Steve Timm's Blog
THE ANCHOR OF OUR FAITH
Friends, I’m sure that we’ve all had a chance conversation with a friend and the result of that exchange was life-altering. I had just such an experience while talking with our Israeli guide, Amer, at Caesarea Philippi.
In order to understand the conversation, we need to start at the beginning.
Karen and I spent a fair amount of time at Caesarea Philippi when we were on our pilgrimage in Israel; it was a fascinating place. Let me try to “paint a picture with words” to describe the place, so please open your mind and imagine … just imagine.
We left the Sea of Galilee and traveled about twenty-five miles north by bus. Reduced to ruins by an earthquake in 363 A.D., the city of Caesarea Philippi was on the southwestern slope of Mount Hermon. This area was the northernmost extent of Jesus' ministry.
When we arrived at Caesarea Philippi, we first saw a verdant park area with a rushing stream running through it … this is the largest of the four springs that form the origin of the River Jordan.
Walking upstream and following an improved pathway, we eventually came to a red stone cliff. The cliff is about four-hundred feet wide and well over one-hundred feet high. On the right side, a huge spring of water gushes out of the side of the cliff. There is a large cave on the left side of the cliff that the pagans believed to be the birthplace of the Greek god Pan.
Scattered randomly on the face of the cliff are five large and small niches. Three of the niches bear inscriptions in Greek mentioning Pan, Echo and Galerius, one of Pan's priests. Apparently, statures of deities and near-deities were placed in the niches and worshipped by pagan peoples.
At the time of Jesus, Caesarea Philippi was one of the most active centers of the pagan world. There are still remnants of temples and baths in front of the cliff. In standing back and looking at the scene, it’s easy to imagine pagan priests chanting, worshippers walking from temple to temple and folks buying amulets and statues of Pan from vendors.
JESUS AT CAESAREA PHILIPPI
Never a shrinking violet, Christ walked into Caesarea Philippi with his followers and there He said to the Apostle Simon, “And I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Just think of that for a while.
In order to realize what Jesus was doing, we need to step away from our American culture. Jesus, in Old Testament tradition, renamed Simon and called him by his new name “Petros” … “Peter” … “Rock.”
Being Americans, we think of the term or name “Rock” associated with toughness. To us, rock is solid, rock is something firm and permanent. We almost have the idea, but not quite.
THE CONVERSATION WITH AMER
As I mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog, I had a life-altering experience during a conversation with our Israeli guide, Amer, at Caesarea Philippi.
Before describing the conversation, however, I must relate Amer’s qualifications. Not only is Amer a university-level history teacher and a devout Catholic, but his family has literally lived in Nazareth for well over fifteen-hundred years.
Beyond that, Amer’s family has worshipped in the Grotto of the Annunciation of Mary for all those years. At first, the family celebrated Mass in the open area, the Grotto, in front of Mary’s Cave and later, when Saint Helena the Great commissioned a Byzantine church building built over the site, they worshiped in the church.
Said simply, Amer has “on the ground” knowledge that is beyond incredible. He intimately understands the ancient culture of the Holy Land and he is also an incredible teacher. In short, Amer is the perfect Catholic pilgrimage guide.
Now, about the conversation; Amer and I happened to sit side-by-side on a rock wall together. After enjoying a bottle of ice-cold bottled water, Amer asked me a question.
Amer said, “Steve, Our Lord Jesus Christ changed the Apostle Simon’s name to ‘Rock’. Would you like me to tell you the significance of Simon’s new name?”
I answered, “Absolutely. I realize that our separated brethren, the Protestants make a big deal about the linguistics of the word ‘Kepha’ or Cephas, but I’ve never read about the significance of the name Peter or Petros .”
At that, Amer proceeded to describe Jesus’ followers. Most were fishermen, like Simon-Peter, James, John and Andrew. The rest of those followed Him worked at various occupations, but every last one of them had at least some connection to the earth.
Then, Amer asked me, “Steve, what would a fisherman do with a rock?”
Immediately, I knew … “A fishermen would use a rock as an ANCHOR.”
Amer grinned widely and said, “Right, Steve. That was 2,000 years ago. Metal was exceedingly expensive and the last thing a poor fisherman would ever do would be to throw a heavy piece of metal overboard. What if you lost it?”
Amer continued, “Rocks are everywhere along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and in the hills above. Given a fifty-pound rock, a length of rope, plus an easily-tied serpentine knot and your boat has a proper anchor. The best part of it is that our new anchor is totally without cost.”
Amer went on to say, “Steve, when Jesus uttered those wonderful words in Matthew 16, ‘… you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church’, He was doing something very special. At that point in time, Simon, now Peter, became ‘first among equals’. And, after Christ’s Resurrection, the Apostles became Bishops of the Church, but Peter became the leader; literally, the Vicar of Christ. Peter became the anchor of the new church, Christ’s Church upon earth.”
WOW, what an amazing concept … and it was then that I realized that it was all TRUE.
My mind reduces things to the simplest possible terms, so I will always remember our conversation with an almost mathematical equation; “Peter=Pope=Rock=Anchor.”
Since that day, every time I read Matthew 16:18, about Jesus renaming Simon to Peter, I cannot help but think, “Anchor, Anchor, Anchor … Peter became the Anchor of our wonderful Catholic Church and every one of his successors have become an Anchor, too.”
My friends, I sincerely pray that this mental journey back in time to ancient Israel, specifically to Caesarea Philippi, has left you with a slightly enhanced perspective of Jesus, the church Jesus started upon this earth, Simon-Peter and the Papacy.
In a very real way, the Vicar of Christ and the divine leadership of the Catholic Church is our Anchor and our rock while we are on our earthly journey.
Just think about that. God, in His Divine Wisdom and Love, caused it all to be … Indeed, God Is The Ultimate Anchor of Our Faith and of Our Lives.
May God Bless You
STAGES OF LOVE
Well over fifty years ago, I courted a young lady, a certain Miss Karen Ann Ellstrom. My spiritual and life mentor during that time was an elderly Irish priest by the name of Father Brendan Shea.
Father Brendan and I met whenever I needed advice and guidance. Mostly we discussed subjects of faith and, of course, how I might successfully win Miss Karen’s hand in marriage.
I can honestly say that Father Brendan’s wisdom, life experience and maturity made up for many things I lacked at the time. He was truly the “father” I needed at that most formative period of my life.
Father Brendan told me that marital love, the love of others and the Love of God evolves over time. He called this “The Stages of Love” and he opined that our capacity for love grows as we experience more and more of it. Further, it had been Father’s experience that each stage is infinitely better than the last.
He also reminded me that ALL LOVE comes from God Almighty and that is because God’s Very Nature is LOVE. And, of course, Father Brendan quoted 1 John 4:8, “” (Emphasis both his and mine)
Because of God’s Love, Father Brendan told me that the last Stage of Love went exponentially beyond anything we can experience on earth … we’ll talk more about this later.
Regrettably, Father Brendan, passed on to spend Eternity with Our Lord a mere two years after Karen and I were married. I pray for his beautiful soul every day and I think he somehow knows that he has always been a wonderfully powerful influence on our lives.
STAGES OF LOVE
In looking back at it, when Karen and I uttered our wedding vows in 1964, we didn’t understand a lot about life. About all we knew was that we were very much in love and that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.
It was love; the kind of love that can only be shared by young, strong, active folks. Father Brendan called this stage “Young Love,” because that’s what it was.
As the years passed, we shared a great number of experiences. We finished our university education, we worked endless hours together in our family jewelry store and we played hard whenever we could find some spare time.
After about twenty years of marriage, our relationship entered an easy, contented stage. Father B dubbed this phase as “Mature Love.” At this point, we knew each other almost perfectly and we shared everything together … and it was good.
I’m not really sure when Karen and I entered what Father Brendan called “Old Love.” If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that it started when we had been married for fifty-years and we were both seventy-years of age.
Old Love is a wonderful stage where our lives are punctuated by physical ailments and our happiness stems from making things better for each other. It is a selfless stage … it is the purest expression of human-to-human love.
Many times Karen has said, “You and I are just like a pair of old shoes.” And she is right about that; we are so used to each other that it is sometimes impossible to discern where one personality ends and the other begins.
I might add that, like old shoes, we’ve become worn, tattered and a bit dog-eared, but we are absolutely comfortable.
Father Brendan told me that when we have finished our earthly journey we enter the “Ultimate Stage of Love.” This is the last phase, one where we will spend all Eternity with God.
It seems like only yesterday that Father Brendan Shea said to me, “Steve, Old Son, I pray that you and Karen will enter the Presence of God together. And that, in your Glorified Bodies, you’ll be able to love both each other and Our God Forever and Ever … That is my prayer.”
Friends, that is our prayer, as well.
In truth, Karen and I wish the very same for each and every one of you.
May God Bless You
THE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY
Friends, it’s the Christmas season and what could be more fitting than a blog about the very birthplace of Our Lord? That place, of course, is the cave that was being used as a stable in Bethlehem.
Some would say, “Cave, what do you mean cave? Jesus was born in a nice little wooden stable with all kinds of cows, lambs and cute little donkeys looking over the precious event. Oh yeah, and the lighting was great, so the scene would be perfect for the photograph in next year’s Christmas cards.”
Sorry to disappoint, but it simply wasn’t that way.
Linda Mainard, our Bible Study teacher, often remarks, “Most of what we know about the Nativity of Jesus comes from Hollywood and Hallmark.” Linda is absolutely correct.
YA GOTTA BE KIDDING … A CAVE?
OK, let’s look at the remark I made about Jesus being born in a cave.
The geological nature of Israel is apparently conducive to the formation of caves. Indeed, when we were on our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we saw caves everywhere we traveled. Amer, our incredible Israeli guide, pointed out that using caves for human habitations and animal shelters was common during biblical times.
I suppose that it would be logical to assume that after finding that there was “no room at the inn” (which was probably also a cave), Joseph and Mary found themselves in a predicament. And, apparently, the owner of the inn, or some other friendly resident of Bethlehem, noted Mary’s late-term pregnancy and allowed the Holy Family to use a local cave-stable for shelter.
