Home vs. Alone

Rey at home Force Awakens Star Wars

When Mary and Joseph found the child Jesus in the Temple, He said to them, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand.

Mary and Joseph knew something, of course. They both had received visits from an angel twelve years earlier. But we can hardly fault them for not understanding completely. They did not have ‘the typical child’ to raise. They had God incarnate for a son. Human in everything, except sin. But also possessed of the infinite depth of the eternal Word.

To Whom does the only-begotten Son of God belong? To no one but the Father, of course. Who can “house” the Creator? Where is His “home?” The only true home the infinite Son can have is the infinite bosom of the infinite Father.

But: “He went down with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them,” like any normal good son. He Who made the world to be our home lived in a humble family home of His own, in a small town.

Let’s imagine a Nazarene townie giving a newcomer a tour: “That house? That belongs to so-and-so the weaver. That one? Oh, that’s the carpenter Joseph’s house, where the Son of God grew up.”

elgreco_holy-familyI guess by now everyone has seen the new Star Wars movie. If not, don’t worry. I won’t give much away. It’s just that one thing really struck me, about how the heroine grew up.

In the original Star Wars, back in the 1970’s, the hero Luke Skywalker lived on remote desert planet. He was an orphan, apparently. But he lived in a cozy space-age farmhouse with uncle Owen and aunt Beru. In other words, Luke had a home–where he had grown up, with a man and wife raising him.

At the beginning of the new Star Wars, the new heroine, named Rey, also lives on a remote desert planet. But she lives alone, in an old broken-down imperial tank. No family at all.

Is this difference between the movie of the 1970’s and the movie of today a “sign of the times?” Forty years ago, we Americans took for granted: a child needs a home, with a family, a mom and dad. Now? We don’t know. We don’t know what a child needs. We have managed to get ourselves thoroughly confused.

Instead of bemoaning the collateral damage of the Age of Divorce, though, let’s do this:

1. Let’s communicate what the prophets of the Bible say. After all, Israel herself, the chosen tribe, had fallen into the same homeless state as the young Rey on the planet Jakku. Friendless and bereft, an apparent orphan, marking days in misery, struggling to survive alone. Israel had become an exile, far from the Holy Land, her very identity as a people threatened. We worry about African lions going extinct. But in the sixth century BC, The People of God almost went extinct. The heritage of Abraham and Moses almost forgotten.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s a stretcher for us to say this: The words the prophets addressed to the exiles of 2500 years ago are the very words God addresses now to the lonely children of this Age of Divorce and Single Parenthood.

Prophet Ezekiel's portrait in the Sistine Chapel
Prophet Ezekiel’s portrait in the Sistine Chapel

You have a father, child! You have a birthright, and a name. Israel is no orphan! God says: You are mine. My house is yours.

2. Our second task is to build real homes ourselves. To make the parish a true home for all. And to make our own particular dwellings as much like the home of the Holy Family as we can.

What does the world need in AD 2016? Not macho men–silly boys trying to masquerade as grownups. No, the world needs chaste and strong husbands and fathers like St. Joseph. The world does not need feminists–unhappy girls trying to act like men. No, the world needs chaste and strong mothers and wives, like our Lady. Our Lady and St. Joseph did not believe in divorce, so neither do we. And, for God’s sake, the world does not need “gay-rights” advocacy, in vitro fertilization and test-tube babies with absent anonymous fathers. The world needs champions who will defend the rights of children.

We were lost, homeless, orphaned before Christ came. It’s not as if family life according to the model of the Holy Family constricts us in some stale old convention. To the contrary: divorce and broken families have been around longer than the hills. There were plenty of divorces and broken families during the Babylonian captivity. In the Holy Family of Nazareth, God has given us the genuinely new thing. He has given us the kind of home where we can hope for a better future.

AD 2016 sits before us like a sheet of blank notebook paper. Let’s write JMJ at the top. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We don’t have to live as hermit orphans, like poor Rey in “The Force Awakens.” We have a home. In the bosom of the Father. With Mary and Joseph. With Christ.

Familiarity with Human Nature

In the first reading at Holy Mass Sunday, we hear the Lord say to the prophet, “Behold, I am sending you to a rebellious house. They and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.”

Hard of face and obstinate of heart. That’s us, the human race.

Lord Jesus came to His native place, among His kith and kin. And the people said, “Who does he think he is? Homeboy has gotten too big for his britches!”

Big MacLet’s pause and take a look at the ceaselessly amusing thing called “human nature.”

Human nature involves: Bad breath, shaving nicks, stubbornness, going to the bathroom (both #1 and #2), snoring, cavities, forgetting stuff, sneezing and nose-blowing, chewing, earwax, singing off-key, foot fungus, armpits, nose hair, etc.

Lots of unflattering aspects, all-too-familiar. Can we doubt that even the Lord Jesus Christ, after sweating in the sun all day, might have exuded an aroma that some people found unpleasant?

The reality of human nature impinges itself upon us constantly. We reckon with it at every step of our life. We must reckon with it, in fact. Few pathologies prove more dangerous to our health and well-being, after all, than the delusion that the limits of human nature don’t apply to me. “I don’t need to eat or rest. I’m like Superman.” Next thing you know: back spasms, ulcers, facial tics, binge drinking, or worse. The wise among us, therefore, stay intimately familiar with the foibles of being human–and accept the limits which those foibles impose.

