Saturday, March 20, 2010

One day to go, and I can upload photos!

GeoTagged, [N31.78935, W35.22941]

Nine days down and one to go, and I just figured out how to upload photos.

To prove it, here's one of me in bethlehem at the caves where the shepherds lived, holding the famous bambino used at Christmas liturgies. I offered Mass in the cave.

I'll work on uploading more photos. But cut me some slack--I'm doing all this from my phone! Praying for my peeps, fjm

Dmac on you tube

I interrupt this pilgrimage blogcasting service to announce the inauguration of 'Dmac' on you tube. If you're interested in catholic church architecture, you'll love this upcoming series of videos from one of the best. Visit:

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's a bright sunny mornig in Jerusalem as I write these words, and it is "shabat" (sabbath) in the city. All is peaceful. Let me straight for The Highlight: Holy Mass at the Holy Sepulchre. I celebrated the Mass of the Triumph of the Cross on the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross, and about 7 steps from where the cross He was raised up on the cross. What a totally incomparable experience. I prayed for my parents, all my siblings (plus spouses a kids!) and for myself and my priesthood.

I had heard that the shrine of the holy sepulchre was crazy, with all the various religious groups vying for space and time, but for me the sheer overwhelming power and peace of the place trumped all that human pettiness. I was amazed how much prayer happens here. It is a gushing fountain prayer. Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation as a penitant at the sepulchre, and just as I emerged, evening vespers erupted at the tomb in an explosion of voices and organ tones. It was quite memorable, to say the least. What an amazing grace to come to the site of Calvary--on a Friday eveining, no less--and to share in the graces that flow from it.

Yesterday also had a trip to the site of the vistation and the birthplace of John the Baptist. I chuckled to myself as I read aloud to the group the story of Zechariah's muteness and recovery, as my own voice was functioning at a minimal level due to a thoat problem. Boy, the Holy Spirit sure knows how to make the scriptures come alive!

Blog readers, you're all in my prayers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Traversing the rocky and slighy grassy hills about 5 miles south of Jerusalem, our big maroon bus lumbered it's way into the ancient city of David, Bethlehem. Like just about every other place we've see, it was amazing. First we had mass in the so called shepherds cave, where tradition says the shepherds lived who say the angels announce Jesus' birth. We celebrated the mass of midnight for Christmas eve (it's a permissible option at these pilgrimage sites). How strange that here in this little cave--this forgotten nook, this meaningless cranny--the good news of the incarnation came. It was beautiful. Everyone kept saying afterword that it felt more like Christmas than Christmas. I think I agree.

Next came the church of the nativity in bethlehem, where we venerated and prayed by the cave where Mary gave birth and laid her Son in a

Then back to jerusalem and to the place where Mary is said to have fallen asleep at the end of her life, and then to the ancient jail cell where Jesus was held for a few hours over night. It is essentially a hole in the ground into which He was lowered. Now there is a side entrance. I had the chance opportunity to be alone in prayer in there for just a few seconds, which was an amazing privilege. As I imagined the stark reality of what Jesus allowed himself to go through when he did not have to in the least, it was impossible not to full a great deal of gratitude and just plain awe.

Tonight we had dinner with retired bishop of jerusalem. We regaled us with stories and spiritual fervorini, but I just kept thinking about how I'm not getting over my cold very well, even though I promised myself to tell everyone I feel much better each day. Some pilgrim I am!

So two more days of touring pilgrimage sites, and then a free day in Jerusalem, then we fly home. I'm already super excited about praying the triduum this year, especially the passion narratives. You're all in my prayers. Thanks for checking in.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Today we made the trek (in a bus) from the sea of galilee to Jerusalem with some absolutely amazing stops along the way. We stopped at the Qumran caves, which was a Jewish monastic commumity at the time of Jesus. Some think John the Baptist spent time with them. These stark dwelling places in the middle a harsh desert reminded me of the intense apocalyptic expectation of Jesus' day.

On a lighter note, we stopped by the dead sea and took a swim. It was hilarious! The water is so salty that it is utterly impossible to sink. In fact, it's like floating in space, or like a big wet chair. I couldn't help but wonder if Jesus and the apostles ever took a dip there and had a laugh. It would have been uncomfortable with a nice fresh water shower after though.

We visited Jericho, the oldest (10,000 years) and lowest (1000 ft below sea level) city in the world. Did you know that there is a cliff at Jericho where supposedly Jesus was tempted by the devil? If it is the place, our Lord had some mad climbing skills, cuz that cliff is steep.

I had the cool experience of saying mass and preaching at the church of st Lazarus in Bethany, only yards from his tomb where Jesus raised him from the dead.

Finally, coming into Jerusalem for the very first time, as the sun was setting, was second to nothing else I've done before. We came through a tunnel from the north east and then BAM, there she was, Jerusalem. The temple mount glistening and yet templeless. I just kept thinking, this is where it happened. Right here. It seemed much smaller than I imagined. For everything that has happened here, it should be as big as Texas. But it's not, it's not big at all.