We Americans tend to view Christ’s birth in a stable-cave as being an almost untenable circumstance. In truth, Joseph and Mary undoubtedly viewed it as a wonderful shelter and as a gift of incredible hospitality.
IN THE BIBLE
Both the Gospel of Luke and Gospel of Matthew give accounts of what theologians call the “Infancy Narrative of Jesus Christ.”
Matthew supplies us with the Genealogy of Jesus; then, Matthew gives us the account of an unnamed Angel of the Lord coming to Joseph in a dream. The Angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary into his home and that the Holy Spirit has conceived a child within her. Joseph obeys the commands of the Angel of the Lord and the last few words of Matthew 1 are, “He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.”
From this point, the Gospel According to Matthew totally skips over the actual birth of Jesus. The first two verses of Chapter Two read, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herrod, behold magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”’
Later on in the Gospel According to Matthew, the magi followed the star until it “…stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:9-11)
Let’s note here that Matthew does not mention the number of maji. Had there been one, Matthew would have used the singular form of the word, magus, instead of the plural, magi. Also, there were three gifts, so we could conditionally assume that there were three foreign dignitaries … maybe. Matthew is the only gospel writer to mention the magi, so he must have seen something incredibly compelling in their presence after the birth of Jesus.
The magi mentioned in the Gospel According to Matthew were “from the East” (probably Persia), so they were most likely the first Gentiles to recognize and give reverence to the Kingship of Christ.
It would be good to mention here that Matthew has the Holy Family staying in Bethlehem for a spell. Then one night, an angel visited Joseph in a dream and warned him to flee to Egypt with Mary and the Christ child. Joseph immediately left Bethlehem and, with the Holy Family in tow, fled to Egypt. Later, Joseph learned of the death of King Herrod and the Holy Family returned to Nazareth.
Luke conflicts with this in that he has the Holy Family returning to their home in Nazareth by way of Jerusalem. The Naming of Jesus, the Circumcision of Our Lord and His Presentation in the Temple are important parts of this narrative.
Luke gave us the only description of the birth of Jesus itself when he states, “she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
The word “manger” comes from the Latin verb mangiare which means to chew or to eat. A manger is literally a food trough from which livestock animals eat.
There is an incredible amount of symbolism here. The name “Bethlehem” literally means “House of Bread.” And at the Last Supper, Jesus essentially told His Apostles His flesh and His blood was what we Catholics know as the Eucharist. He gave Himself over for us to eat … He became our Spiritual Food. Let’s take a look at that.
“ my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.(John 6:53-57)
All I can say is WOW !!!!!!
A VERY SHORT HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY
Shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion upon the Cross, His death and His Resurrection, the people who started to call themselves “Christians” began to visit the major sites of His life. These places naturally included the cave-stable where Jesus was born, as well as Nazareth, Capernaum, Cana, Caesarea Philippi, the Mount of the Beatitudes, Gethsemane and, of course, both Calvary and His Tomb.
Bethlehem, the village of Jesus’ birth, is about five miles south of Jerusalem. The actual cave where Jesus was born had been a place of worship and veneration since the middle of the 1st century. The holy site of Our Lord’s birth was known to Christians as The Grotto.
Now, let’s fast-forward to the early-4th century, to the time the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and his mother, Saint Helena. Empress Helena was a Christian and even in her advanced age, she took an extended pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During that pilgrimage, she commissioned churches to be built over several biblical sites that were important to Christians.
Saint Helena initiated the building of at least three, and possibly four, churches in the area of Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem). One of these was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which was christened in AD 327 and consecrated by Bishop Krakarios in the year AD 333.
The original Church of the Nativity featured an octagonal-shaped rotunda over the cave where Jesus of Nazareth was born. Attached to this structure was an atrium and a double-aisled forecourt. This structure was destroyed during the final Samarian Revolt in AD 529.
The current structure of the Church of the Nativity was built in AD 565 by Emperor Justinian I. The Emperor ordered the “new church” to exactly fit over the footprint of the original. Because of this, the present church is about as close to the one ordered by Emperor Constantine and Saint Helena as we are likely to see this side of Heaven.
Today, the Church of the Nativity is not only the oldest Christian place of worship in Israel, it is one of the oldest in the world. In fact, I ran into several online sources that stated that it is the “oldest complete and still functioning Christian church in the world.“
OUR VISIT TO THE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY
When we were on our pilgrimage to Israel, Bethlehem was one of our prime interests. After all, Our Lord was born there and we wanted to see both the idyllic “Little Town of Bethlehem” and the Catholic Church of the Nativity.
In truth, the experience was far different than we’d imagined.
On Thursday, May 21st, 2009, we ate breakfast at the Vatican-owned Notre Dame Guest House and headed out for a day in Bethlehem. It’s only a five or six mile trip, but the progress is impeded by “The Wall.”
When we passed to the Palestinian Authority side, the area run by the terrorist organization, Hamas, it was like going through Checkpoint Charlie and into East Berlin. On the Jerusalem side, there were coffee shops, cars, busses and crowds of modern, happy folks going about their everyday business.
The other side of The Wall was dead. There were practically no people on the street, other than roaming gangs of predatory children. Almost every business was boarded up and covered with protest-themed graffiti. There were very few vehicles on the streets.
I have been a very active big game hunter all of my life and I have seen a lot of places where humans were living under exceedingly challenging conditions. For years, I thought that Kuujjuaq, Nunavik and Nyamandlovu, Zimbabwe were the stinky armpits of the world … I was wrong; that lofty title totally belongs to the Palestinian Territory in general and Bethlehem in particular.
I’m ashamed to say this, but I did not recognize either Manger Square or the Church of the Nativity when we our tour bus arrived there. Honestly, I’d expected a stand-alone Basilica that was really pretty, something like the Wedding Church at Cana. That surely was not the case.
After the church was pointed out to us, I saw a tiny cross on the roof and a crooked neon star that was left over from a Christmas past. The Church of the Nativity was shorter than I’d expected it to be and there were two rather nondescript buildings on each side literally growing into it.
Originally, there were three entrances to the Church of the Nativity. Raiding and looting became such a problem during the late Crusades and the Ottoman era that two of the entrances were walled up.
The remaining entrance was originally at least eight-feet high, with an arched top; this became a problem because mounted riders and raiders pulling wheeled carts could easily raid the church. Eventually, this opening was artfully filled with native stone, leaving a small four-foot by two-foot rectangular entrance.
Almost every adult person is forced to bend over in order to navigate the small entrance to the Church of the Nativity. For this reason, the small opening in the wall is known as the Door of Humility.
Our local guide commented to me that entering the church through the Door of Humility is like going into a cave. Further, he pointed out that there was a symbolic link between the church entrance and Jesus’ birth in a cave.
Only one person at a time can make it through the Door of Humility, so it took fully ten-minutes for our group of 100+ pilgrims to enter the church. It was early afternoon and Manger Square was sunny and uncomfortably hot.
When I passed through the Door of Humility, the scene changed from one of bright light to extreme darkness … it was like crawling through a small hole and standing up in a cave. Yeah, it’s that Jesus Cave symbolism again.
Immediately upon entering, I almost bumped into a gorgeous 6th century baptismal font. The baptistery was monolithic and octagonal in shape. Originally, the baptismal rite was for the catechumen to arrive from the outside and receive his baptism as he entered the church.
Looking straight forward, the interior of the church was remarkable mostly because of its simplicity. There were four rows of large stone columns; eleven columns per row. Each of the forty-four columns were painted during the Middle Ages with frescoes of the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family, the Apostles and many of the Saints.
The floor is interesting. Following the 1934 earthquake, the Greek Orthodox covered the original mosaic floors with two-feet of imported soil and created a pavement of marble slabs. In the middle of the church is a glassed-over area where we could view the original 4th century fine mosaic floor. The mosaics depict sea waves and a fish inscription which forms the five titles of Jesus. This was the floor that Saint Helena ordered when she supervising the building of the church in this holy place.
The Church of the Nativity is jointly administered by the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic Oriental Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. We were told that the two Orthodox branches basically tend the main floor of the church while the Roman Catholics are responsible for the Grotto of the Nativity.
Walking down the nave of the church, we saw a Greek Orthodox sanctuary on the left. Like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there are a zillion gilded brass lamps hanging from the ceiling in no apparent order.
As we walked toward the Grotto of the Nativity, the entire back wall appeared to be alive with glittering gold and iconic crosses. The wall above the Grotto is literally covered with hundreds of gold-leaf and painted icons of Jesus, the Nativity, the Apostles, Saints and such. As we got closer, the individual pieces became apparent; Karen and I were amazed by their beauty.
In truth, I could easily spend a half-day just looking at the icons, crosses and beautiful ancient artworks that are on the far wall of the church. As usual, Karen and I were at the rear end of our group of pilgrims, so we had lots of time to appreciate the icons.
Shuffling slowly ahead, in the line of pilgrims, we eventually approached the stairs that go down into the Grotto of the Nativity. Once on the stairs, I had to stoop to clear the low doorway.
The Grotto of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, really feels like a cave. An altar was erected over the birthplace and a fourteen pointed silver star was embedded into the white marble of the altar. There is a hole in the center of the star and pilgrims traditionally place their hand inside the hole to touch the stone manger.
The fourteen-pointed star is engraved with the Latin inscription: Hoc De Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est, which translates, “Here Jesus Christ Was Born To Mary.”
Just think of that … Jesus Christ was born right there and you can put your hand down the hole and actually touch the stone manger … WOW!!!
Over the years, debris, fill and other stuff has raised the level of the bottom of the cave. Because of this, the marble slab and star are precisely at floor level and there is an altar above. Actually, I do not know the nomenclature for the upper altar, nor why it is there. The effect is that it looks like a fireplace mantle over the white marble and fourteen-pointed silver star.
