Archive for May, 2012

The Word of God:

The ‘Word of God’ cleanses us and accomplishes what it is meant to do: 

“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55: 11). “You have already been cleansed by the Word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15: 3)

I think when the disciples heard this clear word of encouragement spoken by Jesus, their hearts must have leapt for joy.

The Word of God is seldom put into prominence in tuition courses, to prepare people for initiation into Christian Life, and this is a serious omission. Why do we not emphasise God’s Word, when Jesus, alone, has the words of eternal life, according to Simon Peter, (in John 6: 68), and there is nowhere else to find these words?  In fact, speaking in the name of the disciples, Simon Peter goes on to say: “… we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God”. (John 6: 69)

I suspect it is hard to explain the importance of the Word of God, in words that make sense. Yet, increasingly this year, I am aware that the Word of God is something practical and real – something that brings about personal union with God, and with others  others who also lead me to God.

We need to be inserted like branches into the ‘tree’ of the Word of God, and pruned as well. 

The sacraments are essential, but they are over in a short time; Mass may be 25 minutes long. However, I can be in union with God through the Word, each day, and every day, and that is what I want and need. This is because, if I understand God aright, he is our Father and my Father; He takes a personal interest in me, and is the only one who will lead me, a monk and a priest, through the ‘spiders’ web’ of complicated lives that we all live. He is my real friend, my only ‘Good’, and I know and love Him, because of the Word of God; I am also very aware that He knows and loves me.

Below are some ideas that have crossed my mind concerning the reasons why Catholic Christians, at least, do not emphasise the Word of God enough.

Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, like being unable to see the beauty of Creation around us. 

The Word of God is not just about the scripture, though scripture is essential. On this point, St. Jerome wrote that ‘Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ’. Yet, at the same time, I know many Catholic Christians who have certainly known Christ, but would not have known much of the Scripture! They did the essential thing: they lived the Word of God, as interpreted by those in the Church, who had taught them. 

For many, the words of the Bible are opaque and difficult, and to some even irrelevant. Yet, the Word of God is about a whole experience of life, and words alone cannot do justice, adequately, to this whole experience. The experience I speak of is the experience of loving – and being loved in return; it is what psychologists, like Eric Fromm, speak about, but it is not just something human. No, rather it is of God, divine. The nature of God is Love, according to the scriptures, (1 John 4: 16), and so there must be ‘relationship’ in God, because Love does not permit of ‘solus cum solo’ – the alone with the alone. (In passing, this is no judgement on the value and love of that ‘silence’ of being alone with God, for silence is essential, if we are to know God; it is just that solitude is not what human beings are made for; all of us are made for companionship with God, who is Love, and each other.) When a person truly lives the Love of God, the heart of the Scriptures, then there must be something of a giving and receiving, something that reflects, on earth, the presence of God, who is Love. 

The Word of God reaches its culmination – its high point – for those of us who are trying to be disciples of Jesus, in living what Jesus called, ‘My Commandment’: “… love one another as I have loved you” (John 15: 12). This edict of Jesus is repeated again, and again, by those who teach about the meaning of Christianity, in Church, but people do not live out its obvious implications. It is too much of a commitment, and yet it is the path to freedom.

 Love one another as I have loved you 

The Word of God is intimate to – and in – my own personal life. Intimate things are not easily shared, and many intimate things should not be shared, except with those who share that intimacy. We can be intimate in God, or destroy intimacy by being intimate outside God’s will. When we are in – and part of – the divine type of intimate relationship, the Word is operating right down – and through to – the ‘marrow of life’ and it is here that we find ‘family’, also.  In a family we are truly intimate, and that life is a hidden, secret life, that should not be put on display. Human family life can be either a heaven or a hell; it depends, not on luck, or good fortune, or on a right chemistry, or on anything from, merely, the temporal below; it must include the above, the spiritual, the Godly. At its best, it depends on the bond of family life being formed in true love, not the ‘masquerade’ we humans all too often call ‘love’, which is often self-centred, and is not the self-giving Love that is of God.

If we have companions with whom we live the New Commandment of Jesus, then we have a family in which the members are not just of the same blood, but all have that inner spirit – a spirit so powerful that all would be ready to give their lives for each other. That spirit within, a gift of the Holy Spirit, is what enables a family, even one that seems outwardly disastrous, to be, inwardly, a family in heaven; I have come across such nuclear, human families.