Surprise conversation of the day: I'm sitting at the bar in the Christmas hotel talking to a fellow pilgrim (a professional golf writer, that's for another blog), and someone behind the bar hands me the phone and says, 'it's the bishop, for you.' 'sorry?' I said. 'the bishop of jerusalem.' so I took the phone and with an raspy voice that is baring functioning at this stage said, 'hello?' and sure enough, it was the bishop of Jerusalem. He's hoping to meet up with our pilgrim group. What a gracious and talkative man! It was a wonderful surprise.

Not the first of the pilgrimage, and I'm guessing not the last.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sea of Galilee, Caesarea Philipi

All sorts of interesting things to report from the Holy Land pilgrimge.

First, as you may have guessed, I still haven't figured out a way to get the photos I'm taking on the blog. I should have it figured out soon. Until then, I'm using the next best thing from google images. They're of the actual places that I'm visiting.

Let me hit a couple highlights for you.

Yesterday we visited Caesarea Philipi, which is in the far norther part of Israel, about 20 miles North of the upper edge of the Sea of Galilee. It looks like this:

This large cliff-face is on the edge of the mountain range which is the northern border of Israel. The cave-like thing is an ancient cave, one that has a spring in it. It was in ancient times considered by some pagan religions to be the jaw of death, the portal to the underworld. At this very place pagan temples stood.

It was amazing to imagine the power of Jesus' words to Peter here: "You are rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." The whole place exudes power, stability, permanence.

But it also exudes two other things that really struck me. First, the sacrificial dimension. This was a place of sacrifice. Second, this is a place of 'living water.' Springs gush from this place, and this time of year the water flows with amazing strength, as fast as any Colorado river. I know the image of "water flowing from the temple" comes from the Jersusalem's temple, Ezekiel's vision, etc., but it is (to me) unmistakably applicable to this site too.

Today we spent almost the whole way bopping around the Sea of Galilee itself. It looks like this:

I saw an amazing sunrise over the Sea this morning, surrounded by little chirping birds, as I prayer Matthew 5, 6, 7, at the place traditionally associated with Jesus' preaching of the Beatitudes (Mount of the Beatitudes). It was fun to look as the very birds of this place as I listened to Jesus' words, "Look at the birds of the sky...."

The Sea of Galilee is large: 5 miles wide, 10 miles long. I did a boat ride in a boat like the one above. It was a little bit cheesy ("come do the Jesus boat ride!"), but it was still a neat meditation to picture Jesus walking on the water, calming the storm, Peter sinking, etc. It really struck me how you can see so many significant places as you float on the Sea of Galilee: Capernaum, the place of the Gerasene demoniac, Tiberias, and many others.

On a more mundane personal note: I've got a crazy sore throat and my voice is almost gone (temporarily). It wouln't be a pilgrimage without some inconvenience. I think it comes from the warm, dusty air we've been breathing the past two days. Now cleaner cooler air has come in from the west or north. No big whoop.

Tomorrow we'll be off to Jerusalem, stopping in some places along the way. This really has been a prayer pilgrimage so far, as we prayerfully "follow" Jesus from these places of his earthly ministry up to Jerusalem for his great Passover, his great exodus.

Which reminds me...we spent time at Mount Tabor today, the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus! It is tough to remember all these amazing places. Oh well.

Please pray for us pilgrims, and I'll include in my pilgrim prayers, "all those who are following my blog." Deal?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hit the Ground Running!: Three Amazing Places

Shalom! After landing and staying overnight in Tel Aviv, Israel--which is something like a Hebrew-speaking San Diego--I commenced a truly remarkable day. Our first of three amazing places was Caesarea on the western shore of Israel. Seen from the air it looks like this:

As you can see, it is the ruins of a massive man-made port town. The brainchild of Herod the Great, it was thriving by the time Jesus was a young boy, although we don't have any record of him being there. St. Paul, on the other hand, was held there for two years before his final inprisonment and martyrdom in Rome. Although the ancient city is now in ruins, it was amazingly easy to imagine the pagan glory--and eventually the Byzantine, Christian glory--of the city. I imagine Cornelius the Centurion relaxing here when the angel told him to send to Joppa, a few miles to the south, for St. Peter. See the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 10, I think.
Then we went to Mt Carmel, farther to the north, and still on the Mediterranean Sea. I prayed in the cave where Elijah the prophet prayed, and from where he saw the small cloud that foretold the end of the draught in 1 Kings 10. A few miles to the east along the Mt Carmel mountain range, I prayer at the place called 'The Sacrifice," where Elijah out-dueled the 450 prophets of Ba'al, and then slain then by the river in the Valley of Jezreel, pictured below.Finally, we had Mss in Nazareth, and walked around a bit. Jesus grew up in a hilly little town! And so did Our Lady. Seeing the cave where the Angel Gabriel came to Mary was breathtaking. I prayed for all the women in my life there: my mom, sisters, friends, students at Xavier, parishioners, etc.

Tonight I write from atop a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and I'll make this home-base for three days. The air is lush and warm, and bursting with the scent of orange blossoms and flowers, as was Narazeth. It was a spitting image (as far as a smell can be an image) of the Arcadia neighborhood where I grew up in Arizona. It was uncanny. That, I can say is one thing I have in common with Our Lord: we both grew up smelling, and eating, oranges.