Karen and I each placed our hands in the hole in the star while Steve Ray, our pilgrimage leader, took our photograph. Then, we took out our pilgrimage rosaries, gifts for friends at home, and touched them to the bottom of the hole. Literally, every rosary we brought home had touched the place where Jesus was born.
We were allowed perhaps two minutes at the star and then we joined other pilgrims at the far end of the Grotto. Everybody was kneeling on the floor of the Grotto and praying the Holy Rosary, so we joined them.
I looked around as we prayed and the walls of the Grotto are covered with icons of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. There is one theme to the artwork in the Grotto of the Nativity; the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. It is beautiful and holy beyond the power of human’s words to describe.
After all of our group of pilgrims had spent time at the Birthplace of Jesus, we slowly climbed up the back stairway and into the church. I had assumed that we would leave by way of the Door of Humility, but I was mistaken.
As we retraced our steps down the nave of the Church of the Nativity, there was an opening in the right wall and our leaders told us that we should go through the door.
The exit led us into the Church of Catherine of Alexandria and by the entrance to the cave in which Saint Jerome, Saint Paula of Rome and Saint Eustochium translated the Holy Bible from Greek and Hebrew into the Latin Vulgate Bible.
From that point, we exited into the gray, deserted and unbelievably sad streets of Bethlehem.
My friends, Karen and I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.
THE WEDDING CHURCH AT CANA
Friends, almost four years ago, I wrote a blog chapter about our visit to the Wedding Church at Cana in Israel.
Surprisingly, I get from one to three inquiries about that little piece of writing every month … and it’s not slowing down. Some folks want to know more, but most simply want my personal reflection on what it’s like to renew wedding vows in that amazingly historic Christian place.
Because of the interest, I thought it would be helpful to take another look at the Wedding Church at Cana and our visit there.
The Bible Story
The Gospel According to John gives us a picture of Jesus that is totally missing in the Synoptic Gospels. John 2:1-11 describes a wedding in Cana in Galilee that Jesus, Mary and Jesus’ first disciples attended.
As the story goes, the wine ran out and “the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’” Being a typical Jewish mother, Mary was concerned about the host’s embarrassment at running out of celebratory libations at the worst possible moment.
I find the next statement by Jesus to be fascinating and I’m sure that we all wish we understood more. He said, ”Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”
And, again being the typical Jewish mother, Mary ignored Jesus’ statement and told the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”
So, Jesus asked the servers to fill stone jars, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons, to the brim with water. After the stone jars had been filled, Jesus told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
Upon sampling the liquid, the headwaiter said to the bridegroom, “Everybody serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”
John tells us, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and the disciples began to believe in him.”
This was literally the first recorded miracle performed by Jesus and it was the very beginning of His ministry.
A Little History
The scene of the original wedding was a Jewish synagogue. This is not surprising because proper Jewish weddings at the time were religious events.
The ruins of the original synagogue have been exposed in an archaeological excavation below the present Wedding Church at Cana.
Above this level the archaeologists found the ruins of a cross-shaped Christian church building that dates to the 4th century. The facts are sketchy at best, but local legend has it that Saint Helena commissioned the construction of this church. This doesn’t seem unlikely because Saint Helena was on a church building mission when she went on a pilgrimage to Palestine in 326-328.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Church of the Mount of Olives and The Church of the Nativity were all built under Saint Helena’s watch. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that she also ordered and supervised the building of the original Christian church over the site at Cana.
The 4th century church was in ruins when it was visited by Father Boniface da Ragusa in 1551. Interestingly, at that time, the local Muslims owned the property and they were in the business of showing Christian pilgrims the place where Christ turned water into wine.
Soon after that, the Muslims built a mosque over the site.
In 1641, the Franciscans purchased a house that was adjacent to the mosque and over the next 200+ years, they were able to acquire the entire property. In 1881, the Franciscans built a chapel that totally covered the site where Christ’s first miracle took place.
Apparently, the pilgrims flocked to the place because, by 1901, the original Franciscan chapel was found to be too small. At that time, the present Franciscan church was built and named, “The Wedding Church At Cana.”
Our Visit To The Wedding Church At Cana
Monday, May 18th, 2009, was the fourth day of our pilgrimage to Israel. We were staying at the Kibbutz Ginosar on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. This location worked out very well for exploring the many sites of Jesus’ ministry near His home.
The day was to be spent close to Tiberias and Nazareth. After breakfast, we would celebrate Mass in the Grotto of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth Then, we’d visit the Home of the Holy Family and, after lunch, the plan was to travel the five miles to the town that is now known as Kafr Kanna … the ancient Cana.
We were to renew our wedding vows at The Wedding Church at Cana. After the ceremony, we would explore the archaeological excavation deep underneath the church. We were really looking forward to this part of the pilgrimage. Let’s fast-forward to that point.
My first impression of The Wedding Church at Cana was one of beauty; it’s simply a gorgeous little jewel box of a church. Everything about the church is white, clean and absolutely sparkling. Karen and I fell in love with the church almost instantly.
After we all got settled in our pews, Steve Ray, the owner of Footprints of God Pilgrimages, talked for a while about the Gospel of John’s account of Jesus’ first miracle. Then, Steve connected Jesus with the Sacrament of Marriage. He finished by reading CCC 1613 straight from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
CCC 1613 - On the threshold of his public life Jesus performed his first sign - at his mother's request - during a wedding feast. The Church attaches great importance to Jesus' presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ's presence.
Next, Amer, our incredible Israeli guide, talked about the local wedding practices, how engagements are traditionally from three to five years long and that the families meld together during this long betrothal period.
In our mind’s eye, I believe that every one of us could visualize the wedding party that was gathered in the original synagogue and we could truly understand Mary’s request that Jesus “save the day.”
Then, it was time for our Catholic priests to aid us in renewing our wedding vows. Karen and I faced each other, joined hands and followed the verbal instructions. After we’d both sworn, once again, to love each other unto death, I was free to “kiss the bride.”
After the ceremony and taking a few personal photos, it was time to descend into the archeological excavation below the present Franciscan church. The dig is well lighted and it is quite safe for pilgrims to explore.
It is easy to see the foundation of the 1st century synagogue and the transition into the 4th century Byzantine church. There was also a remnant of the original stone mosaic floor that was part of the original synagogue. It struck me that it was entirely possible that Jesus and Mary walked there.
For Karen and me, the most stunning thing was the single stone water jar. The cavity would hold, as is said in John 2:6, “twenty to thirty gallons.” The jar is protected from damage by a heavy plexiglas shield, but it is still very easy to see every aspect of the artifact.
The fact that the stone water jar was found in the ruins of the buried 1st century synagogue is something that added greatly to my faith. The stone water jar is real, it is there and it is exactly as described in the Gospel of John. Actually SEEING that enormous stone water jar added another dimension to our understanding of Scripture.
Well, my friends, I sincerely hope that you enjoyed my reminiscences of our visit to The Wedding Church at Cana.
Indeed, this is a very special place and one that is unique in all the world.
May God Bless All of You,
THE TABLE OF CHRIST
One of the most fascinating biblical sites we visited in Israel was the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter, near Tabgha. This church is the most recent of the three churches that have been built over a large limestone rock … the rock is known as Mensa Christi; The Table of Christ.
The Bible Story
The Gospel According to John, Chapter 21, tells us that Jesus appeared to His disciples while he was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
As the story goes, Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, two of Zebedee’s sons (John and James) two others of His disciples had fished all night and they caught not a single fish.
At dawn, a man appeared on the shore and advised the fishermen to throw their net out of the right side of the boat. They did as they were told and the net instantly filled with fish. The net was so full of fish that the fishermen could not drag the catch back into the boat.
By this time, Peter recognized the man as Jesus, so he jumped out of the boat, waded ashore and greeted Our Lord. The rest of the fishermen/disciples followed in the boat, dragging the heavily-laden net behind them.
Eventually, the disciples got their catch of fish secured and they joined Jesus and Peter. During this interval of time, Jesus started a charcoal fire on a large flat rock. Jesus cooked a breakfast for Peter and His disciples on the fire; the breakfast consisted of fish and bread.
We remember that at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had placed Simon Bar-Jonah in charge of His earthly church and renamed him Peter, when He said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18
Then, Peter denied Christ three times in the courtyard of the high priest and he “wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54-62 and John 18: 15-27) Obviously, this action by Simon Peter was adjudged to be important by all four Gospel writers, so it was a major defection.
It was after this breakfast, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, that Jesus forgave Peter. In doing this, Our Lord reaffirmed Peter as the leader of His Apostles, His disciples and of His Universal Church upon earth; the Catholic Church.
The Gospel According to John is incredibly rich in the forgiveness of Simon Peter. Let’s look at it:
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs’.
He then said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’
He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus then said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’.
“ ….And when he had said this, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Follow me’." John 21:15-19
It is noteworthy that in the Jewish culture, swearing to something once made it pretty true. Swearing to something twice made it more true. And swearing to something three times made it absolutely positively true.
At the Mensa Christi, Jesus literally asked Simon Peter to swear his love for Him three times … that assured Jesus that Simon Peter was once again worthy of leading His Apostles and His Church.
Historical Mention Of Mensa Christi … The Table Of Christ
Egeria, my favorite Galician nun and Holy Land pilgrim, visited the area of Mensa Christi in 382 AD. Egeria made a single cryptic comment about the site, “Not far away from there are some stone steps where the Lord stood.“ These four ancient steps still exist today and it was probably here that the disciples moored their boat during that wonderful breakfast with Jesus.
Many parts of Egeria’s pilgrimage journal are missing, so it is possible that she wrote about the Byzantine church that was erected over the Table of Christ and we simply do not have Egeria‘s comments on it.
Several other sources relate that the first church was finished by the late-4th century, so I’m inclined to believe Egeria saw it and prayed at the Mensa Christi with her entourage. If so, these details have been lost in the last sixteen hundred years.