This very intimacy with the humble dimensions of human nature, though, can get in the way of the most important thing a human person can do. The most important thing we can do is: Believe. And not just believe in something vague. No. The most important thing a human being can do is believe in the incarnation. Believe that Jesus, the man, is God.

The Nazarenes could not do it, because of over-familiarity. Maybe our Lord’s b.o. smelled too much like their own.

The Nazarenes knew, like we do, that they were no angels. Angels, after all, don’t eat cheeseburgers. They never use mustard or pickle relish, under any circumstances. Angels have far-more-exalted things to do than chew on the flesh of cows, pigs, or chickens. The purely spiritual occupations of the angels, in fact, probably strike us as more beautiful than many of our pastimes—like burping contests, for instance.

king kongBut God took human nature to Himself Personally. At the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, I once had a very brief disagreement with a loud man in a yarmulke. He saw my Roman collar and yelled at me, “God is not a man!” “Forgive me, friend,” I replied, “but you’re wrong there. He is.”

Did our Lord Jesus ever have a bout of hiccups? Don’t know. But He could have. What we do know for sure is that he ate and drank, digested, etc. That some people liked Him, and some people didn’t. That He loved, wept, got angry. And that He died.

God united human nature—the lumpy, often inconvenient reality that we deal with all the time—He united it to Himself. He became as Personally familiar with it as all the rest of us are.

And, if we want to honor Almighty God as He deserves to be honored, we cannot let our own homey familiarity with our foibles as human beings get in the way of our believing in this mystery. Because: His very uniting Himself to our nature—this Incarnation that God has achieved: Not only does it not demean the inconceivable dignity of the Uncreated, Omnipotent Wisdom; not only does His having taken our nature to Himself not lower Him as a Being—to the contrary, like nothing else, it reveals just how genuinely majestic He truly is.

It is precisely because God reigns with such pure, untouchable, otherworldly transcendence that He can unite Himself to our stock, and disturb nothing by doing so. His Incarnation has not changed human nature into something else; God becoming man has not frazzled human nature, or subsumed it. Forgive the imperfect analogy, but it’s like the overwhelming power of King Kong, who had the strength to hold Ann Darrow in the palm of his hand, without hurting her. God has taken our nature, which is prone to farting, to Himself, in order to reveal the true glory for which we were created. Only someone so superior as God could do this: Lift the little fusty-looking creature from the earth, intact, up to the light that makes the creature appear truly beautiful.

If this sounds abstract, just gaze at the crucifix, and I will explain what I am trying to say.

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

Here is the utter ugliness of everything that is shameful about human nature. Cruelty. Weakness of our flesh. And the ultimate reality of our race: death. All right here, as ugly as ugly can be.

Except: it’s beautiful. A crucifix is not ugly. A crucifix is beautiful.

The mystery of the Incarnation is not something abstract at all. It is simply this: the beauty of Christ crucified. Our crucifixes are beautiful because God is all-powerful. Powerful enough that, out of love, He united Himself with the race that has cookouts.

Prince and Other Particularities

“But we know where he is from.” (John 7:27)

Got me thinking about: Where am I from?

Upper-northwest Washington, D.C. I’m from Redskins fans. And from white people– the most well-meaning and well-mannered white people you’ll ever find. With every passing year, I admire my mother and father more, and I thank God more heartily that He brought me into this world from Kirk and Ann White.

princeI’m from Chevy Chase Playground, at Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street, where I spent most of the 1970’s trying to learn how to play basketball. Speaking of the 1970’s: I’m from a time when people trusted each other more, and got along better, I think, than we do now.

I’m from the complicated East Coast. I’m from the United States. I’m from the English-speaking peoples, from the race of William Shakespeare. Praise God!

All of us have our own particular origins. None of us can altogether escape them.

In my limited experience I have learned that the greatest delusion a man can fall into is: thinking that there is some life for him to live other than being his father’s son. And the greatest delusion a woman can fall into is thinking she can live as someone other than her mother’s daughter. The Lord gives us each total uniqueness and sovereign free will, to be sure. But He also gives us particular origins, and to despise our origins is to despise ourselves.

They thought that the Christ must be a man of incomprehensibly mysterious origin. How wrong they were! They had it altogether backwards.

The Nazarene, Who was raised by a carpenter and his wife, Who learned from them how to speak and walk and make pilgrimages down the Jordan to Jerusalem, Who frequented the same synagogue for years, where everyone could remember when He first started showing signs of a beard—the dusty-footed Galilean has revealed the truth:

We all have one origin: We come from God. And God brings each of us into the world in such a marvelously particular way that only He could come up with it all.

God gave me a teenage experience in which I listened to the greatest musician any of us will ever hear of, and I lived the years of high-school during his prime. God gave me Prince and the Revolution to grow up with, in their prime, when Prince wrote music and put on a show like no one since.

Only God could do something like that, give me something like that. Praise Him!

Provocation to Humility

Mt. Precipice, Nazareth

Jesus said, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.

“Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (Luke 4:25-29)

Last Sunday we read that the Lord Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and announced to the faithful Jews in His hometown that He is the Messiah.