A Franciscan and a Benedictine in strong conversation. Some readers may recognise Fr. Suawek OSB who stayed in Leyland 

I remember well the first time I said, explicitly, to somebody, and he replied in the same vein to me, that we were ready to give our lives for each other. Events had transpired to make me rather ill. In 1977, I was diagnosed as suffering from a stomach ulcer, and Abbot Ambrose allowed me to leave Ampleforth, my monastery in North Yorkshire, to go and recuperate with a Franciscan community, in a retreat house fairly near Padua, in North East Italy. It took three months for the cure to be effected. 

The community of three Friars were all dedicated in their religious life, and all were trying to live that vocational calling according to the Gospel precept of the New Commandment. One of the three was less talkative than the others. He was a straight-forward, hard-working man, who spent his mornings in the retreat house, cooking for the many visitors, sometimes more than a hundred. I had begun to realise that God was calling me to make this step, of actually ‘declaring to somebody’ that I was ready to give my life for them, and so, tentatively, I said this in a quiet way, to this unassuming and good man, Fr. Bruno. He smiled at me, as he was climbing the steps from the kitchen, below ground level, obviously tired after a hard morning, and very simply, he said: “Of course, Jonathan, I too am ready to give my life for you”. It was all over in that very natural, very easy, very quick and very simple way. There was no fuss! A joy entered my heart, that day, and it continues to this day, as with others, I live the same “Word of God”. Moreover, whenever I meet Bruno, whom I do still see from time to time, at international meetings of religious, we renew this agreement, sometimes with a smile of recognition, sometimes in words. Such actions change things, and make ‘the Family of the Body of Christ” real. 

There is a little section in the new revised, standard version of the Gospel of Luke that has the heading, “The True Kindred of Jesus”. In that translation it goes like this: 

“Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you. But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God, and do it.” (Luke 8: 19-21). 

The Word of God, as spoken by Jesus, himself, in this passage – Jesus, who is the Word of God – implies that the Family of God is bigger, and wider, even than our natural family, and that those who belong to the kindred of Jesus, can be mothers, brothers and sisters of Christ himself. We actually ‘generate’ the Lord, himself, when together we live out the Gospel, for Jesus also said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Mt 18: 20). 

Every day, in little things, and big, God is revealing himself to us in his Word, if we, consciously, try to put that Word into practice. This is all the more clear, when we do so with others. Usually, the events are quite small, and so was the one I turn to now. 

One day, quite recently, I was with many others all round the world, trying to put into practice the Word of God: ‘You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you’ (Jn 15:3). It was one of those days in which I had a great deal to do, and not enough time to do everything. The following short episode helps me to know that God is my father too – father to me, as an ordinary man, whom he has called to have responsibility in a big parish, as a monk and a priest. Each day, to help live the Word, I receive from my friends a word of encouragement – a ‘password’ – to help me focus on the Word of God, the ‘Word of Life’ for that month. On this particular April day, it was: 

‘Proclaim the Word’. 

Related to the above, I wrote down a short experience for someone with whom I share this mutual experience of living the Word, including the New Commandment. 

“This is a short password and to the point. As I write, the sky is blue and clear, and it is a super morning. Off to jail today, and straight after a wedding.  

Thank God that yesterday I was able to finish doing what I had to do as there were two families I wanted to visit and it took ages, from 6.15 – 8.45 pm, both very good and elderly parishioners. The first visit was to the grandparents of the man being married today. Grandma’ is too ill to come to the wedding, and she is upset about that. But, in conversation, it turned out that the Granddad is also ill, with a heart condition that I knew nothing about. He is coming to the wedding, only to Church, not to the reception. So, it was good to let them share with me, and even let off steam a bit. I was also able to give them the sacrament of the sick, and they were very happy about that.

 We are not just children of our own natural family, but we are children of God. 

With the second couple I prayed – the husband Eddie is sick and has been in his special bed, unable to eat or drink except through a tube, for 7 months, and unable to speak. He is 82 or so, and his wife about 80, and she looks after him with a devotion that would be similar to Anna and Simeon, going into the temple each day. To my shame I see both these couples rarely. I did enjoy going to visit them. She offered me something to eat, a balm-cake and a chocolate biscuit. That meant I did not need to worry about getting food ready when I returned home. We prayed, as I left them at 8.30 pm, that I could finish what I had to do: put the bulletin on the website, (takes an hour or so), add a new front to the website, prepare two sermons; one for the prison and one for the wedding. Unusually, it all was fairly easy, and I had finished everything by 11.30pm.  And so, that was another little miracle – just a little one. Perhaps, we should be able to enlarge on them, as yesterday’s ‘password’ was that the ‘Word moves Mountains’: a more challenging proposition! ”

How can I deny that God is my Father, when each day, there are so many experiences like this one, all of them making a practical difference to my life? 