Some 9th and 10th century documents (the earliest is in 808 AD) variously call the original Byzantine church by the names the “Church of the Twelve Thrones“ and the “Church of the Charcoal Fire.“ Both of these names recall the Apostles and disciples and Our Lord cooking their breakfast.
The present church was built by the Franciscans in 1933 on the foundations of a Crusader church that was destroyed in 1263 AD. An archeological excavation in 1969 revealed that there were the remains of two older churches under the present one.
The older ruin dates to the 4th century and was undoubtedly the one that Saint Helena commissioned to be built. The second church was built of basalt and it is thought have been the structure built by the Crusaders. Both churches were exactly centered on the large limestone rock which is known to pilgrims as Mensa Christi, or The Table of Christ.
Visiting The Table Of Christ Today
Our guide, Amer, told us that Catholics often visit the Church of the Primacy of Peter. It is an incredibly Catholic place; it is about Our Lord performing one more miracle for His disciples, it is about Jesus being of service to His friends and it is about Our Lord’s loving forgiveness of Peter.
We went into the small church, knelt before the huge limestone rock and prayed. After we‘d spent adequate time praying while touching the Table of Christ, we all filed into a beautiful circular stone grotto. This is where we celebrated the Holy Mass under the massive shade trees with songbirds for our choir.
Later, Karen and I stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, just imagining the sequence of events that are described in the Gospel According to John.
Eventually, Karen went wading in the water and I sat on the time-worn steps where, as the pilgrim Egeria wrote, “The Lord stood.”
It was a tranquil afternoon when we were there … the lake had no waves and it was absolutely quiet. So many wonderful things had happened here.
Now, rather than reading about it, we’d actually seen and prayed before the Table of Christ.
And Thanks Be To God For That
CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
A few days ago, I happened to notice something about the various curio cabinets in our home. In a very real way, the contents of the cabinets revealed snapshots of our lives, travels and pilgrimages. The collection spanned many decades and, like our own individual personalities, the subjects were delightfully diverse.
There was a mini-herd of hand-carved ivory elephants that I brought home from a lengthy safari in Zimbabwe. And, on the same shelf was a giant land snail shell that I picked out of the sand in South Africa’s Northern Transvaal.
The next shelf down displayed several more eclectic objects. Amongst them was my great-grandfather’s drawtube telescope from the 1850s. Considering the many trails over which Henrik Timm carried the telescope, it’s incredible that it survived at all … but it did and the optics are in perfect shape.
Another prize is a fired .50-110-450 cartridge case that I found lying on a boulder while I was exploring a remote ridge in the Hell’s Canyon wilderness. The round was most likely fired from a Winchester Model 1886 lever-action rifle. The “Big .50” was unnecessarily powerful for the mule deer and sheep that are native to the area, so it’s likely that the hunter’s query was one of the resident Rocky Mountain elk.
In studying the head stamp and manufacturer, it was pretty easy to date .50-110-450 cartridge case to around the turn of the 20th century. I’d like to think that the hunter of the past killed his family’s winter meat supply with that single shot. In truth, I believe that is precisely what happened.
Another item on that shelf is a piece of quartzite that looks for all the world like a human thumb; fingernail, first joint and all. I found “The Finger” on the gravel bar while fishing for large brown trout just south of the Woodside Bridge on the Bitteroot River. I was a Montana farm kid at the time, but the image of a perfectly formed finger and joint was never missed on me.
And finally, there is the piece of burial jade that a dear friend gave me. Believe it or not, it’s a very large nephrite jade ceremonial axe blade that has seen a lifetime (or more) of use. The blade is well over two-thousand years old and it was discovered in a grave with the remains of a Chinese priest. Indeed, the jade instrument is the weirdest and coolest piece in my collection of arcane and downright interesting things.
Karen’s additions to the curio cabinets seem to be centered around a single subject; Scottish terriers. Yep, Karen loves everything about Scotty dogs and her brass-and-glass cabinet is overflowing with Scotty figurines, Scotty stuffed toys, Scotty napkin rings, Scotty … well, you get the picture.
Karen and I also collect religious books that reflect our intense interest in our Catholic faith. Obviously, this is a “centered” collection and our “Catholic bookcase” is truly a curio cabinet.
The Age of Discovery
The Age of Discovery began in the late-15th century and it was an unparalleled time of world exploration. The age was ushered in by the voyages and discoveries of Bartolomeu Dias, Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and many others.
It is said that the Age of Discovery didn’t truly end until the extensive exploration of the earth’s polar regions in the 20th century.
Personally, I see this as being in error; I believe that the greatest era of the Age of Discovery is yet to come with the exploration of the moon, the planets in our solar system and, beyond that, the very stars of our galaxy.
Cabinet of Curiosities
The concept of the “Cabinet of Curiosities” was born in the early-16th century when the explorers and others came back to Europe with things that were beyond common knowledge. It soon became popular for folks to collect such items, if for nothing else than to stimulate their imaginations.
At the time, the word “cabinet” meant two things; it could either be a piece of furniture that was designed for the display of “curiosities” or an entire room.
Basically, the concept was that the curiosities were a collection of objects that were beyond the categorical boundaries of common definition. Also, the collections could either be random items of interest or they could relate a central theme.
The collections that are in our curio cabinets are examples of this. Karen’s glass-and-brass display is centered around “anything Scotty dog” and my small accumulation is made up of random items that happened to interest me.
Friends, it’s only human nature for each of us to surround ourselves with items that interest us or stimulate our imagination. These items are as diverse as our individual personalities.
Oh, one final point, the word “curio” is a mid-19th century abbreviation of the word “curiosity.” The Oxford Living Dictionary defines a curio as “a rare, unique or otherwise intriguing object.”
GOD’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Granted, it sounds peculiar to consider ourselves to be the points of interest in GOD’S Cabinet of Curiosities, but that is precisely what we are.
God created our souls, He made the act of our conception possible and He implanted our souls within us at the very instant of that conception. Further, He gave us life outside of the womb and He has played an active role in each one of our journeys through life.
He also gave us individual personalities and free will. God is saddened when we make wrong choices and He rejoices when we follow the Path that was plainly laid out for us by Jesus, His Son.
There can only be one reason for this … it because of the inescapable fact that GOD LOVES US.
And Thanks Be To God For His Love.
May God Bless You
CHUB AND STEVE’S SPECIAL THANKSGIVING
For well over a decade my friend, Chub Eastman, and I enjoyed an annual big game hunt in central Alberta. It was always a relaxed hunt.
It was a time for us to just open ourselves to God’s Wonders of the Wilderness. It was also a time to enjoy a full week with each other’s companionship and to be with our Albertan friends.
Big game season opens on November 1st in Alberta. Chub and I loved hunting on opening day, so we usually flew to Canada and arrived mid-day on October 31st. Philip, our outfitter and chief guide, always picked us up at Calgary International and drove us a couple of hours north to his guiding headquarters.
On one of our last hunts together, both Chub and I were lucky enough to harvest our big game animals within the first couple of days.
When I arrived back at the ranch house with my last critter, an ancient mule deer buck, I was met by Philip’s wife, Sheila. Apparently, she’d made a decision … we were going to celebrate our good fortune.
Chub and Steve’s Special Thanksgiving
Sheila told me, “Steve, Canada was the first country to celebrate Thanksgiving and it is a tradition that goes back fully forty years before your Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock.”
She went on to say, “We Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October. And I realize that you Yanks give thanks on the fourth Thursday of November. In light of your bountiful harvest, why don’t we split the difference and share a prayerful meal of thanks? … We’ll call it Chub and Steve’s Special Thanksgiving.”
Then, Sheila asked me if I knew the name of the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada. Of course, I pled ignorance and with great feeling she told me, “Steve, our official name is as long as it is reverent. In 1879, the Canadian Parliament designated the holiday as ‘The Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God’.”
All I could say was, “WOW!”
Chub finished the conversation by adding, “I’ve already switched our return flight to Friday at noon … so, we’ll have plenty of time to celebrate Steve and Chub’s Special Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday afternoon.”
With that, Sheila marched to the back door and started preparing for the celebratory meal.
During the next day and a half, Chub and I boned our game animals, went coyote hunting and explored the local backwoods general stores. It was a fun time, two brothers of the hunt just spending quality time together.
For Sheila, the proposed Special Thanksgiving seemed star-crossed from the beginning. That afternoon, Tuesday, the propane froze up and it took until Wednesday morning for the bonfire under the tank to rectify the situation. The temperature plummeted to -25º Fahrenheit that night, so we all put four or five extra blankets on top of our bedcovers.
On Wednesday, the sewer line that ran the full length of the ranch house froze solid. Charlie, the local Ukrainian plumber, finally got the pipe snaked out. That chore alone took twelve hours and several trips under the house with a blowtorch.
By the time Charlie was done with the snaking and the blowtorch work, the home fairly reeked of … well, sewer stuff. Sheila placed scented candles everywhere and, after a few hours, declared that her home now smelled like summer season lilacs … or something. I remember thinking, “The ‘or something’ still stinks.”
The biggest problem was the turkey. Apparently, Philip bought a mammoth frozen turkey and there was no way it was going to fit into the oven. Sheila came up with the solution; she would finish the thawing of the gobbler with Charlie’s sewer blowtorch. Then, we’d solve the size problem by splitting the turkey lengthwise and she’d shoehorn it into a special cooker she borrowed from Philip’s mum.
Chub, Philip and I were given the task of splitting the turkey. So, bright and early on Thursday morning, we faced the challenge. Sheila thought it would be tacky to halve the bird with an axe, but left us men to find another way to do it.
Philip came up with the perfect solution. Visiting hunters always want to take their moose antlers home and Phil had a special chain saw that was dedicated solely to this purpose. Even better, the chain saw has always used vegetable oil as bar lubricant, so we’d have no nasty petroleum in our turkey bird.
Philip was the owner of the chain saw, so he got the honor of lowering the business end of the bar through the carcass. Chub and I were assigned the chore of holding the turkey solidly to the dining room table. Obviously, Sheila was out of the house for a spell; otherwise, she would never have allowed this type of men’s shenanigans to happen.
