose - even when everything seems to be falling apart.  He has even given us his own Mother as a gift to this end.

Mary's maternal love for her Son extends to each member of His whole mystical body. She shares every spiritual blessing from her Son with all those that her Son entrusts to her so that they might enjoy the strength and joy they need to serve one another and to build each other up. She desire every member of our family to know this wholesome love -- it at once humanizes and divinizes everything in life.  Bound together with us through her intercession for us, she can help our families become places of the tender mercy of God and places where sons and daughters are raised up in courage, where spouses serve one another with reverent solicitude, where parents learn the wonder of the Father's mercy.

Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, can teach us to make our home into a place that is consecrated to God. She can also lead our families into the silent wilderness outside of our home where together we can learn a deeper vulnerability before the Lord.  Mary's silent presence can help us embrace a more profound personal discipline and fasting.  She can help us unlock the power of prayer in the domestic Church. Offering the warm light of her Son in the midst of the cold darkness of our times, our Lady walks with us on this journey to our heavenly homeland.

(This is the final part of my presentation at the SCRC in September, 2019)

September 9, 2019

The Christian Family's Unique Relationship with Christ

The Christian family, that is a family where at least one member is baptized and practicing the faith, bears unique relationship with the humiliated Christ - Christ's humiliation is the Christian family's glory,  Christ loves but He is not loved. So it is with the believer. we must learn to love when we are not loved. the more we learn such love, the closer we have drawn into the heart of the Lord. Only prayer can go to this place. By devotion that allows the heart to pour itself out to the Lord in silence, we follow in the footsteps of our crucified God even in the hidden and difficult to bear moments of marriage and family life.  The power of prayer leads us on a pathway to Christ’s humility, the deepest humility ever known.  The deeper into humility we plunge with Christ, the more invincible our love for one another and our hope becomes. Prayer takes us into this victory.

Christ’s death on the Cross with his descent into hell, with his resurrection with his ascension into heaven— all of these mysteries of redemption are the mysteries that animate the Christian family. If there are moments of defeat where nothing goes well and every plan runs amiss, an act of faith joins this sorrow to Christ's victory. Indeed, it was when Christ was most powerless and humiliated that He accomplished his greatest act of praise and won the salvation of humanity. So too when the family is most tried, faith in Christ allows the Holy Spirit to shower down blessings and beatitude in ways our natural power of reason cannot see. A family can go through hell but, by faith in Christ, there is always new reasons for hope.  

The Holy Spirit is drawn to the humble but humility is not easy to learn. We learn humility by being brought to our knees.  In many ways, the story of the family in the world today is one of the brokenness and betrayal.  Without faith, it may be easy to see this as insurmountable and meaningless. The eyes of faith, however, see new opportunities for identification with Christ - for a deeper connection with the mysteries by which He overthrew our hostility to Him.  The story of the twelve who betrayed Him and the humiliation of the Cross was prelude to a new birth for all of humanity  So the stories of our family prelude a new work that God yearns to do if we will trust in Him. This new work opens to the household of faith that John and Mary shared. Here, at the hearth of Mary's maternal love for every beloved disciple, the new family that Christ’s death has constituted is open to us. 

How do we know whether teaching is true? Christ revealed a love stronger than death and this is ours if we will believe in Him. He offers us a new communion with one another, a solidarity. This is what He prayed for when He prayed to the Father "May they be one." His prayer is infallible. If we join our prayer with His, in ways that do not conform to our imagination or narrow plans, He brings to fulfillment His deep desires for us in ways that cause all of heaven to rejoice.

The break up of families and marriages — the horrible alienation that threatens on every side, the terrible loneliness — this is not the end of the family.  With a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is the birth pangs of new life - God is bringing to birth a new love more beautiful than any love we have ever known. Lesser loves, impure loves, these hold back the fullness that He yearns for us to share in. He purifies us because He wants us to know the truth, and standing on the ground of the truth, He longs that we may at last discover the freedom to love with a new intensity, a fullness that we have never known before, one so rich in meaning that time cannot contain it.