We might think that this dramatic revelation would have led to immediate euphoria. We might think that, when the Messiah revealed Himself to the people who had known Him since He was a boy, everybody would have believed, and rejoiced, and smiled, and hugged, and said nice things about each other.

But this is not what happened. The people in the synagogue doubted. “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

Continue reading “Provocation to Humility”

Acceptable 2010 starts with St. Luke

The Hoyas tore up the hapless Rutgers Scarlet Knights this afternoon.

The most interesting part of the game was a Subway radio commercial. The delirious announcer promises a hot pastrami sandwich, “We will follow you blindly, like nearsighted bison on a flavor stampede.”

Here is a homily for tomorrow’s Holy Mass:

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you. (Luke 1:1-3)

In the synagogue in Nazareth, the Lord Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Our kind and loving Creator is giving us this year of 2010. He has given us almost a month of it already. What are we going to do with this precious gift?

We are not little amoebas floating in the waters of time. We are not bystanders of 2010, watching it flow by, as it becomes the kind of year that is not acceptable to God, with nothing for us to do about it. No. We can take a firm grip on A.D. 2010 and turn it into something beautiful and good.

Now, let me tell you the first thing we are going to do to make this year acceptable. This year we are going to read the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke.

Continue reading “Acceptable 2010 starts with St. Luke”

Three Points for Holy Family

Three little points about the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple.

The Law of Moses stipulated that the Jews of old were to go up to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple three times a year.

The trip on foot from Nazareth to Jerusalem was long. It took a few days. It was not a journey for anyone younger than twelve.

The pilgrimage of the twelve-year-old Christ to Jerusalem was the first time the Lord Jesus ascended to the Temple on His own two feet. It was His first religious pilgrimage.

Continue reading “Three Points for Holy Family”

Jet-Lagged but Eager

Very attentive pilgrims

Today we went to the Basilica of the Annunciation to meditate on a few things.

We considered three points:

1. Our Lady welcomed the Archangel Gabriel here with perfect humility.
2. God became man in our Lady’s womb right here.
3. He lived most of His human life here–His hidden life, the life He has shared with every human being.

Continue reading “Jet-Lagged but Eager”

Home of the Nazarene

nazareth city

We have arrived in the city where our Lord was conceived in His mother’s womb, and where He grew up.

Thank you to everyone for your prayers and good wishes. Be assured of our prayers for you here in this holy place.

We just watched the sun set over the Jezreel Valley. The Kishon Brook runs through this valley. Elijah took the priests of Baal to this brook after his triumph over them.

More to come…

God Asks Permission His Way

annunciationI am ashamed to admit that I am just now getting around to reading all the homilies and speeches our Holy Father gave when he was in the Israel in May.

When he was preaching in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Pope made a remarkable observation.

He was recounting what happened at that spot, when the Archangel Gabriel awaited the Blessed Virgin’s response:

The narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God’s extraordinary courtesy. He does not impose himself, he does not simply pre-determine the part that Mary will play in his plan for our salvation: he first seeks her consent.

In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures, but in this new Creation he does so.

Of course it is a beautiful thing to see the Archangel waiting on Our Lady’s free response–to see the Lord waiting on it, all creation waiting on it.

Pope in Nazareth
Pope meditating during Vespers in Nazareth
What struck me here the most, though, is the way the Pope blithely contrasts this with the way God created us in the first place.

In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures.

Of course there wasn’t. He created us out of nothing. You can’t ask nothing permission to create it, because there is nothing to ask.

You can only seek the permission of a free person who already exists. Existing is a given–literally. God gave us ourselves.

Then, He asks us to give ourselves back. Freely giving ourselves back is the one and only way for us to deal with having ourselves in the first place.

It is pointless and absurd to fuss about existing, because it never was, and never could have been, a matter for advice and consent.

But offering oneself back to God as an oblation of love–now that is something to fuss about…

My brother Ben
Speaking of which, a friend asked me to mention that The Bethlehem Monastery of Colettine Poor Clare nuns in Barhamsville, VA is having a “Come and See” day on November 14 for women 18-35.

…P.S. Just in case you were looking for White in the Grey Lady recently, Ben White has moved on from the NYT and is now contributing to a daily briefing on politico.com called “Morning Money.”

Account of My Pilgrimage to the Holy Land




We arrived at Ben Gurion airport at about 5:00 p.m. in wind and rain, very tired.  We traveled by bus to Jaffa/Joppa and had our first Holy Mass of the pilgrimage at the Church of St. Peter.  Here the Apostle received the vision by which the Lord declared all foods clean, and he was sent to Caesarea to baptize Cornelius.  We could hear the wind whipping in from the Mediterranean.





We arose to wind and rain coming in from the sea.  At 9:30 we arrived at Ceasarea Maritima, stunned by how cold and windy it was at the water’s edge.


Our Palestinian (ethnically ‘Aramaic’, he said) Catholic guide Raouf led us on a walking tour of the reconstructed theater, originally built by Herod the Great, and the ruins of the palace he built for himself by the sea.  This may be the location where St. Paul was held for two years, pending his transfer to Rome to stand trial as a Roman citizen.