So, with a valiant pull, Philip started the chain saw. It burped and belched blue exhaust smoke and eventually the engine caught. Then, he lowered the bar to the center of the turkey’s breast. And through the blue smoke and incredible noise, I could see turkey mist flying … all over the kitchen window, in a line across the ceiling tiles and all over Philip’s face and chest.
Down, down, down he cut and when the saw started digging into Sheila’s treasured dining room table, he stopped. With a HUGE grin, Philip proclaimed that the turkey bird was cut in half, fair and proper.
Actually, it looked pretty good, except for the deep slice in the table and the ground-up moose hair that was spread uniformly through the flat surfaces of the split turkey breast.
About that time, Sheila walked in the door. She stopped, looked at the copious blue air, the sprayed turkey chips and her butchered dining room table. Sheila’s face said it all, she was a little disappointed in her men-folks ability to cut a turkey in half.
Then, we all started laughing. The absurdity of the total event was the stuff of which memories are made. There are good memories, bad memories and those like this … incredibly hilarious memories.
We all pitched in and helped with the final preparation. Chub peeled, boiled and mashed the potatoes. Sheila fussed around the turkey and wrapped it like a mummy in aluminum foil. And after a while, I was assigned to tend the gravy and to extricate any potential lumps.
Sheila gave Philip “THE LOOK” and told him that he should do anything of which he was capable… just as long as it didn’t involve his moose-antler chain saw.
When Sheila pronounced the dinner ready for serving, we all carried our particular dish to the table. I noticed that Sheila carefully covered the chain saw ding with a huge doily and put the serving tray the held the turkey pieces on it.
Then, we all sat down to share in the feast. Sheila told us that this was a special dinner, one giving Thanks to God because their friends Steve and Chub had come for a visit and that they had harvested their family’s winter meat supply.
And, finally, Sheila asked us to all join hands and join her in saying Grace.
She did the Sign of the Cross and said, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Sheila continued, “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy Gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” She sealed the prayer with another Sign of the Cross and we all joined in a loud, “AMEN.”
As we all filled our plates and engaged in a rowdy conversation, I looked around at my friends. There was Chub, a good friend that I loved like a brother. And there was Philip, Sheila and their son, Jason … good folks and true friends.
I sat there in total awe, just drinking it all in.
If there was friendship and love anywhere in the world, it was surely there at Sheila’s table as we celebrated Steve and Chub’s Special Thanksgiving Feast.
It was a Thanksgiving I will never forget.
May God Bless You,
PS. Chub is gone now; gone to meet Our Lord in Heaven. I pray for his soul every day. Please join me this Thanksgiving in praying for my forever-friend Chub. God Bless, Steve
A SPHERE OF PUREST GOLD
As many of you know, I was a goldsmith for most of my working life. Goldsmithing was like any other job; there were many routine chores and then there were some that absolutely brought my soul alive.
The facet of goldwork I enjoyed the most was taking “old gold” and returning it to new life. Let me explain more thoroughly:
A Sphere Of Purist Gold
A few times every month, customers would bring in their family’s old gold. Normally, the client wanted me to take the gold item that had seen a lifetime of use and turn it into something fresh and new.
The gold itself had significance to these folks. It was not about monetary worth, but rather a sentimental value that goes well beyond measurement in dollars and cents. The pieces I worked with were usually deceased spouse’s wedding rings and gold jewelry inherited from the passing of parents and grandparents.
Believe it or not, the surface of gold jewelry has pores and after a lifetime (or two) of use, the metal has to be refined. Goodness knows what was in the pores, but I always imagined they were packed with skin dander, hand cream, remnants of fifty-year old meatloaf and … well, you get the picture. Take my word for it, old gold can be truly nasty.
In a small shop setting, the best way to return the gold to its original “fine” state is to carefully go through a few simple steps.
First, the old gold is put into a ceramic crucible with an aspirin-sized dollop of borax crystals. Then, the gold is melted with an oxygen-acetylene torch until it loses all of its previous shape and collapses down into a ball.
The borax acts as a flux; it remixes the alloys and brings oxidized impurities to the surface of the gold ball in the form of “slag.” The last step in refining the gold is to carefully spoon off the slag.
At that point in time, the gold in the crucible is an incredible sight. The metal has now become what I’ve always thought of as “A Sphere Of Purest Gold.” The molten gold sphere is now the most glorious shiny red-orange-gold color and it is beautiful beyond description.
Many times, while the refined gold was still molten, I’ve called Karen over to my goldsmithing bench, just so we could share in the beauty together. It was literally like watching a perfect sunrise with the lady I love.
And, of course, from this state of perfection, I was able to fashion the gold into a new form … a form that pleased my client.
The lesson here is that fire and great heat can be an enormously cleansing force. It can bring beauty out of ugliness … it can bring new life from old.
Father Rick’s Homily
Father Rick gave our congregation an amazing gift last Sabbath; his homily was about Purgatory. This was absolutely the perfect subject because November is the month that we Catholics dedicate to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
One of Father Rick’s points stood out above all the rest. He told us that Purgatory is “One of God’s Most Wonderful Gifts to Us.”
Frankly, I’ve not thought of Purgatory as being a “Wonderful Gift,” but Father Rick is absolutely correct in his assessment. In truth, Purgatory is a God-Made place or action (it could be considered either a noun or a verb) that assures all of those who follow Jesus a place in Heaven with God.
Another bullet point of Father Rick’s homily was that we should consider Purgatory to be an entry hall to Heaven. When we are in Purgatory, we are not quite there yet, but we’re surely well on our way to spending Eternity with God.
Finally, the good Father touched upon the fact that our souls are cleansed of all vestiges of sin in Purgatory. In this statement, I believe he was referring to 1 Corrinthians 3:11-15.
Father Rick’s homilies are always excellent, but this was one that really spoke to my heart. Truly, I will remember this homily for the rest of my life.
At some point near the middle of the homily, a lightbulb went off in my brain. I equated our souls being purified in Purgatory to my goldsmithing experience. Indeed, the purification of holy souls is an exact parallel with the refining process of old gold.
In the case of gold, the metal is transformed from a dirty, used state to a perfectly pure condition. And it is only after the refining process that the gold is ready to be formed anew.
It only makes sense that if we arrive at the Entrance to Heaven with the stains of forgiven sins still upon us, there should be some sort of purifying. And that process of purification undoubtedly involves the “Fire” of God’s Love.
At least in my mind’s eye, I can imagine holy souls that have been cleansed looking very much like my “Spheres of Purist Gold” … they are beautiful, they are absolutely perfect in every way.
Indeed, it is the ONLY by the Grace and the Fire of God’s Love that we are able to spend the Rest of Eternity with Him in Heaven.
Thanks Be To God For That.
May God Bless You
THE STORY OF A HOME
In July of 1964, shortly before our marriage, Karen and I bought a brand new house. We were starving students at the time and working our way through college. Being levelheaded kids, we decided that making mortgage payments would eventually give us something of value, while renting an apartment would not.
We spent our wedding night in the house and from that point in time, we made it our home. We’ve lived here ever since.
There is a distinction to be made here; a house is an empty living structure; it is a shell. And a home is a place where a family lives; a home is full of loving, both between family members and with God.
During the last fifty-two years our home has “grown with us.” We added a covered back deck and, when we needed a workout room and office, we built a 450 square-foot addition. We also poured a concrete trailer pad and had the electrical system beefed-up to accommodate a plethora of new electronic gadgets. Actually, the list is almost endless; over the years, we “tweaked” our home to fit our lifestyle.
Forced to guess, I’d say that our home attained its finest condition about five or ten years ago.
Today, our home is in very slow decline. Our side and back fences are rotting and rickety, I haven’t cleaned the gutters for a spell and there are a million little things that need to be fixed. Our home isn’t collapsing around us, but it isn’t as pristine as it used to be.
Still, our home is precious to both of us. It was the place where our Young Love veritably blossomed and it is the place where our Old Love continues to flourish and thrive to this very day.
We are totally aware of the fact that age and health issues will eventually force us to move to an adult living facility (a cutesy PC term for “Old Folks Home”). However, we also feel that we’ll stay younger and more vital by living here as long as we can.
When our physical condition forces us to sell, hopefully a young family will buy our home and return it to its past glory. And we pray that our beloved home will once again be place where Young Love blossoms.
At least in my mind’s eye, I can see the young family raising a flock of kids, adorable dogs and maybe even a few kitty cats in our home. Hopefully, our home will again be a place of incredible laughter, noise and total chaos; that would be a wonderful thing.
If the young family is lucky enough to live long and prosper, they will repeat the cycle that Karen and I have experienced; … living, loving and eventually growing old together.
In time, perhaps in another fifty years, our home will be bulldozed to the ground and a new living structure will take its place. That’s simply inevitable; it’s the Cycle of Life.
A VERY SHORT Reflection
Friends, our physical bodies are very much like the house-versus-home distinction. Without a soul, without a Love of God and without Jesus for a guide, we are an empty shell. But, when the soul, the Love of God and Jesus are added, we are then ready to lead our life upon earth as God intended.
I believe that the Young Love-versus-Old Love component is there, as well. As “young” Catholics, we are blushingly in love with God and as we mature, we love Him to the very center of our souls; that is when the wonderful element of Old Love develops.
Eventually, like the structure of our home, our bodies break down and we die. Again, that is the Cycle of Life.
And it is then that we who have loved Him enough during our short lives on earth are given the unmerited favor of spending all Eternity with God.
May God Bless You
THE ICON OF LIFE
Friends, by now you know that my earliest Catholic mentor was a wonderful Irish priest. His name was Father Brendan Shea and I’m convinced that he was sent into my life by God Almighty. To say that Fr. B was a positive influence on my life during my formative years would be an incredible understatement.
During one of our last meetings, Father Brendan brought up a very interesting subject; that of what he called the “Icon Of Life.”
I’d heard about icons, but I knew very little about them. And, frankly, the addition of the term “life” totally threw me for a loop.