“The Word of God cleanses us and accomplishes what it is meant to do.”

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RMS Titanic:

Just a few weeks ago there occurred the centenary of the sinking of the ‘Titanic’; now that the media ‘hype’ has died down a little, perhaps it may be appropriate to re-visit the tragedy. A hundred years ago, the RMS Titanic, then the largest luxury liner in the world, left Southampton on her maiden voyage, bound for New York.  She called at the French port of Cherbourg, also at Queenstown, County Cork, Eire, and it was then full steam ahead for the United States, with around 2,250 men, women and children aboard.  At 11.40 pm (ship’s time) on 14 April 1912, still on course, she came into collision with an iceberg.  The collision ripped apart the steel plates of her hull, on the starboard side, opening up five of her sixteen watertight compartments, and the ship began to take in water, rapidly.  Less than three hours later, close to 2.20 am, this enormous vessel sank bow-first into the North Atlantic Ocean, some 375 miles south of Newfoundland, with over 1,000 people still on board.  A few hours later, over 700 survivors were taken on board the nearest ship, the RMS Carpathia, from the Titanic’s lifeboats, but the total death toll came to over 1,500, in what was described as being one the deadliest maritime disasters in history.

The Opulence of the Grand Staircase

The ’Titanic’ was constructed to the highest standards of ship-building, at that time. It seems no expense was spared, especially in relation to the first class accommodation, with its opulent dining rooms, dance halls, staircases, gymnasia – the list goes on and on.  Second and third class rooms were well appointed though not nearly so ‘posh’ as those for the ‘gentry’ – an arrangement that largely reflected the class-structures and divisions of that era, in the United Kingdom, most of Europe and, to some extent, that of the United States.  Hundreds of men, women and children sailed in what was called steerage, meaning in compartments to the rear of the ship – in cramped conditions below the water-line. The class divisions were then much more rigid than appertains today, and these resulted in those well-known feelings of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.  On board, and under the normal circumstances of the first part of the voyage, people ‘knew’ their places in society, and social interchange was mostly discouraged.  All this was to change when the ship hit the floating mountain of ice, and within hours, people were to change, from one of distance to one another, to that much happier state of people helping each other, when in dire need.  There are many accounts of heroic actions on the parts of people of all classes, helping others to escape the sinking vessel – of people giving their lives to help others, and the ‘policy’ that was followed of ‘Women and Children First’, followed ‘religiously’, resulted in a disproportionate number of men losing their lives to drowning. 

In calling to mind this disaster of a hundred years ago, it is not my intention to simply regurgitate the facts and figures surrounding the sinking of the ‘Titanic’, as these can be garnered from the many and varied media articles telling the stories of what occurred; as regards these, there has been much renewed interest in the newspapers, magazines and on television – and understandably so on the occasion of the centennial anniversary.  Additionally, many films have been made, telling the stories from many different points of view. 

Getting away from the facts of the case, I think there are lessons to be learned from all that took place in April 1912, and I would now like to concentrate attention on some aspects of these. 

I remember, many years ago, asking my dad about the ‘Titanic’. His immediate response was: “That’s the ship they said could not be sunk.” Like myself, I suspect the reader will often have heard accounts describing the vessel as ‘unsinkable’, and in this regard, the statement is most often attributed to the builders / owners of the ship.  Should that have been the case, then I cannot conceive of how, even in 1912, such responsible and intelligent men, could ever have been so full of pride as to make such a crass, and distinctly incorrect, impossible statement.  To have made any such statement, surely, would have been inviting disaster.  However, the people responsible, owners ‘The White Star Line’ and builders, ‘Harland and Wolf’, of the Belfast Shipyard, refuted the making of any such statement; they maintained that they had only ever claimed that the ‘Titanic’ was virtually unsinkable, and to this end they pointed to the advanced safety features such as watertight compartments and remotely operated watertight doors.  The press of those days were said to have been the parties responsible for claiming that the vessel was ‘unsinkable’.  How wrong could they have been? 