In the ruins of the Crusader fortress


After a quick visit to Herod’s aqueduct, a little further up the seashore, the bus headed north.  We stopped for falafel sandwiches, then rode to Haifa and Mt. Carmel.  The church would not re-open from mid-day closure for a while, so we visited the Bahai Garden, which offers a splendid panorama of beautiful seaside Haifa.

At the Bahai Garden in Haifa
At the Bahai Garden in Haifa








At. 3:00 we entered the church of Stella Maris for Holy Mass in the choir.  After Mass, we visited the beautiful main church, in which the sanctuary sits above the cave of Elijah.  From Haifa, we backtracked to the “Muhraqa,” site of Elijah’s sacrifice, after which he slew the prophets of Baal in the Qishon Brook down in the Jezreel Valley below.  We listened to 1 Kings 18 with great spiritual unction.  From here we drove across the valley in the setting sun to Tiberias.  Upon arriving at the hotel, one of my brother priests and I further whetted our pagan-slaying spirit by sampling Maccabee beer at the lobby bar.




Those of us with rooms facing east, upon rising and opening our curtains, discovered with delight that we were looking out at the Sea of Galilee.  Its waters shimmered under an overcast sky.  We boarded the bus at 8:00 a.m.


Church of the Miracle at Cana
Church of the Miracle at Cana

We snaked through and out of Tiberias, heading southwest.  Our first stop was the Palestinian hamlet of Cana.  We alighted the bus and walked up a picturesque street, past the church of St. Nathanael, site of the fig tree under which he sat.  (The church was locked.)  We arrived at the church of the Lord’s miracle.  The sun had come out, and the church’s façade was a beautiful Italianate sight.  Excavations below the church (built in the twentieth c.) have discovered an ancient Byzantine foundation and a first-century synagogue.







Basilica of the Incarnation
Basilica of the Incarnation

Then we drove south to Nazareth, which though a tiny hamlet in the time of Christ, is now a big, bustling, dinghy city.  We strode through countless market stalls, and before we knew it we were inside the Franciscan custody, in the courtyard of the Basilica of the Annunciation, admiring the pontifical doors.  Inside, the lower basilica is dark and oppressively modern, though the grotto chapel (built into a ruined Byzantine apse) and the grotto itself (the floor reads:  Verbum caro hic factus est) are beautiful.




We concelebrated Mass in the grotto chapel.  After Mass, we ascended to the upper church—gaudy, ugly.  We walked 75 yards outside to the Basilica of St. Joseph and visited the cave where our Lord and His foster father worked together.  This little 1917 basilica is splendidly beautiful.


Then we traveled by bus to a very expensive kibbutz luncheonette.  Outside the air smelled like a pig farm.  Then we drove to the national archaeological park of Beth Shean.  For a very boring 90 minutes we wandered through the ruins of ancient Scythopolis.  At least it was a beautiful 60-degree sunny afternoon, and the view of the hills in Jordan across the river was wonderful.


From there we drove to a Jordan River tourist site, just south of the Sea of Galilee.  The river here is narrow, like a large creek.  We renewed our baptismal vows, and a few of us filled bottles with Jordan River water to take home.

At the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee
At the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee










We arose to see the sun rise over the Sea and departed at 7:45 to travel north by bus to Banyas.  The snow-capped peaks of Mt. Hermon were visible through the clear morning air as we headed up the road.  We passed the sites of our visits of this afternoon as we ascended from lower to upper Galilee along the s-curved road.


Raouf lectured us about the Hula Lake (north of the Sea of Galilee), which the Israeli government drained to make farmland.  We were in the northernmost part of Israel now, east of Lebanon.  After driving an hour, we turned east at Kiryat Shemone (“Settlement of the Eight”), and suddenly we were at the ruined site of the city of Caesarea-Philippi.  The headwaters of the Jordan River are here, where the melted snow of Mt. Hermon springs out of a cave long ago dedicated to Pan by the Greeks who came to this place with Alexander the Great.


Rushing water, the remnant of pagan shrines, and fauna are in abundance here, but there is no church to commemorate St. Peter’s immortal words:  “You are the Christ.”  We read Matthew 16 together, but the pilgrims’ mood was on the light side.  We got back in the bus and retraced our steps back to Galilee, arriving at the church of St. Peter’s Primacy on the sea (site of John 21) for our 11:00 Holy Mass.  The church encloses the stone near the seashore called the Mensa Christi, where our Lord cooked fish for the Apostles.


In the synagogue in Capernaum
In the synagogue in Capernaum

After Mass and a little time for reflection and pictures at the water’s edge, we got back in the bus for the very short ride to Capernaum, the Lord Jesus’ “own city.”  The area under the control of the Franciscans is surrounded by a recent 12-foot stone wall; it is an area much smaller than the first-century city.  An excavation which reveals an octagonal Byzantine church surrounding one room of a first-century house—very likely the room used by our Lord in St. Peter’s family home—is covered by an elevated church with a glass floor, in which one can conveniently say some prayers.  Very nearby are the ruins of a fourth-century synagogue which was built on the foundations of the first-century synagogue frequently by our Lord.







