Tuesday, March 30, 2010

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem..........

I didn't know what to expect as our tour bus headed up the road towards Jerusalem. I had read in my history lessons that Jerusalem was the primary pilgrimage place for Muslims, Jews, and Christians and that throughout the centuries people had a hard time (to put it lightly) getting along. Reading about people and places in a book is one thing, experiencing them first hand is something else! For one thing, I was not prepared for the sights, smells, and sounds of this Holy City.

Jerusalem is a walkable city with cobblestone paths that meander too and fro without rhyme or reason. You could be walking along a street and then all of a sudden find yourself lost in a labyrinth of twists and turns. I made sure to stay within eyesight and earshot of my fellow pilgrims as we walked along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) and in and out of the many Churches. There are people everywhere from everywhere, Japan, Nigeria, Australia, United States, France, Russia, all sizes, shapes, colors, and creeds. I did not expect such a vast diversity of people in such a small area. The walled Old City of Jerusalem is one square mile by one square mile which is not that large when you consider the local population plus tourists and traffic.

Strange sounds wafted through the air, some English, Arabic and Hebrew of course, then the occasional Spanish word or two. I was reminded of the great feast of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, they later began preaching in various tongues and languages. This combined with cars honking, ringing Church bells, and the merchants in the Old City yelling "good price, sale, sale, come in come in please" would give anyone a headache.

Strange smells too. For one, lots of roasted lamb, and the occasional pilgrims doused with too much cologne or in some cases not enough! The delightful smell of fresh baked bread and good wine and since we were there in May, the smell of Spring flowers in full bloom.

Ironically not much has changed. Archaeologists and Biblical scholars tell us that the Passover feast that Jesus and his disciples celebrated would have included many of the sights, smells, and sounds that we encountered too. Jews would have been running here and there buying the needed provisions for their Passover feast of roasted lamb and flour, herbs, and wine for their meal. Pilgrims from the upper Galilee from as far away as Syria needed a place to spend the week, and their beasts of burden; horses, camels, and donkeys needed food, water, and shelter too. Passover was certainly not a peaceful and calm time, it was crazy.

This is the Jerusalem that Jesus knew. It was here, in the heart of Judaism, the place of the Temple, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and Sadducee's where Jesus ended his earthly ministry. But it would be from Jerusalem too on that first Easter Sunday where the disciples first proclaimed the gospel that He is Risen!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Raising of Lazarus

Just before Jesus entered Jerusalem, what we now call Palm Sunday, he stopped in a small village nearby called Bethany. Bethany is very close to Jerusalem, about a days journey. Jesus went to Bethany because his good friend Lazarus had died four days earlier. In the ancient world to be dead for four days really meant that you were dead! There was no chance that he was in a deep coma or really sick, he was really dead.

The story of Lazarus is found in the gospel of John, chapter 11. John tells us that Jesus wept when he heard about the death of his friend. It is one of the few occasions that we know that Jesus cried. After all, Jesus was sad.

When Jesus shouted "Lazarus, come out" John tells us that Lazarus walked out of the grave. The raising of Lazarus reminds us that our God is both the God of the living and the dead, and he has power over both. The story of Lazarus reminds us that we too will be raised from the dead as is promised in the Scriptures.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mount of Olives

Before entering Jerusalem Jesus and his disciples camped out on the Mount of Olives which is a small elevated area directly across from Jerusalem. The mountain or hill is still covered with olive groves today, short stocky trees with narrow green leaves. Between the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem is the Kidron Valley. The Mount of Olives also contains many graves of important and famous Jewish rabbi's and leaders and Jewish pilgrims continue to visit the Mount today as a place of pilgrimage.

The gospels tell us that Jesus spent the final days teaching in the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus spent most of his time up in the Galilee area teaching, preaching, and healing. However, at the end of his life he made his way down to Jerusalem which is in the south. He spent the last week of his life in the heart of the religious and culture center of the Jewish people.

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple. (Luke 21)

For more information about the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane click here

Friday, March 19, 2010

Our Journey Begins.............

Pilgrim noun Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French pelerin, pilegrin, from Late Latin pelegrinus, alteration of Latin peregrinus foreigner, from peregrinus, adjective, foreign, from peregri abroad, from per through + agr-, ager land-- Date: 13th century 1. one who journeys in foreign lands ;2. one who travels to a shrine or holy place as a devotee3. capitalized one of the English colonists settling at Plymouth in 1620

For centuries people have made pilgrimages to holy sites, shrines, Churches, and temples. Christians, Jews, and Muslims make regular trips to Jerusalem and other holy sites around the Holy Land. Hindu's bathe in the Ganges river in India, and Elvis fans go to Graceland----couldn't resist that one!