Wherever the truth lay in those far-off days, it seems to me that pride was playing a major role – and in a number of ways.  Though more than complying, legally, with maritime requirements, as to the provision, and number of lifeboats, in proportion to the numbers of passengers and crew, the vessel was not equipped with enough lifeboats to carry all the people on board; the maximum lifeboat capacity was given as 1,178 individuals.  This fact alone says, clearly, that an assumption was made that there was nothing – no danger – that could threaten the safety of the vessel. The ship was equipped with advanced wireless telegraph, and during her voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, she received warnings of icebergs ahead.  It seems that such warnings were largely discounted, as it was then thought that floating ice was not a danger to ships as large as the ‘Titanic’.  The Captain, himself, had declared that he could not “… imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder, as modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”  The sinking of the ‘Titanic’ led to an international review of all the safety precautions for ocean liners and the safety of their passengers and crews; these included the provision of lifeboats, sufficient to carry all those on board, new regulations regarding ice patrols, the use of red distress flares, round-the-clock radio watches, all of which changes are still in force today. 

I can only think it the greatest of follies to be so proud as to assume that human kind has thought of everything – in this case, regarding the construction of a very large luxury liner with all the modern safety features.  We are human, after all is said and done, and liable to make mistakes; mistakes on this scale, as we learn to our cost, can be very expensive, and tragic in terms of human life.  I have often heard it said, from hindsight in the news – and other sources – that such and such a precaution “…. has now been taken, and therefore, this type of tragedy can never happen again”.  Invariably, I cringe whenever I hear such madness.  On this question, concerning human pride, and the position in which we put God, I think we would always be wise to give God his foremost place; our actions, even when we do our best to achieve great things, should always be put into their proper perspective, and we would do well to remember that we only achieve greatness with God’s help. 

We know only too well that there are inclinations towards egotism in all of us.  I cannot be sure whether or not we are ‘made’ this way, or whether it may be that this is something we all learn from an early age.  If the latter be the case, then, most surely, we learn it from those around us.  Whatever, this aspect of our human nature causes us to tend, in many instances, to put ourselves before God and our neighbours.  We relegate those we should put first, into second place, and this, we learn, is the main cause of our sinfulness. This attitude stands in the way of keeping God’s Commandments – God’s Law – and is the prime reason why we lose our friendship with God.  God still loves us – he never stops – but, egotistically, we turn our backs on his love, in our inward-looking, self-seeking and self-centered ways; we would do well to remember that, whenever we put pride in ourselves first, there is always a price to be paid.  

The origins of this, amongst the greatest of maritime disasters, lie in human actions of this sort and over 1,500 men, women and children lost their lives.  Many have tried to imagine, and portray, what it must have been like for the passengers and crew as this great ship foundered and sank – so quickly – and I have often tried to do the same.  The feelings of fear, and panic, must have been uppermost in most peoples’ minds, that April evening 100 years ago, but then tragedies involving large losses of human life were happening before this event; they continue to occur, periodically, all down the years, to our present time – tragedies involving trains and boats and planes – as the human population becomes much more mobile.  When presented with such fearsome events, all I can say is: please, God help us all – especially those who travel – and all those who have charge of our travel arrangements.


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The Holy Land – Joyful Fulfilment:

I look back now, with joy and thanksgiving, for those few days in the Holy Land – the land Jesus trod, the paths he took that we took, the same landscapes we saw; we made the same journeys, we saw the same flowers and trees, but in profoundly different circumstances. As I reflect on our pilgrimage, I realise just how our time there was totally absorbing. This was where, 2,000 years ago, our redemption had taken place, and where we were now benefitting, by sharing in its fruits, together.

 Jesus almost certainly trod these steps from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Later he came back the same way a prisoner of the soldiers to face his trial.