On the Sea of Galilee with Raouf
On the Sea of Galilee with Raouf

Then we zipped back down the hill to a kibbutz dock, where we boarded a boat for a quick tour of the sea.  The crew played the Star Spangled Banner in our honor and flew the Stars and Stripes.  From the water, we could easily see the places we had visited earlier—Peter’s Primacy, Capernaum, Beatitudes.  After the highly enjoyable and spiritual boatride, we briefly visited a museum at the pier which holds a 2,000-year-old boat, recently pulled out of the mud.






Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves
Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves

Then we took a quick busride to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves, arriving moments before the 5:00 closing time.  The church is exquisitely beautiful with a simple Romanesque style.  The altar sits atop the stone on which the Lord set the five loaves as He blessed them.  The surrounding floor is covered with beautiful mosaics.  We had a few moments here for prayer.





We returned by bus to Tiberias.  A couple of us strolled through town again, this time stopping for Maccabees at a streetside lunch counter. 




The sun rose over haze atop the Sea of Galilee.  Bags packed and left in the hall before breakfast.  We were on our way out of Tiberias before 8:00.


Mt. Tabor
Mt. Tabor

It took only a half-hour to reach the bus parking area on Mt. Tabor, in the Bedouin town that rises up the bottom half of the mountain.  We took taxis up the switch-backed road to the summit.  The air was very cool; sun high in the sky by  now.  The haze prevented a truly panoramic vista, but the atmosphere of the summit is majestic nonetheless.








The marble basilica is splendid, with a bi-level sanctuary like the church of Stella Maris in Haifa, but here there is a full chapel below, in what could be the ruins of an earlier church.  The altar is on the spot of the Transfiguration.  Here we concelebrated Holy Mass, encased in mosaics of angels in the barrel vault over us, with peacock tracery in the apse window.  The mosaic in the upper apse is also splendid.  In the gifts shop outside, holy cards with this image were to be had in bulk; I bought thirty.


We boarded the bus and descended the mountain, bound for a new region.  It was not long until the terrain (and the atmosphere) changed significantly.  We rode along many miles of border fence with Jordan.  Then we passed through a checkpoint into Palestinian West Bank territory.  The lushness disappeared; we had entered the Judean wilderness.  Hardscrabble poverty everywhere.  We arrived at the tel of ancient Jericho, the site of the city destroyed by Joshua bar Nun (as Raouf referred to him)—it was a hill of dry rubble.  Near here, Pope John Paul II said, during his Holy Land pilgrimage in 2000:


“In my mind I see Jesus coming to the waters of the River Jordan not far from here to be baptized by John the Baptist (cf. Mt 3:13); I see Jesus passing on his way to the Holy City where he would die and rise again; I see him opening the eyes of the blind man as he passes by (cf. Lk 18:35-43).”


After lunch, a couple of the Fathers enjoyed $2 five-minute camel rides in the parking lot.  The Mount of the Lord’s Temptations was visible to our west, a wretched, godforsaken mound of great height.  We did not ascend via the nearby gondolas, but instead boarded the bus, bound for Jerusalem.


We headed west through relentless drouth and Palestinian poverty.  We passed through a checkpoint out of the West Bank.  An Israeli soldier guarded the site from a tower with a huge mounted machine gun.


We ascended 4,000 feet, and soon the earth was moister, and Jerusalem came into view.  We drove through the center of the city, passing west of the Old City but not entering it.  Then we encountered the reality of the wall that keeps Palestinians out of Jerusalem.  This trip to Bethlehem was a shopping excursion to the over-priced gift supermarket of a Palestinian Christian who asked us to pray for the success of the peace process.


The sun was getting ready to set when we finally pulled out of Bethlehem, passed through another checkpoint at which the bus was briefly boarded by two machine-gun toting guards, a young man and a young woman.  Then we made our way back through Jerusalem to the Ambassador Hotel.  The lobby proved to be a convenient place to gather with brother pilgrims and enjoy drafts of Palestinian-brewed Taybeh Golden.





The Mosque of the Ascension
The Mosque of the Ascension

We boarded the bus at 8:00 a.m. (after a good night’s sleep—for me, anyway), bound for the nearby Mount of Olives.  We disembarked at the ‘mosque’ of the Ascension, a small Crusader-built structure (except for the walls and roof—the Crusaders built an open stone gazebo) which the Muslims allowed to stand (and bricked up) because they too venerate our Lord’s Ascension.  This small structure is enclosed within a larger walled court.  Against the walls of the court, Christians are permitted to celebrate Holy Mass once a year, on Ascension Thursday.  The mosque is built over the rock from which our Lord ascended into heaven.  The edifice is small; only one group may enter at a time.  An Asian Pentecostal group went in before us and “carried on like Banshees” while inside.




From here we walked a hundred yards to the open-air church of the Pater Noster, with the Our Father in dozens of lingos on the walls.  Did St. Luke’s episode (11:1-4) of our Lord teaching the disciples to pray happen here?  St. Helena built a church here, and under the open-air sanctuary is a grotto full of first- and second-century-B.C. tombs.  This could have been a place of refuge for Christ from the Pharisees and Sadduccees, who would not have entered a cemetery, because it would have made them unclean.