(This is part of the presentation given to the SCRC on the Power of Prayer in Family Life)

September 5, 2019

You Are Invited on a Holy Land Pilgrimage - In the Company of Elijah

Join Anthony Lilles, STD and Sr. Magdalit Bolduc
along with Kris McGregor of Discerning Hearts

For More information - click here to check out Discerning Hearts Events

Day 1
Saturday, May 23 | Depart US
Departure for your overnight flights to the Holy Land.
Day 2
Sunday, May 24 | Arrive Holy Land
Arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. We’ll be met by our representative. A luxury motor coach will transfer us to the Negev, 18 miles from Beer Sheva (Gn21:25), towards Arad (Judges 1:16) our destination. We will overnight in Kfar ha Nokdim a typical and original Bedouin Style Guest Rooms in the desert. Dinner, time for settling in, late Mass. Special readings adapted to Elijah in the desert.
Day 3
Monday, May 25 | The Negev – Ein Gedi – Day of walk in the desert
After breakfast, the coach will leave us at the head of a trail for an hour walk. we’ll take a route in a magnificent rocky landscape, perfect to reflect on God the Father’s promises through his prophets and Elijah’s ministry (1kg 17). Mass in the wilderness (open air). In the afternoon, the coach will drive us on the Arava side (Ez47:8-12). Drive along the Dead sea to Ein Gedi, a beautiful oasis in the region were King David hid while fleeing Saul (1Sm24:2). Time of teaching and Scripture reading. We will meditate on Elijah and his encounter with God (1Kg 19: 1-14). Finish the day in the beauty of the desert. Dinner and overnight at Ein Gedi Hotel, few miles from Jericho.
Day 4
Tuesday, May 26 | Jordan – Jericho – Nazareth
After breakfast, we will pass in front of Qumran (Jr32:14), the site where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and go towards Jericho to the Baptismal site (Jn1:29) on the Jordan River. We will renew our baptismal vows, feet in the water, or totally immersed. There will be the shift from ‘the Father to the Son’ in our Trinitarian journey. From the Jordan banks, drive to Jericho where Elijah ascended in a chariot of fire (2kg 2:5-15) and were Jesus healed the blind man. We will celebrate the Eucharist at Jericho’s Parish. Enjoy lunch in a beautiful restaurant nearby. After lunch, see a sycamore tree like the one of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Lk19:1-10), and continue along the Jordan Valley to Mount Carmel to our lodging. Dinner and overnight in Stella Maris. In the evening, fraternal time.
Day 5
Wednesday, May 27 | Mount Carmel – Stella Maris – Muhraka – Carmelites. Nazareth
In the morning we will visit the grotto of Elijah in Stella Maris. The emplacement (ruins) where the first monk started to live modeling their lives on Elijah. From there we will go up to Muhraka were Elijah confronted the 450 Baal of Queen Jezebel (1kg 18:20-40). Mass. Time of Lectio. Lunch. Transition with Mary: she is the one who will protect the order of Carmelite. In the afternoon, head towards Nazareth. Visit the Greek Church the Fountain of St Gabriel and the Basilica of the Annunciation which is built over the remains of the House where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce that she was to become the Mother of God (Lk 1:26). Dinner and overnight in Nazareth. Free evening.
Day 6
Thursday, May 28 | Tabor – Cana
In the morning, we will proceed to Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Valley (Zc12:11), 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee. According to Origen, St Jerome and St Cyril of Jerusalem, this is the site of the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1) where Jesus appeared in his Glory between Elijah and Moses. Also, the site in the first covenant, in the mid – 12th century BCE of the battle between Barak and Sisera, under the leadership of Deborah the Israelite Judge of that time (Jg4:5). We will ascend the Mount Tabor by foot in silence (1,886 feet). After praying and contemplating the Moso-Arab Church, a jewel of art, We will celebrate the Eucharist in this magnificent place, ponder on the person of Elijah in Judaism and his presence in the New Testament. Lunch. Descent of Mount Tabor by foot. Cana, where Christ performed his first miracle at the request of his mother is on our way to the Lake. In Cana (Jn2:1-11) we will take time to read and pray. If doable, the couples who wish too can perform the renewal of their wedding vows. After Cana, en-route for the Lake of Galilee called also the Sea of Kinnereth (Nb34:1). The next three days we will ponder on the Public life of Jesus. Dinner and overnight on the Sea shore of the Lake. Free evening.
Day 7
Friday, May 29 | Boat ride – Capharnahum – Mount of Beatitudes – Tabgha