What drives people to spend their time and money on long spiritual journeys? My hunch is that people have a deep sense or longing of spiritual things found in material objects.

Have you been on a pilgrimage?

Where did you go?

What did you experience along the way?

Do you recommend any books about pilgrimages?

Lets share our thoughts about our past pilgrimages as we being our journey to Jerusalem.........

Picture above is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Virtual Pilgrimage

We are quickly approaching Holy Week and Easter. Holy Week commemorates the last few events of Jesus' life, his trip to Jerusalem, the cleansing of the Temple, his last teachings, betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion.

I thought it would be a meaningful experience to have a "virtual pilgrimage" as we re-trace the last events of Jesus. Blog posts will include pictures, places, and Scripture verses about Jesus' last days. Since we all can't go to the Holy Land we can have a "virtual trip" during these next few weeks.

Make sure to check the blog often and tell your family and friends too!!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Coming Soon........A 30 Day Retreat

My new book A 30 Day Retreat: A Guide to Spiritual Renewal will be published by Paulist Press on May 3 but it is now available for pre-order. The book includes 30 short reflections on various Scripture passages that deal with forgiveness, healing, vocation, love, joy, and the struggles with community life. Each chapter includes a "Food For Thought" section that furthers the discussion and is a useful tool for small group discussion, journaling, or personal reflection.

This book is a great resource for:

Lay groups
Small group retreats
Personal devotion

Help me spread the word about A 30 Day Retreat!!!

From June 1-30 I will lead a virtual online retreat based on my book. This will be a great way for Christians to read Scripture together and to share our common walk of faith.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book Review: The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything

Don't let the title or the length of this book scare you! If you never heard of the Jesuits or you are scared of books longer than 300 pages, you might pass on A Jesuit Guide, but you would be short changing yourself. This book is full of useful teachings about prayer, introspection, lectio divina, community life, and the sacraments. After a first reading I immediately knew that I would be returning again and again to a Jesuit Guide----it's that good!

Never heard of the Jesuits you say? The Jesuits are a religious order started by St. Ignatius of Loyola who lived in 16th century Spain. Ignatius was a soldier and military officer who came down with a terrible disease. After a long recuperation period where he was bed-ridden he came to a deep knowledge of his sinfulness. After a while he wanted to start a religious movement that would help spread the gospel in Europe. The Jesuits are known today as teachers, preachers, and parish priests. Many Catholic colleges and universities are run by the Jesuit Order (Loyola, Fordham, Loyola Marymount, etc...). Jesuits are also missionaries working in Africa, Asia, and South America.

James Martin is the best person to write this book. He is presently an editor at America Magazine (a Jesuit based magazine), author, retreat leader, and priest. He knows the history, people, and spirituality of the Jesuits very well and has the ability to take this information and translate it for the common Joe or Jane Doe. The writing is clear, concise, and funny! Many times I found myself laughing out loud at Martin's funny stories about parish life or his own spiritual struggles.

The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything shows us that Jesuit spirituality is not just for Jesuits, it is for everyone! Martin shows that Jesuit spirituality is firmly rooted in the Bible and the Sacraments and that everyone, not just priests or members of religious orders, can read Scripture, help the homeless, pray, go on retreats, and use our God given talents and treasure for the Glory of God. All of this is contained in the sub-title of the: A Spirituality for Real Life. Indeed spirituality is for daily living not just on Sundays or when we feel like we need God.

A Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything should also include Everyone in the title because everyone can find something in this book. I highly recommend A Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything as a source of inspiration and study. A Jesuit Guide could be used in adult education classes, as a secondary reading for a college level class in spirituality, as a focus for weekend retreats, or for personal reading and reflection.

Martin also includes a section for "Further Reading" for readers who want to learn about the history of the Jesuits or Jesuit spirituality.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Message

Lately I have been reading The Message, which was translated and edited by Eugene Peterson. What is The Message you ask? Well, it is a new Bible translation of the Bible. The Message is not really a translation as it is also a paraphrase of the Biblical text. It is very similar to the Today's English Version which came out in the early 1970's as a way to reach out to people who wanted to read the Bible but in everyday language. Let's face it, we might not want to acknowledge this fact, but there are a lot of folks out there who have a hard time reading a book let alone a Bible! So the TEV was marketed for a junior high or high school reading level.

Peterson is a longtime pastor and professor of theology and wanted to bring the Good News to people in a language that they could understand. His academic background in Semitic and Greek language helped Peterson bring the text alive for his readers. Also, Peterson has been a pastor for over thirty years and knows the everyday language of his parishioners.

I use a variety of Bibles for Bible study and for teaching and now The Message is one of them! I am enjoying The Message and I hope you do too!