We hopped on the bus for a very brief ride to the top of the Palm Sunday route down the Mount of Olives, a very steep downhill into the Kidron/Jehosaphat Valley.  We peeled off the route to the right to enter the Dominus Flevit area, which affords a singular view of the Temple Mount across the valley.  We celebrated Holy Mass in the teardrop-shaped Berlucci church, with the iron-traced apse window offering the Temple Mount view.  After Mass, we continued down the Palm Sunday route, between Jewish cemeteries.  At the bottom of the hill, we turned into the Garden of Gethsemane.  There is a courtyard with olive trees 2,000 years old.


Then we visited the Church of All Nations, which has some 18 domes, each donated by a particular Christian country.  Berlucci intentionally kept the church dark to suggest the night of the Lord’s Agony.  The rock on which Christ prayed is immediately in front of the altar, enclosed within an altar rail made to look like the crown of thorns.  We had the opportunity for a nice devout visit here.


Exiting the courtyard, we walked 100 feet and then down into a lower court which offers entrances both to the grotto where the Apostles slept (and where Christ was betrayed)—a very small chapel, in which Mass was being celebrated—and the empty tomb of our Lady, a dark Byzantine church deep underground.  An Orthodox priest shooed me out of the tomb enclosure, a smaller version of the tomb enclosure in the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.


On the street above the lower court we hopped on the bus and drove across—and then south down—the Kidron Valley.  We followed the path the Lord took in chains to the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu.  This church was built a decade ago, over the sites in the hill where Caiphas’ house stood, just south of the Temple wall.  There are three levels to visit:  the upper, on the level where the Sanhedrin condemned Christ; the middle, to which our Lord descended by steps towards the dungeon, and where He laid His eyes on St. Peter after the Apostle denied Him three times before the gallicantu; and the level of the dungeon, which includes a pit of solitary confinement, where the Lord was kept for a few hours, and where we read and meditated on Psalm 88.


We emerged from the church at the lowest level, and came out on to the hillside at the Holy Steps, the ancient steps from the city down into the valley, which our Lord trod twice on Holy Thursday night.  We ascended the top of the staircase, and made our way to the bus.  We drove south, through the high-rent settlement of Bibi Netanyahou I (as Raouf called him) to a kibbutz hotel for lunch.  From there we headed southwest to En-Karem.


The Basilica of the Visitation
The Basilica of the Visitation

Our Lady, with Christ in her womb, traveled here from Nazareth after the Annunciation to visit Elizabeth, Zechariah, and preborn John the Baptist.  There is a beautiful church at the top of a tall hill here in the Judean mountains.  The weather yesterday and today was utterly splendid, and the lazy Saturday afternoon atmosphere in En-Karem (a popular getaway daytrip for Jerusalemites) was delightful.  The church of the Visitation is decorated with refreshing Italianate fresco murals, all honoring the Virgin.






We re-boarded the bus and re-entered Jerusalem, making for St. Stephen’s/the Lion’s Gate.  We disembarked and entered the Old City for the first time here.  We did not walk far:  We turned in after a few yards to the White Father’s enclosure, which includes the ruins of the Pools of Bethesda and the Church of St. Anne, on the site where the Blessed Mother is said to have been born.


Raouf explained how the pool of Bethesda was originally built by the Seleucids in honor of the pagan god Scalipius (god of healing), but the Jews later changed the idea to that of the angel of the Lord causing healing.  We read John 5 together.  Then we went into the beautiful Crusader church.  The acoustics here are perfect, so we sang a Salve and an Ave Maria and had a nice pious visit.


At this point the bus was boarding for the drive back to the Ambassador, but a couple of the Fathers and I undertook a walk through the Old City instead.  We met some St. Louis pilgrim brothers as we wended our way through the narrow labyrinthine streets, seeking the Basilica of Holy Sepulcher.  We finally found it, and we toured the buzzing, dark, strange church.  We were shooed away from the Calvary chapel by an Orthodox monk because they were beginning a prayer service:  “Because of reasons pertaining to the status quo, you are not allowed to be in here during the prayers.”  We did not enter the Sepulcher enclosure itself, because it would have required a wait in a long line.  We wandered around the church, discovering various strange, dark chapels.  Then we visited our Lord in the tabernacle in the Latin rite chapel.


We emerged just before six to find the sun going down.  We had some trouble deciding what to do and where to go.  We finally exited the Old City through the Jaffa Gate and attempted to walk north to the hotel.  To make a long story short, we got lost and wound up in a Hasidic neighborhood (not far from the hotel, in fact).  We were taken for missionaries by a large group of young Hasidic men on their way home from the synagogue, and they regarded us in a none-too-friendly manner.  Fortunately, another young Hasid was friendly and advised us to take seek out a cab.  We found one, which brought us back to the Ambassador in time for supper.





The bus left the hotel at 7:45 and waded into rush hour traffic in West Jerusalem, where the work week was beginning, a la Monday in the States.  Akram fought his way to the Israeli Federal area; we drove past the Knesset building and the h.q.’s of various federal ministries.


Then we entered the Israeli Museum.  First we studied the scale-model of ancient Jerusalem, which was enormously illuminating and helpful for visualizing our Lord’s short trips on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.  We also visited the dark ‘Shrine of the Book’, dedicated to the supposedly earth-shattering discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Your scribe found this to be a yawn-o-rama.