After breakfast, we will embark for a Boat ride to Capernaum. Capernaum is now in ruins but was once a thriving town where Peter lived and hosted Jesus (Mt 4:13). In this Synagogue Jesus gave the discourse on the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35-70). Drive to the Mount of the Beatitudes. Visit the Church that commemorates where Christ taught the Eight Beatitudes to his Disciples (Mt 5). Walk down the Mount to the altar of the Beatitude grotto. Celebrate Mass in open air. Go to lunch. After lunch, the bus will drive us to the Primacy of Peter and after to Tabgha the site of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish (Mt14). Visit the Church and its famous mosaics. Afterward, we will have a time of adoration on the seashore (called Dalmanoutha). Back to the Hotel. Dinner. Free evening.
Day 8
Saturday, May 30 | Ascent to Jerusalem – Panorama – Bethlehem
After breakfast, we depart from Tiberias directly to Jerusalem. While ascending the mountains, we will shift from ‘the Son to the Holy Spirit’ in our Trinitarian journey. Make the ascent to Jerusalem while reading the Psalms of Ascent. Enter in Jerusalem and drive directly to Bethlehem. Visit the Basilica of the Nativity, built over the site of the birthplace of Jesus, born amongst the Jewish people. Visit the Cave where Christ was born and the cave of St. Jerome, who lived here for many years translating the Bible into Latin. Celebrate Mass Go to Bet Sahour for lunch. at the Shepherds field, recalling the “great throng of the heavenly hosts” that appeared to the Shepherds announcing to them of the birth of the Savior (Lk2:8). After lunch, we will have time for shopping. While driving home if time permits, stop at the panorama view of the Tayelet above the Gehenna and Kidron Valleys. Dinner and overnight at our hotel. Teaching on the Holy Sepulcher in the evening.
Day 9
Sunday, May 31 | Early Mass at the Holy Sepulcher or with the Greek Catholic Patricarcate – Temple Mount – Mt. of Olives – Gallicantu – Via Dolorosa
Start the day walking through the Old City, towards the Temple area, where Jesus used to preach (Jn7:15) and where many episodes from the Bible took place (Lk2:22). Visit the Temple Mount. Time of teaching with Father. The coach will pick us up at the Lion gate. We will drive to the Mount of Olives (Mt21). Visit the Dominus Flevit Church, where Christ wept over Jerusalem (Mt23:37). Onwards to Gethsemane reliving the descent of Mount of Olives of the Palm Sunday. We will view the ancient Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt26:36) and visit the Church of All Nations which houses the Rock of the Agony of Christ on Holy Thursday. In this Church is a beautiful mosaic donated by the United States. The coach will drive above the Kidron Valley and bring us to the Zion Gate for Lunch in the Armenian Quarter. After lunch, we will head towards the house of the High Priest Caiaphas (Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu). This Church commemorates where Jesus was examined and eventually imprisoned before the Council in Jerusalem. It also commemorates Peter’s Denial of Christ (John 18:15 – 18). We will take a time of prayer in the cistern that served as prison. Late afternoon, the bus will drive us to the Lion Gate, for the Way of the Cross. Relive the way of the Cross. We will start at the site of the Antonia Fortress where Christ was tried and condemned to death. Proceed along the Via Dolorosa praying the Stations of the Cross – ending at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site of the Crucifixion and the Tomb of Our Lord. Return to our accommodations for dinner and then make our way to the private Garden of Gethsemane for a special Holy Hour of Adoration.
Monday, June 01 | Mt. Zion – Emmaus (pm)
The day starts driving to Mount Zion. We will ask for a renewal of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room on Mt. Zion. The Upper Room is where Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30), and where they were together the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon them. In addition, our group will visit the nearby Benedictine Church of the Dormition. Tradition tells us that this Church is where Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “fell asleep.” Drive down the mountains towards North for the celebration of the Eucharist in the Holy site of Emmaus Nicopolis where the Risen Jesus met the disciples on the road to Emmaus and was recognized through the braking of the bread (Lk 24). We will have lunch served at the Monastery of the Beatitude’s Community, the Community of Sister Magdalit. After lunch, we will have a time of fraternal sharing and visit this moving site. We will end our pilgrimage with a thanksgiving Mass in the antic outdoor ruins. You will see how Jesus came and revealed Himself to you during this pilgrimage as He walked at the side of the two disciples of Emmaus. Return to Jerusalem to pack our bags and overnight.
Tuesday, June 02 | Return home – Day of travel