Jesus on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane on those same steps

 Jesus on the way back from the Garden of Gethsemane on those steps

As the first reflection pointed out, our pilgrimage experience was only heightened, by being part of a closely-knit group that grew in unity with each coming day; hour by hour, it was a joy to meet with each person, with all their differences and unique personalities; we tried to have Love, (or God), among us, for: “Where there is Love and Charity, there is God”, as we sing on Maundy Thursday, at the Mass of the Last Supper. The world of home, in Britain, was far away, not forgotten, but not impinging on us. Always, there was that ‘melting-pot’ of different religions, with the manifestly evident tensions between them, and these, coupled with the sights of powerful soldiers wielding their earthly authority, and many other factors, reminded me of the times of Jesus, those many years ago. I felt we had entered into that same experience, in our own way, and in our own time; it was a ‘life-giving’ experience yielding feelings that remain, even to this day, when I look back.

A Mosaic in the Apse of the Benedictine Church of the Dormition showing Mary and Jesus

On Wednesday, 21st March, we visited the Benedictine monastery of the Dormition, where a tradition has it that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, ‘went to sleep’ and rose, body and soul, into paradise. It is a lovely reserve of Benedictine life, in the middle of the Holy City. 

Nearby, is the traditional site of the ‘Upper Room’, also called the ‘Cenacle’; that room is at the heart of our Christian faith, because the greatest events of Jesus’ life took place nearby the present ‘upper room’. Here is where the Institution of the Eucharist and of the Priesthood took place; it was here that Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles, and later, Jesus was to appear to them on that first Easter evening, spreading forth his peace, to all those present and beyond.

A stained glass window from the time this Upper Room was a mosque.

The present upper room is a 14th century ancient hall, rebuilt by the Franciscans, after previous basilicas and churches had been lost, in the ‘ups and downs’ of the violent history of the region. This very space was later used as a mosque, and there is a niche in the wall, indicating the direction of Mecca, the direction Muslims always face when they pray.

Site of the Upper Room as built by the Franciscans and modified by the Moslems

After visiting the tomb of King David, below the site of the Upper Room, we returned to Bethlehem where we had our own simple Mass in the Chapel of the Franciscan house, where we were staying, followed by our own ‘last supper’ in the Holy Land.

 Our Last meal together was in Haifa in a very busy Palestinian Restaurant.

Our final day was spent at ‘one of the sites’ of Emmaus. The true location of the ‘original’ Emmaus of Jesus’ day remains a ‘burning’ question, but again, does it really matter? On the two visits to the Holy Land that I have enjoyed, we went to two different places for Emmaus. Both of them are special, and on both occasions, we felt the presence of the Risen Lord, in the ‘Breaking of bread’.

On this occasion, Mass was in the ancient ruins of a Byzantine Church, on which a Crusader Church was also built. It was in the open air, under a canopy, and on this occasion, we took turns to share our impressions of what the few days together had meant to us.

Mass at Emmaus on the Last Day – Sharing with each other

Many beautiful things were said, most of which I cannot remember. One saying I remember well: it came from an older person of our group, who pointed out, as you get older you think about the impending meeting with the good Lord, and it is often a sobering, and even fearful thought. But, she continued, coming on this journey ‘in the footsteps of Jesus’, she had seen what He had done, and what she had drawn from the experience, she had enjoyed; it was helping her to come to terms with what would happen to her, one day. 

In St. Luke’s account about Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion recognised Jesus, when he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them: 

“Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening up the scriptures to us?’” 

In 1964, Chiara Lubich wrote something that is very appropriate, and perhaps, echoes the experience we all enjoyed: 

“The presence of Jesus in our midst brings light, warmth, decision, strength, which all come when we have him among us. This is the burning (expressed in human terms) of our heart within us, it’s the supernatural that burns within us.”

NOTE: We hope to have a gathering of those interested, to see some more slides of our Holy Land visit of March 2012, on Friday 29 June 2012, at 7.30pm, in Leyland at our Priory Parish Centre.  All the pilgrims are welcome, as well as any parishioners, or friends who would like to attend. We will have some refreshments available, and a chance to comment and to share impressions, from those who went on the pilgrimage “In the Footsteps of Jesus”.

“He is Risen, He is not here”. He is with you, wherever you are, when you live his ‘Words of Life’.

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Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem:

One of my fellow ‘pilgrims’ from our recent visit to the Holy Land rang to contact me, expressing the hope that, as a group, we could have another “Mass” together, back here in England. He felt that those occasions when Holy Mass was celebrated, in different locations, were some of the highlights of our time together, and indeed they were. They were simple – yet very meaningful – and people felt engaged, and somehow taken ‘outside’ themselves.

Mass, Monday 19 March, beneath the Basilica at Bethlehem, (St. Jerome might have prayed and celebrated Mass here.)