Father Brendon went on to explain; “Traditionally, icons are a pieces of religious art. They can be statues or carvings, but the vast majority of icons are paintings. By definition, icons are sacramentals; objects of faith that help the worshiper “channel” their adoration and worship of God. Oh, and just so you will always use the correct terminology, icons are referred to as having been ‘written,’ not painted or carved.”
He went on to say, “This type of art form comes to us from the very-early Catholic Church and they are incredibly important in the worship of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We Roman Catholics love icons, as well, but they are not used in our liturgy.”
Then, the good padre gave me a thumbnail sketch of what makes up an icon. First of all, an icon tells a story but, like God and Eternity, there is absolutely no timeline.
In other words, an icon could depict Adam and Eve, Moses, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus in the same artwork, even though they did not all exist at the same time. It’s the story itself that is important, not the timeline of the persons and events in the story.
Secondly, the main character is always the largest and most prominent image in the artwork. The other characters depicted in the icon are given physical sizes that are relative to their importance to both the main character and the telling of the story.
Father Brendan told me that iconography, the study of icons, is a deep and rich field. He went on to say that our little ten-minute introduction to icons wasn’t even one-thousandth of one-percent of the average iconographer’s knowledge. It was just enough to introduce the main part of our lesson … The Icon Of Life.
The Icon Of Life
The conversation then shifted to the subject at hand; the Icon of Life.
Fr. B started the lesson by saying, “Steve, Old Son, I’d like you to adapt the “Icon Principle” to your own life. I want you to think about the most important person or thing in your life. That person or thing can be alive, dead or entirely spiritual. And if you come up with anyone other than Jesus, I’m gonna cut off your supply of Cuban cigars.”
At that, I responded, “Yes, Father, I understand perfectly. God is by far the most important thing in my life and the figure of Jesus, God totally reduced to human form on earth, is the perfect representation. Jesus will be the largest image in my Icon of Life and every other character or event will be both smaller and behind Him.”
With a HUGE grin, Father Brendan said, “Good Boy, your supply of Cubanos is secure; at least for the time being.”
Father got out a large piece of drawing paper and asked me to draw a large figure of Jesus in the lower center. This was the beginning of my Icon of Life.
From this basic start, we went on to order the most important people in my life. All of them standing behind Jesus and their sizes were in proportion to their standing.
At first, I ranked the people by order of their positive effect on my life. Father B. noticed that instantly and he pointed out that we often learn by negative example. He suggested that I should put the “good folks” on the right of Jesus and behind Him. Similarly, the “baddies” went to the left of Our Lord and to the rear.
Then, he asked me to list the events of my life by order of importance and their influence on the person that I had become. This time, Father Brendon asked me to put the “good events” on the far right side of the piece of paper and the “bad ones” on the extreme left.
After I’d done that, Fr. B told me that this was the icon of my life at that particular moment, but that the relationships of life were constantly changing. Because of this, my Icon of Life would also in constant flux.
He pointed to the figure I’d placed right behind Jesus; it was Grandpa Hank. Fr. B then said, “Steve, I know that you are currently courting a wee lassie named Karen. I see the love in your eyes and I highly suspect that you will eventually enter into the Sacrament of Marriage with her. Trust me, Old Son, Karen will soon take Grandpa Hank’s place and the old fella will be shuffled back a place or two … and I know for a fact that Hank would have it no other way.”
After a while we broke for a wee drop of that fabulous single-malt Irish whiskey that Fr. B called “Tears of the Angels” and a Cubano. It was then that Father Brendon told me that the Icon of Life is a concept that had always helped him keep centered. He recommended that I follow his example and keep my own up-to-date Icon of Life throughout the rest of my journey on this earth.
He also told me I could draw my Icon of Life on a piece of paper, just as I did that evening, or I could simply make a list; either on paper or simply in the privacy of my own mind.
It’s been over a half-century since that watershed visit with Father Brendon. Given the wisdom of time, I can honestly say that our discussion changed my way of looking at the many aspects of my life.
Fr. B taught me the proper order of things; my Love of God will always be “front and center” and that love has greatly influenced every other relationship. And that is as it should be.
Father Brendon was absolutely correct when he opined that the “Wee lassie named Karen” would take Grandpa Hank’s place as the second most important person and influence in my life. Somehow he had known what I only suspected, but I guess that came from his many years of priestly insight.
When I get to Heaven, I pray that I will be fortunate enough to meet Father Brendan Shea again. I’d love to hug him one more time and thank him once more for being such a wonderfully positive influence on my life.
I have no doubt that the resourceful priest smuggled a few Cubanos and a wee dollop of Tears of the Angels through the Pearly Gates. And hopefully he will share.
As our beloved Monsignor Rick once told me, “Anything, absolutely ANYTHING, is possible for an Irish priest.”
I believe him.
May God Bless You.
FATHER BRENDAN’S BOOK OF LIFE
When I was a sophomore in college, I took “Instruction” classes at Saint Agatha Catholic Church, in Sellwood. Father Brendan Shea was my teacher and the old Irish priest, who loved a wee bit of single-malt whisky now and again, was patient and kind.
Our meetings were wonderful; I was his only student, so we’d talk the Gospel and the Church for an hour or so … then, take a break for Cuban cigars and an incredibly polished whiskey that the good padre called “Tears of the Angels.”
Father Brendan’s catechism class was an exercise in loving God and learning to be totally open to God‘s love. It was simple and easy; just be open to God and enjoy everything that life brings.
One of Father Brendan’s favorite subjects was what he called “The Book of Life.” Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the incredible wisdom of the concept and I’ve often wished that it was taught in RCIA today.
Father Brendan’s Book of Life
Father Brendan started out by telling me that me something that we all know; that God is beyond time. He went on to explain that God lives in Eternity; there is no past, there is no future; God lives in what Fr. B called the “Eternal Now.”
Frankly, it took a while for me to grasp the Eternal Now concept. In truth, I’m still working on it … I may “grasp” it, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that there is more to it than we mortals can totally understand.
From that point, Fr. B explained that God created man and He gave us the concept of time. The passing of time measures our earthly journey from beginning to end.
And, of course, Fr. B then cracked the ancient joke that, “God gave time to mankind so that everything in our lives wouldn’t happen all at once.” I was smoking one of the good padre’s excellent Cubanos at that moment and I almost choked to death from strong smoke and laughter.
Then, he went on to explain that our lives in time are very much like the development of the story line in a book. A book starts out slowly; the scene is described; then, the characters are introduced and the theme revolves around the characters and their experiences. And, by the end of the book, the main character has either succeeded or failed. Without this part there literally is no reason for the book to have been written.
After we talked about the concept of books for a while, Fr. B went on to say, “Stevie, Old Son, let’s discuss what I like to call ‘The Book Of Life’.”
He explained that God gives us a soul upon conception and when we are born we are both physically and mentally a blank page. Like the beginning of a book, the scene is set, but the characters have to meet each other and gradually establish relationships. In life, most babies are greeted by their family; a loving mother and father and siblings. This is the first chapter of life.
Father Brendan went on to say, “Steve, Laddy Boy, we Catholics truly believe that Baptism is efficacious in jump-starting the person’s spiritual life. After all, it is then that the Holy Spirit Himself marks you as Forever A Child of God … and that’s precisely why we Baptize babies.”
As time goes by, new relationships and experiences develop. At this point, the new person starts to learn the rudimentary concepts of good, bad, pleasure and pain. To illustrate this, Fr. B gave a personal example: When he was an infant, he placed his hand on a red-hot stove burner and he instantly understood why his mother had told had repeatedly told him, “Bad, Bad, Bad.” This is the second chapter of life.
Life progresses and our learning becomes more sophisticated. We gain a moral code, a personal perception of right and wrong, and we learn that there are concepts beyond our mere human senses. We gain a sense that we have an immortal soul and we learn about God.
Father Brendan told me that one of the most beautiful things in his life as a priest was to witness a child’s absolute and total adoration of God Almighty. He was convinced that children loved God, “Clear down to their very souls.”
Then, of course, the person slowly grows to maturity and there are several steps along the way. One added Catholic high point is the Sacrament of Confirmation at the “Age of Reason,” usually at seven to sixteen years of age. And all along the journey, we are surrounded with added “players” that shape the person we are eventually to become.
Like a great novel, the rest of our lives are seemingly full of conflicting characters, moral challenges, victories and setbacks. And all along the way we are faced with the problems of advancing age.
Perhaps Father Brendan’s greatest message was that life would be incredibly easy if we had the vibrant health and lack of pain that the average teenager experiences. BUT, that’s simply not God’s Plan.
Fr. B told me that God wants us to experience ALL of the chapters of life, just as we do a in the development of the story in a great book. In addition to all of the happiness and joy that life brings, God wants us to also feel the advancement of physical decay; the pain of our parent’s passing, incredible grief of losing a spouse and, eventually, our own personal DEATH.
All of this is a part of God’s Plan.
And, if we worship God and turn our souls totally over to Him all along our Life’s Journey, the final reward is spending Eternity with God in Heaven.
A Personal Reflection
Friends, not a single part of Father Brendan’s “Book of Life” was missed on me. Indeed, the great padre’s credo has been an integral part of my faith and deeply-Catholic lifestyle for the last fifty-some years and I will follow it until I pass from this life.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Father Brendan had only a year or so to live after our final visit. To my eternal regret, I was deeply involved in my university studies, a young marriage and a difficult work schedule when Fr. B passed away. I was totally unaware of his death and only learned of it a couple of years ago.
Truly, Father Brendon would probably have had it no other way. He had, as he often put it, “Lived His Book of Life” and mine was “In The Middle of Chapter Four.”
I will never forget Father Brendon and his incredible ability to weave his stories inseparably with the many truths of the Catholic Church. His teachings were literally a Living Catechism … a life well-lived with an unbelievable talent for passing the Love of God to the next generation.