September 4, 2019

The Christian Family and the Mystery of Sin

Because the Christian Family bears a unique relationship with the Holy Trinity, it also bears an adversarial relationship with the mystery of sin.  As a communion of persons that images the truth, love and life of the Divine Persons, each family of Christ's disciples must struggle against anything that would be an obstacle to this life. In this sense, family life is a battleground where character and faithfulness are proven. The family is where the battle for integrity begins and it is where self-contradictions must be faced. In familial relationships, the dignity of each member of the family becomes the project of the entire family to defend and to promote. Here, we discover the pathway to discipleship, to living the Gospel without compromise.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty reflected on the reason couples were marrying in her day. In answer to a survey, a majority explained that they wanted to marry because they wanted to be loved. The Servant of God quipped that if everyone wanted to be loved, who was going to do all the loving?  Learning to love someone is a difficult battle. It requires every once of our humanity. We are defeated even before we step into the arena if we do not realize what we are fighting for - the battle that God wants us to win.  God loves us because He knows the Love whose image and likeness we bear. In His love for us, He has chosen to do whatever it takes to save us from anything that might prevent us from responding to the greatness that He has called us to. This saving work of love cost Him death on the Cross and merely by believing in the love that He reveals by His passion and death we already begin to taste the freedom that we were created to know. He loved us to the end so that we might fight for the freedom to love in our lives -- to love with the fullness of our being, this is what is means to be fully human, fully alive. To live in any other way is not really to live at all, it is merely to exist.

Our failure to fight the battle of love - to learn to be the one who loves - is seen today. In our day, most couples do not want to marry and live together in other kind of arrangements. If they would explain why they did not want to enter into the sacrament of marriage, it is likely that many would express a fear, the fear that if they entered marriage, they might not receive the love that they need for a meaningful life. They are afraid of being unhappy.  

Baptized in a loving encounter with Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship confronts this fear. When we follow the Lord who loved us to the end, we stop worrying about our own needs and begin to be concerned about the needs of those who love. The love of Christ leads us out of self-occupation an
d into the battle to live for love, by love and in love.

Such a battle requires suffering all kinds of hardships, trials, renunciations, difficulties, because (as St. Teresa of Calcutta told us) one cannot love except at one's own expense. Similarly, it is not in our successfulness in character development and family relations, but in our faithfulness to love and truth that the holiness of the Holy Trinity shines forth in our families.  

September 2, 2019

The Victory of the Christian Family

Baptism and marriage establishes a supernatural reality - the Christian family. This mystery is raised to an even more powerful sign when the marriage is sacramental, when both husband and wife are baptized and marry with the blessing of the Church. Yet, even when one spouse or the other is baptized, the mystery of the Christian family has taken hold. Indeed, if a son or daughter were the only baptized member of the family, the power of Christ's grace is already being unleashed throughout the whole household.

I assert this because families struggle today. In some cases, disciples of the Lord find their households in bitter disarray.  A breakdown in basic kindness and a proclivity to resentment haunt our homes. Many question whether the hard work of mutual faithfulness and sacrifice is worth it. Yet our consciences cry out and we know in our hearts that we must not forsake the bonds of love established by God in our lives. Peace in our family requires a great battle, even a constant battle, and despite our many questions, we know we must engage the fray.

In the face of so many challenges to our love for one another, is there a reason for our hope?  Yes. His Name is Jesus. The price He paid for our sake is the source of restoration and victory for our families, no matter the sin we must confront. His Cross establishes new relations between our souls and God, and these new relations implicate all our other relationships - including those intimate relationships of family life.

Because of what Christ suffered for our sake, the family bears a unique relationship with the Holy Trinity. Because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the souls of each of the baptized, each family relationship become capable of revealing the love of the Father communicated by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This relationship of life, love and truth in God breaks into every relationship the closer each family member draws to God. This divine life is an active reality, sanctifying the most commonplace things, making everything of family life into a kind of sacrament in which the Lord's glory shines through.  This mystery is so superabundant that if but one member draws close to the Lord in prayer and fasting, the whole family can become vulnerable to this divine reality.

So it is in the family that we pray for one another. We never pray alone. The Holy Spirit who prays in us also moves the hearts of all of heaven -- including the heart of Mary, the Mother of the Lord. She is not indifferent to the plights of our family. With her Son and the hosts of heaven, she is at work, with her maternal love, bringing about something beautiful, a hidden victory of love, truth and life: the heart warming triumph of grace filled humanity over the limits of sin and misery.

(This is the first part of my presentation to the SCRC in Anaheim, California, Sept. 1, 2019.)