Those on our pilgrimage, who were not really engaged with ‘Churchy’ things, came to all the Masses, and this fact makes me reflect on the question that the Mass is many things to many people, with many different layers and meanings:

  •  Perfect union with God through Jesus Christ who died and rose again for us.
  • A chance to pray, be quiet, and be in union with God, as best as I may, with all my troubles.
  • Something that cannot really be understood, or explained, because it is just the ‘right thing to do’ in certain circumstances – such as a pilgrimage ‘in the Footsteps of Jesus’.
  • Being together, with a group of pilgrims, who have been guided, and led, through all the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ of life, as we face things every day of our lives, and in the light of Jesus’ example in facing things that happened to him, in the places where they took place.
  • A social activity with friends but with that important religious overtone.

Of course, in Bethlehem, we visited the spot where Jesus was born. You have to go down stairs, in this ancient Basilica of the Nativity, uniquely not destroyed by the Persian invaders in 641 AD, and now a bigger Church. There is an altar, with a big star underneath it: traditionally, that is where Jesus was born.

(May I add a rider here that, in the Holy Land, it is not really important whether the spot is the exact place where an event took place; the important thing is that it certainly did happen, and in that area! This question arises again and again in the Holy Land, for many different biblical events; the lack of importance regarding the exactitude question is also a common and refreshing feature).  

Traditionally, the Place Where Jesus Was Born

Where Jesus Lay in the Manger.  (Three people on their knees – one, a nun, praying earnestly)

Prayer should surround, and penetrate, our lives; the Mass is essential, but not sufficient. In the Gospel, Jesus says “pray always”, (Luke 21: 36), and, in the letter to the Ephesians, one finds the same idea “Pray in the spirit at all times”, (Eph 6: 18). This cannot mean praying, in the usual sense of the word, with hands joined, heads down, eyes shut – in total communion with God, for when we drive the car, we can pray; similarly, when we cook, go shopping, read a book, have a conversation, or do any normal thing, we can pray at the same time. Who was it that prayed at all times? Jesus, himself, as he was in communion with God, and his will, at all times. The aim of our Christian life is to ‘put on Christ’ (Gal 3: 27), and we can participate in the behaviour of Christ, in the way we do ordinary things, if He is alive in us. In that sense, IN HIM, everything we do becomes a prayer. There is a great need for Christ to grow in people, for prayer to become constant, and the ‘present state’ of the Holy Land highlights these needs. When Christ Jesus is present in people, and among them, one feels peace. In the Holy Land there is an obvious lack of it.

 Close up of the Wall Surrounding much of the West Bank – The Section in Bethlehem

Israeli Soldiers at the Main Bethlehem Check Point

One of the Most Famous Graffiti on the Wall in Bethlehem – The Dove of Peace in Mortal Danger.

All pilgrims are affected by these sights, and by the tensions in the air. Most certainly, our group was – and because of this many feel the desire to pray. The Wailing Wall, which we visited, is a place of heartfelt prayer – a Jewish place of prayer, – and a place of prayer for all peoples. It is the outer retaining wall of the West of the Temple Mount that dates back to the Temple of Solomon, and the later, Herodian Temple of Jesus’ time. It remained standing after the Destruction of the Temple, by the Romans, in 70 AD; it is, therefore, a very holy site for Jews, and for all who are sons and daughters of Abraham – Jews, Muslims and Christians. Christians who are non-Semitic are children of Abraham spiritually, as we share the same faith as Abraham.

 Panorama of the Wailing Wall – Men’s Section; (Women’s Section is to the Right)

A Christian Praying at the Wailing Wall

We visited – at great length – the place where St. Peter betrayed Jesus.  The knowledge that the great Saint Peter could behave in this way, can be greatly encouraging for us.  In the spot where Peter was warming himself, by the fire outside the High Priest’s Palace, there is a series of expressive statues that catches the moment so well. Peter, who had so strongly told Jesus that he could never deny him, is here shown at his third time of denial, of any knowledge of who Jesus was; vehemently, stating he had never associated with Jesus. Peter’s behaviour was so like that of almost all of us, from time to time. Later on Peter would ‘begin again’ and be fully reconciled to the Lord, by the power of the Cross, that we had already seen the day before.