May God Bless Father Brendon Shea’s Lovely Soul Forever and Ever. AMEN
THE ELECTRONICS IN OUR LIVES
During my long life, I’ve witnessed an amazing growth in both the number and sophistication of the electronics in our American culture. A lot of the devices are absolutely lifesaving, some have the potential of enhancing our lives and the rest are pretty much what we make of them.
MRIs, CTs and Such
During the last two years, Karen and I have been literally plagued with health problems. In truth, the use of electronic imaging, both by MRI and CT machines, have allowed doctors to diagnose medical issues for both of us.
The beauty of this is that the docs were able to address the medical problems directly and noninvasively.
For instance, when my left knee developed a horrible “locked up” glitch and level-eight pain, a single session under an MRI machine revealed that both meniscuses were badly torn. Given this knowledge, my orthopedic performed arthroscopic microsurgery on my knee and returned it to normal function.
But, there’s more … and this is REALLY cutting edge electronic stuff.
During my pre-op appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, his assistant took two samples of my DNA. These samples were sent to a medical firm that specializes in pharmacogenomics. By studying my inherited genetics with highly sophisticated electronic gear, the technicians were able to pinpoint two things. They determined the most effective anti-inflammatory medicine and the exact dosage that would keep my operation-site swelling to an absolute minimum.
The tale of Karen’s subdural hematoma has already been told a couple of times in this blog, so we’ll not dwell on it. The fact remains that my wonderful wife’s life was literally saved by the use of a CT imaging machine, the hands of an incredibly-talented brain surgeon and microsurgical techniques involving very sophisticated electronics.
For some reason, I tend to look at most things in terms of faith. In these two instances, electronics experts and medical folks used their God-given intelligence to design pieces of equipment that can save lives. And, in the case of my badly damaged knee, the use of an MRI machine and DNA sequencing gear undoubtedly made the rest of my life on earth more enjoyable.
And Thanks Be To God For That.
Computers And The Internet
Back in our university days, Karen and I were exposed to primitive computers that used paper punch cards to input data. Yep, that was back in the Stone Age, a time when computers were a relatively new electronic invention.
Anybody who remembers stapling discarded computer punch cards into wreaths, spray painting them gold and giving them as Christmas presents … well, they are old as we are.
Obviously, computers and the Internet can be used for good or for bad (pornography comes to mind). By their use, we can enhance our souls or we can degrade ourselves and others; God gives us Free Will, so it’s totally up to us
Personally, I find the Internet to be highly useful in researching Holy Scripture and early-Church history. I also search the ‘net for things that will enhance our lives; medical stuff, managing our financial portfolio, weather information and such.
I consider the existence of computers and the Internet to be an incredible opportunity to enrich not only our lives, but the lives of others. For example, every week I spend many hours pecking away at my blog on a word processing program and posting it on the Internet.
Honestly, this blog is my personal attempt to share and increase our communal Love of God. Whether successful or unsuccessful, it’s not for me to judge … at least I try and I believe that God appreciates the fact that I throw my heart and soul into these little writings.
A Few Thoughts On Electronics
Friends, I believe that all people of faith can agree that God not only made everything in the Universe, but that He is also active in each of our lives.
God made us and He made all of the things around us. It is also true that, at some time in the future, everything will go back to God.
If we properly expand this logic, we will instantly understand that all of the electronic gadgets that surround us can be traced back to God.
After all, he gave us self-awareness, intelligence, reasoning ability and, at times, the spark of true genius. It is this “spark of true genius” that results in previously unknown concepts, services and goods … in a word, inventions.
Because of this, we should embrace the electronic devices in our lives. And, because we possess our God-given Free Will, it is our responsibility as Catholics to see that these devices are always used for good and appreciated as being Gifts from God.
If we do that, we cannot only enjoy the lifesaving and life enhancing properties of these gadgets, but we will also be able to appreciate them as being directly linked to our very best friend … God Almighty.
May God Bless You.
A LOOK AT HEAVEN
HEAVEN … the very word dredges up all sorts of mental images and thoughts. Truly, we all want to go there, but what do we really know about Heaven?
As it turns out, we know a great deal and our primary sources are the Holy Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Indeed, the CCC is a wealth of information because it is based not only on Holy Scripture, but the writings of the early-church fathers.
Actually, there considerably more information about Heaven in the Bible that I thought possible. The New American Bible alone references Heaven 233 times in the Old Testament and 224 times in the New. The Gospel According to Matthew alone mentions the “Kingdom of Heaven” thirty-one times.
Because of this, I thought it would be interesting if we took a thoughtful look at some of the aspects of Heaven.
Who Believes In Heaven?
The Pew Research Center’s tells us a lot about who believes in Heaven and the groups of folks who do not. And, if you look at the data, it reveals that Heaven is primarily a Christian concept.
Among American Christians, fully 85% believe in Heaven. The percentage of believers varies slightly by denomination, but the fact remains that the vast majority of American Christians are secure in the knowledge that Heaven and spending Eternity in the Presence of God awaits them upon physical death.
The statistic that absolutely floored me was that a whopping 72% of ALL AMERICANS, regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation, reported having a belief in the existence of Heaven. Pew defined Heaven as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.”
I was personally surprised to see that one-half (50%) of Americans who reported that they believed in “Nothing in particular” had confidence that Heaven actually exists.
On the other side of the equation, the majority of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists totally reject any notion of Heaven.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
So what is Heaven and what is it like to be there? Let’s take a look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Churchtells us.
CCC-1023 - Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God forever, for they "see Him as he is," face to face. ( 1 John 3:2, 1 Corinthians 13:12 and Revelation 22:4).
CCC-1024 - This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.
CCC-1025 To live in heaven is "to be with Christ." The elect live "in Christ," but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name. (Philippians 1:23, John 14:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and Revelation 2:17).
Heaven In The Holy Bible
The Holy Bible reveals a lot about not only Heaven, but of the incredible Love that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit feels for us. Here are several bullet points from Scripture.
Jesus Christ shows his personal Love for us in John 14:2-3: "There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am."
Heaven is beyond our comprehension; I Corinthians 2:9 tells us: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him."
Perhaps the most incredible descriptions of Heaven is one that Karen and I have read during Requiem Masses for friends of ours who have passed on to Our Lord. In Revelation 21:3-4, we are told that God will live with His people and there will be an end to death, crying, and pain. Here is the quote:
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes and there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”
Will There Be Marriage In Heaven?
The Holy Bible tells us, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in Heaven (Matthew 22:30). This was Jesus’ answer in response to a question concerning a woman who had been married multiple times in her life and which man would be her husband in Heaven (Matthew 22:23-28). Evidently there is no such thing as marriage in Heaven.
This does NOT mean that a husband and wife will no longer know each other in Heaven. Also, it does NOT mean that the couple couldn’t still have a close relationship with each other in Heaven. Indeed, they will still love each other totally.
What this basically tells us, however, is that marriage in Heaven would have no purpose, since there is no procreation and no loneliness.
A Short Reflection On Heaven
Friends, the subject of Heaven and the biblical references to it could easily fill ten books … and I only have about one-thousand words to spend on each of my blogs. Trust me, this is a rich and beautiful subject.
So, let’s sum up what little I’ve covered here: The majority of Americans, whether Christian or not, believe in Heaven. And it is a place, a place called Heaven, where those who have died in God's grace and friendship will live for all Eternity in the Presence and Love of God.
Biblical sources, ones I have not cited, mention that when we pass the Final Judgment, we will be living forever in our “glorified body.” It is only then that we will be truly capable of appreciating the incredible wonders of Heaven.
In other words, our poor human senses are inadequate, but in time and with God’s help, we will be able to immerse ourselves in an existence that is light-years beyond our present comprehension.
And, finally, Heaven will be a place where all of our souls, now clad in our wonderful glorified bodies, will live for all Eternity in the Presence of God.
May God Bless You.
FROM MY YUKON JOURNAL
Friends, the following is an excerpt from my Yukon Journal. The year was 1978 and at the time, my guide, Rudy, and I were in the Yukon wilderness, above the Arctic Circle, hunting Dall sheep in the Selwyn Mountains.
…. We’d found no game on the west side of the river, so we resupplied at our tiny base camp and got ready for our last great mountain adventure. It was late in the hunt, perhaps the sixteenth or seventeenth day, and time was growing very short.
The following day, we stripped off our clothing and crossed the many channels of Snake River. It was a risky crossing; boots, clothing, packs and guns held over our heads as we slowly traversed the swift, frigid water of the Snake. The water was so cold that we lost all of the feeling in our feet and legs in the first thirty seconds.
The river water was straight off of the glaciers and, about halfway across, I stepped on a huge fish. I could easily have drowned right there had I not been able to grab a log that was buried in the river gravel.
By the time we both reached the opposite bank, we were nearly frozen to death. We were still naked as we rapidly built a huge fire and we reveled in the flames warming our bodies.
Then, we climbed. Oh how we climbed; up and up the mountain range to the east. And, after maybe eight or ten hours of the worst sort of rock scrambling imaginable we reached the top. Our fingernails were bleeding, as were our knees and elbows but, by God’s Grace, we’d reached the Top of the World.
Rudy and I sat on the highest part of the ridge and looked at God’s Creation.
It was an incredibly clear day and we could see forever. To the south, Snake River cut its serpentine course towards us. The river disappeared to the north, eventually dumping into the Beaufort Sea.
To our east, the gorgeous untracked country continued. Within our vista were enormous mountains, frozen lakes and deep creeks that will go forever unnamed.
It was the arctic wilderness, unsullied by man and inhabited only by wild beasts. And Rudy and I were entranced by it; two brothers looking at all of Creation that truly matters.
And God was there, our Forever Companion.
Rudy was one for calling God “The Great Whoever.” I understood that he was referring to the loving entity that the Inuits call “He who made all.” Hey, whatever name you call God, He’s still God.
For a long time, Rudy and I sat quietly, alone in our individual thoughts. Rudy was communing with The Great Whoever and I was contemplating God and the natural order of things … life, death, eternal salvation; stuff like that.