From here we took the ‘back’ way to Bethlehem, avoiding the main wall checkpoint.  Manger Square is in a rough-and-tumble area, and the Basilica of the Nativity complex is so difficult to feature from the street (and our visit inside so disorienting) that I did not get a clear sense of the lay of the land until studying a guidebook map later.  We entered the Latin Rite church of St. Catharine, built in 1881.  The faithful were gathering in the main nave for 11:00 Mass, so we wound up vesting for our Mass in the large sacristy alongside an effeminate Fransciscan and the most ill-behaved lot of Altar Servers I have ever encountered.


Finally we proceeded to the tiny chapel of St. Helen for a beautiful Holy Mass.  After Mass we visited the subterranean grottoes.  First to the caves of St. Jerome:  one where his tomb is (but not his remains, which were moved to Rome, to St. Mary Major) and another cave where he worked on his Scripture translation.  Other cave chapels accessible from St. Catharine’s are dedicated to St. Joseph and the Holy Innocents.  A tunnel connects these caves with the Nativity/Manger cave, but only the Latin Patriarch is allowed to use this tunnel, and only on Christmas Eve.  So we went back up and entered the Basilica of the Nativity in the north apse (the church is triapsidial) through the door that connects the cloister outside the Franciscan church with the main Basilica.


Manger Square, Bethlehem
Manger Square, Bethlehem

The Basilica built by Justinian in the sixth c. still stands.  Obviously once splendid, the church is now pathetically shabby.  Pope John Paul II said of this basilica:  “Even the great church built over the Saviour’s birth-place stands like a fortress battered by the strife of the ages.”  We waited our turn to descend into the Nativity/Manger cave; the brothers became somewhat restive during the nearly hour-long wait.  Then, upon arriving at the very site of Christ’s birth, we were rudely rushed out because of an imminent ceremony.  Nonetheless, it was a blessed, if brief, visit.




At this point, we were free to wander the Old City, so we set out to adventure.  First, we spent a half-hour praying in Holy Sepulcher.  Then we headed southeast, and we eventually wended our way to:  first, a Muslim-only entrance to the Temple Mount itself, hard-by the Dome of the Rock (we just peeked in; a Lebanese guard told us we could not enter); second, the Western Wall, where we passed a few moments in recollection under the twilight sky, sensing that our presence was unwanted.  Then we walked north straight out of the Old City and uptown to the Ambassador (not getting lost this time).





Wake-up call came at 5:00 a.m.  We were on the bus in the dark, headed for Jaffa Gate at 5:45.  Everyone wore cassock and surplice, with prelates of honor in choir cassock and Kinghts in mozzetta.  As we passed through the gate of the Old City, we began to chant the Litany of the Saints.  We entered the Basilica in solemn procession behind the Archbishop, kneeling by twos to reverence the Anointing Stone.


Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre
Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre

We vested for our Holy Mass at the Sepulcher.  The sacristy bell rang, the organ sounded, and we were surprised and delighted to discover that the Franciscan monks would be chanting our Mass in Latin.  All the pilgrim priests filed into the Sepulcher enclosure for the canon, most of us in the Chapel of the Angels.  We went into the tomb itself by twos to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood.  After Mass, we had our official pilgrimage photo taken on the steps right outside the Basilica.






Some of the brothers remained at the church to pray until we reconnoitered for Stations of the Cross; the rest of us piled into the bus to go back to the Ambassador for breakfast.  We met up again, attired for liturgical procession, in the courtyard between the Condemnation and Flagellation chapels, just west of St. Ann’s church, where we had been on Saturday, just north of the Temple Mount.  This is the ancient site of the Antonia Fortress (a.k.a. the Praetorium).  We proceeded to make the Stations in the warm sunshine, hassled a bit by passerby and shop hucksters, but with great spiritual fruit.


First Station:  in the Chapel of the Flagellation

Second  Station:  in the Chapel of the Condemnation

Third Station:  In the small Polish chapel along El-Wad Rd., just outside Our Lady of the Spasm

Fourth Station:  In the courtyard in front of Our Lady of the Spasm church

Fifth Station:  In the small streetside Franciscan chapel

Sixth Station:  In St. Veronica’s chapel in the Convent of the Little Sisters of Jesus

Seventh Station:  In the streetside chapel, site of the city wall gate at the time of Christ

Eighth Station:  In the walkway outside the Greek monastery; marked by a cross in the wall

Ninth Station:  Close to the outside of an apse of the Holy Sepulcher Basilica

Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth:  In the chapel of the Stripping of Christ in the Basilica

Thirteenth Station:  At the Anointing Stone

Fourteenth Station:  At the Tomb enclosure


The Quad at Bethlehem University
The Quad at Bethlehem University

After concluding the Stations, we emerged from the church to find the photographer with our copies of our group photo.  We walked to the Jaffa Gate and waiting Akram and the bus.  We drove down back down to Bethlehem to visit the University.  The American Christian Brothers who run the University and the Development Director hosted us.  We toured the chapel, Millennium Hall, the campus quads, and then ate a delicious lunch in the hotel school dining room.




We drove from here to the Shepherd’s Field to visit the small but lovely Berlucci church and the grotto underneath.  The quiet peacefulness of this place communicated the magic of the city “where it is always Christmas.”  John Paul II:

“’Here Christ was born of the Virgin Mary’: these words, inscribed over the place where, according to tradition, Jesus was born, are the reason for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. They are the reason for my coming to Bethlehem today. They are the source of the joy, the hope, the goodwill, which, for two millennia, have filled countless human hearts at the very sound of the name “Bethlehem”.