Peter Denies Jesus for the Third Time

Of course, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and also walked the Way of the Cross, past the traditional Stations where Jesus carried his Cross, was helped by Simon of Cyrene, met his mother Mary, allowed Veronica to wipe his face with her towel, Fell Three Times, met the Women of Jerusalem; finally, where he was Stripped of his Garments, was Crucified and Died for our sins. Also, we saw the place of his Resurrection from the Dead. It was quite a feat, fitting all this in in the time available, and all that, apart from the crowded alley-ways that lead up to the famous Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The time problem led us to face the reality of a lack of peace, even in the holiest place in the world, where Jesus was crucified.

 The Via Dolorosa when we were there

 The Site of the Crucifixion – (note the concern on the face of the Orthodox monk, and the encouragement for our group to be quick and leave before the procession began)

In the picture above, beneath the altar, is the site of the Crucifixion of Jesus. Looking closely, one can see a person kneeling under the altar to feel, with his hand, the socket where the Crucifix upright was placed. This could be called the holiest place in the world – the place where our redemption took place. It should be a place of peace and concord, but, for us, it was a place of challenge and disquiet.  For one thing, we had to queue for a long time to enter, first the place of Jesus’ burial, and from where he rose from the dead. The place of the burial, and Resurrection of Jesus, was in a brand-new burial place that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea: “Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19: 41-42). He was crucified on Golgotha, which is above the ‘garden’, as the place where his tomb is located, is named. People say the best way to describe it, is like a quarry: above is the crucifixion site.  Below, in the quarry base, and hewn into the rock, is the burial chamber. The entire site, in two levels, is now covered by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Building Surrounding the Tomb of Jesus – (Only five people can enter at a time and there is always a long queue to enter – it was the first place we visited in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The other thing was that we were finding ourselves in a very tight time-frame. We had arrived at about 2.45pm, in the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre, and a Catholic Procession and Devotions were scheduled for 4.00 pm. By the time all members of our group had visited the places of Burial and Resurrection, it was around 3.50 pm, and some were still to venerate the Site of the Crucifixion. However, the Sepulchre was getting ready for the Catholic procession and vespers. We heard bells ringing, and, suddenly, a ‘shouting match’ was to disturb the peace. Our entire group was allowed to pass through. The ‘hullabaloo’ was because, one Christian pilgrim, in particular, also wanted to be allowed up the steps, to venerate the Crucifixion, but the Franciscan authorities had decided the entry point must close, after our group. Two Christians – one a good and consecrated Franciscan, to boot, all but came to blows. They raised their voices, very loudly, in a moment of intense anger and conflict. Yet, on this very spot, a great event had taken place – an event intended to be the focus for peace and reconciliation, for the whole world. It provided every one of us, with food for thought.

Daily Catholic Procession, 4.00 pm Tuesday 20th March 2012,

It was precisely this disunity, disharmony, and self-will, for which Jesus lovingly gave his life, allowing himself to be, utterly, cut off from God, emptying himself from his own desires, for the good of all. We were grateful that events had let us to complete this important part of the pilgrimage, and we could pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, in that difficult moment where there was a distinct of lack of peace. This included praying for the frustrated, and very vocal pilgrim, who, for all we knew, may never be able to return to this holy spot again; he had not been able, when it came to the moment, to venerate his Lord and Master’s place of Crucifixion. I wondered what I would have done, in his situation, and realised that, in different circumstances, I might easily have been so insistent in trying to get what I wanted. I could have behaved in a similar way. It should be noted that, in order to keep good order the young and burly Franciscan had to stop him doing what he wanted. 

To pray for the peace of Jerusalem means, at the end of the day, to pray that I am always at peace, and I suppose, it must mean that Jesus, in his love and wisdom, humility and goodness, has come to live in me, for his glory, and the good of all. There is so much healing needed in our world; this obvious need is because of the lack of peace, the anger, the self-centredness, in us human beings. The many wars, conflicts, broken personal relationships, and all the divisions we experience, have their origins in the lack of peace and harmony, both within individuals, and among them. The only remedy lies in Love, growing in each person, and among people – the challenge of life! Love is God, the Word of God, who dwells in, and among us, as we put on Christ, more and more, thus removing our own ego. God does work the miracle; certainly, he did for us, during those days in the Holy Land.

The final photograph shows our group bar one, just before entry into the Holy Sepulchre Church, getting ready for an official photo of all, on some steps just outside the entrance.

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