“People everywhere turn to this unique corner of the earth with a hope that transcends all conflicts and difficulties. Bethlehem – where the choir of Angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk 2:14) – stands out, in every place and in every age, as the promise of God’s gift of peace. The message of Bethlehem is the Good News of reconciliation among men, of peace at every level of relations between individuals and nations. Bethlehem is a universal crossroads where all peoples can meet to build together a world worthy of our human dignity and destiny.”


After some discussion, we took the long, roundabout drive to Bethany (made so long and roundabout by the wall of Sharon I, as Raouf called him).  In Bethany we visited Antonio Barluzzi’s church of St. Lazarus, adorned with beautiful mosaics of the gospel scenes.  Rain began to fall heavily as we emerged from the church, but seven of us chose to have Akram drop us off at the Old City nonetheless.  A couple of us rambled around, happening upon the solemn entrance of the Cardinal Prefect of the Eastern Churches at the Holy Sepulcher—quite an affair.  Then we continued roaming and managed to ramble through each quarter of the Old City until it got dark, we got tired, and we made for a cab.





We were on the bus at 7:45, more or less packed for the trip home, but the hotel graciously let us keep our rooms until this afternoon.  Our first destination was “Mt. Zion”, so called (according to Biblical Archaeologist Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, whose Holy Land guidebook was an invaluable help) by medieval Christians because they misinterpreted a particular prophetic verse.  In Old Testament parlance, ‘Mt. Zion’, ‘Mt. Moriah’, and ‘Temple Mount’ all referred to the same ridge directly west of the Kidron Valley, with the City of David on the lower, southern end of it.  The ‘Mt. Zion’ we arrived at this morning, however, is one ridge west, across the Tyropoeon Valley.  This Mt. Zion is the site of the Upper Room, a structure built by Crusaders on the site where the Essene residence where our Lord solemnized the Last Supper was formerly located.  The church was changed into a mosque, which is how it is currently decorated.  Now the edifice is controlled by Israel, and no Masses or any other religious ceremonies are permitted here.  The Upper Room is above what is called the Tomb of David, which, according to Fr. Murphy-O’Connor, it is not.  This seems to be the site of a Jewish seminary.


Mt. Zion is also the site of the Dormition Abbey, a truly glorious octagonal stone church built by Germans in 1903.  In the crypt there is a beautiful statue of our Lady falling asleep at the end of her life.  Apparently, Jerusalem is where she breathed her last; she had returned home from Ephesus.  We had a brief, prayerful visit here.  Immediately adjoining the Upper Room structure is a small Franciscan church, to which we repaired for our final Holy Mass together.  We meditated on the many graces of the pilgrimage at the very site where the Lord inaugurated our sacred priesthood.


Next we took a short busride to the Jaffa Gate, from which we walked a block to the Latin Patriarchate.  We were led to a handsome audience hall.  As things turned out, we were received not by the Patriarch himself (busy meeting with the Cardinal Prefect who had arrived the previous day) but by an auxiliary bishop.  His Excellency spoke edifyingly and at great length.  Our leader Archbishop Burke finally had to cut him off, so that we could continue on our way.


We emerged from the hall and made a brief visit to the lovely Gothic pro-Cathedral (Holy Sepulcher is the cathedral), where we renewed our consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  We ambled out the New Gate to board the bus.  We circumnavigated the Old City yet again, making our way to the Tyropoeon Valley, down to the excavations of the Pool of Siloam.  We stopped here briefly to read part of John 9 and meditate on the light of Christ while a mosque prayer-call blared over a nearby loudspeaker.


Back on the bus for a quick ride up to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, where modern archaeologists have made thorough excavations and built a little museum.  We saw the ruined market street, the pavement of which had been broken by stones falling from the Temple walls when the Romans destroyed it.  Along the southern wall, we saw the Mikvehs in which pilgrims bathed themselves before entering the Temple enclosure.  We saw the ruined bridge balustrade along the west wall and blocked up doors along the south wall.  Then an energetic young museum docent gave us a quick tour and demonstrated the illuminating “virtual city” computer program.


As we exited the museum, rain was pelting down.  We ran to the bus for umbrellas and then walked a few feet north to visit the Western Wall.  Raouf urged us to walk up to the wall itself, but this led to one of the Jewish attendants yelling at us:  “Remember, there is only one God, and He is not a man.”


We got back on the bus and shot down to the friendly kibbutz-hotel we had visited before for lunch.  Then back to the Ambassador to vacate our rooms and pack the bus.  We had two and a-half hours before dinner, so Akram dropped us at the New Gate.  A few of us went back to say farewell to Holy Sepulcher.  We waited a half-hour to visit the tomb one more time.  We also spent time at Calvary.


We walked out Herod’s Gate and back up to the hotel.  The Patriarch’s photographer’s son pulled over to pick us up and carry us up Mt. Scopus.  We returned just in time for a very nice dinner.  Then we boarded the bus bound for Ben-Gurion, recited the Holy Rosary together one last time, and bid Jerusalem and the Holy Land goodbye.