My Personal Ecclesiastes 3 On A Yukon Mountaintop
My father’s recent death showed me, in a very visible way, that our time on earth is limited. In truth, Dad’s passing caused me to come to the total acceptance of physical death.
We’re born, we grow and thrive, we love and laugh and we enjoy this life that God gives us … then, it’s time for us to slow down, to grow old, to be ill and to die. That is just the order of things. And, after this process has been completed, my Catholic faith tells me that our souls (now clad in a glorified body) spend All of Eternity in the Loving Presence of God Almighty.
Then, it stuck me that I didn’t know Ecclesiastes 3 by heart, but that by making up my own, using the same principle, I could somehow understand a little more about the cycle of our life on earth.
I sat on that distant Yukon mountaintop, quietly saying something like this:
To everything there is a season.
A time to be born, a time to live,
a time to grow, a time to thrive,
a time to grow old and a time to die.
And, at ALL TIMES we should LOVE,
both one another and Our God.
Hey, maybe it ain’t Old Testament prose, but it was the best I could do while on the edge of exhaustion and hypothermia at a wind-chill of close to zero degrees.
After spending a little more time on the Top of the World, it was time to descend. At the end of our stay, Rudy said, “Always remember this moment, my friend. Very few people ever climb mountains like these and even fewer will ever see the things like you and I have seen together.”
I remember those words as if they were spoken yesterday. And Rudy was right, of course.
Being allowed to experience God in the Yukon arctic; seeing reflections of Him in the aurora borealis and seeing His Grandeur in the mountains … these are rare privileges that I will cherish forever.
May God Bless You,
The Urban Dictionary defines the word “Takeaway” thusly: “Takeaway: Noun. Any new piece of information gleaned from a lecture, interview, or other media presentation, etc. that can be of exponential value when acted upon or put to use.”
The Takeaway Concept On Pilgrimages
Karen and I have been fortunate enough to have shared several Catholic faith pilgrimages together. Having literally “been there and done that,” I can vouch for the fact that it’s incredibly easy to quickly become “basilica blind.”
For instance, the first church in the morning is in sharp focus, but our minds tend to get a bit fuzzy after lunch, when we we’re walking through the third or fourth cathedral of the day.
My friend, Mike Aquilina, was a guest speaker on our first pilgrimage. When I described our “basilica blindness,” Mike gave me a sage piece of advice. Mike told me, “Steve, whenever I visit major holy site, the first thing I do is to use my physical senses to immerse myself into the experience.”
Mike continued, “Then, while I’m still on-site, I try to expand my experience by finding at least one ‘takeaway,’ something totally unique about the place or the event.”
And, finally, he told me, “Steve, trust me on this, the book learnin’ is best left until later. The two most important parts of pilgrimages are the experiences of our senses and the takeaways.”
During our time at Christ the King Catholic Church, we have been blessed to have had two pastors who consistently delivered excellent homilies. I don’t know of a single soul who would disagree with the statement that both Monsignor Don Buxman and Monsignor Rick Paperini are world-class homilists.
No matter how great a homily is, however, it’s easy to drift into a mental malaise while listening to someone talk. Actively seeking the takeaway helps me to enjoy the entire homily and to find a message that is relevant to my life.
Takeaways In Sacred Reading
Likewise, when reading the Holy Bible or other divine works, it really helps to keep on the alert for the takeaway. Words tend to melt into one another and consciously searching for the kernel of wisdom is the very essence of the takeaway principle.
A Short Reflection
My friends, it isn’t just in basilicas or homilies or in reading the Bible that we find those blessed takeaways. In truth, our lives are full of takeaway moments; we simply have to be aware of them.
Personally, I see God and His Love in every gorgeous sunset, when looking at a particularly beautiful flower and in the smile of my beloved wife of fifty-two years.
Indeed, God is the Ultimate Takeaway.
May God Bless You,
THE RAT IN THE GARBAGE CAN
Many years ago, I was working in our side yard, when Margie, our next-door neighbor lady, called me over to the fence. The conversation was what one might expect between a city dweller (she) and a Montana farm boy (me) … In other words, neither of us saw the other person’s point of view.
The discussion went something like this:
Margie: “Steve, a HUGE rat was evidently walking down the fence and it fell into our empty garbage can.”
Me: “No problem; kill it.”
Margie: “Oh Dear, I couldn’t possibly kill anything, not even a nasty ol’ rat.”
Me: “Fine, then turn the critter loose.”
Margie: “Oh my goodness, I couldn’t do that. We surely do not want a HUGE wild rat running loose around our home.”
Me: “So what are you going to do?”
Margie: “Well, tomorrow is garbage day and we need the can for our trash. I was hoping that you could dispose of the rat for us.”
So, I peered into the waste container. Our neighbor lady wasn’t kidding, the rat was a big one and he was contentedly eating the food that she had put out. Again, there was a clash between city-folk rationale and the way that a farm boy reasons.
In Margie’s mind, she had a rat living in her garbage can and she felt that it was her duty to feed it. On the other hand, she couldn’t kill the rat, nor did she want it living near her home. The conundrum must have been incredibly challenging.
In my country-boy mind, there was a simple and easy solution: kill the rat and get rid of the problem. So, that’s what I did.
During the last forty-odd years, I’ve revisited that conversation and our neighbor’s seemingly-unsolvable dilemma many times. Frankly, the memory is always good for a great belly laugh, but it also stands out as a lesson about how darned silly we humans can be.
A Reflection on Confession, Mortal Sins and Rats
Friends, it seems to me that our venal and mortal sins, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the “rat in the garbage can” are all very much related. Let me explain:
We are all sinners and, try as hard as we might, we still commit both venal and mortal sins. Venal (small) sins have a way of accumulating and mortal sins are quite deadly. In truth, we need to free ourselves from both types of sins as expeditiously as possible.
BUT, there’s a hang-up: Most of us are ashamed of our sins, so we tend to hide them in our “Mind’s Secret Place.” And, quite honestly, that makes about as much sense as keeping a large wharf rat alive and fed in a garbage can.
Clearly, the nastiness needs to be killed and disposed of, so that we can get on with the business of working our Way to Heaven. This situation presents a wonderful case for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
When we go to Confession, we open up our “Mind’s Secret Place” and let the priest know that we are truly repentant for our sins. The priest helps us look directly at our transgressions against God and, ministering “in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi), he absolves us. It’s as simple as that; Jesus Christ forgives us our sins when we exercise the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In a very real way, Jesus kills our sins … the “rats” in the trash bins of our souls. And Thanks Be To God for that !!!
May God Bless You.
AT MASS TODAY
Today’s daily Mass was wonderful … OK, the Holy Mass is ALWAYS wonderful; perhaps I was just a little more receptive today.
The readings were incredible, the homily was excellent and then it was time for the Eucharist. The especial time … The Body of Christ.
As always, I received the Lamb of God upon my tongue and walked slowly back to my pew, my hands in a prayerful position. As I entered my pew, I noticed a lady getting her slender pre-teen daughter ready to walk down the communion line.
It was obvious that the lady was timing their entry so that they would be at the very end of the line. Kneeling communicants, those who receive the Lamb of God in the traditional way, commonly do this. It saves time, not that anyone is in a hurry.
Both the mother and her daughter were wearing chapel veils, something we seldom see today. I love the old ways and I wish that the popularity of chapel veils and mantillas would return.
When the two approached the priest, they both knelt side-by-side, faces upturned. The priest said, "The Body of Christ." The daughter audibly, and with great feeling, said "Amen" and he carefully placed the Lamb of God upon the girl's tongue.
Both still kneeling, the priest said, "The Body of Christ; the mother said "Amen" and he gently put the Lamb of God upon her tongue, as well. Then, all three Crossed themselves unhurriedly.
Next, the lady and her daughter got up very slowly, Crossed themselves again while looking at the Crucifix behind the altar and turned down the side aisle.
As the two walked by my pew, I looked at the girl’s face. She had seen Heaven when she’d received the Lamb upon her tongue. So innocent, so loving, so in love with Our Precious Lord.
My mind rang out, “Child of God … Child of God. No doubt about it, this is truly a CHILD OF GOD.”
It was one of those experiences that is impossible to describe. It is also one of those singular moments in time that I'll never forget.
And that is why I thought I’d share these reflections of today’s Holy Mass with you.
May God Bless You,
WHO IN THE HECK WAS PETER?
Obviously, The Apostle Peter played a significant role in the Gospels. He was the first Disciple chosen and he basically inherited the leadership of the fledgling Catholic Church from Jesus Christ.
There is absolutely no doubt that Peter is a fascinating character, but I believe that it is necessary to go OUTSIDE of the Holy Bible to gain a more complete picture of the man … the man named Simon that Jesus Christ renamed “Peter.”
Peter In Capernaum
The ruins of the ancient fishing town of Capernaum were discovered in 1836, but political considerations prevented its archaeological excavation for seventy years. The Franciscans were eventually able to secure the site and the dig was active, on a start-and-stop basis, from 1906 until 1986.
In the 1960s, a glass-floored Catholic church was built, and suspended, directly above Saint Peter’s home in Capernum.
I must comment that it’s an amazing experience to celebrate the Holy Mass and, at the same time, look down through the glass floor and see Peter’s home.
Karen and I spent an entire afternoon in Capernaum and our guide, Amer, pointed out several incredible things about Peter.
Interestingly, Peter’s home was built within one-hundred feet of Capernaum’s synagogue. By local custom, Peter was undoubtedly very well respected by the Temple Jews; otherwise, they would not have allowed him live in a home so close to the synagogue.
Peter’s home was also by far the largest in Capernaum. The Franciscan social-archaeologists agree that the size of Peter’s home indicates that he was financially successful.
We could assume his extended family lived in the home with him. Jesus visited the home and cured Peter’s mother-in-law of the fever (Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:29-31 and Luke 4:38-39). Further, it only makes sense to assume that if Peter had a mother-in-law, he also either had a wife or he was a widower. Also, there would most likely have been children from that union and they would be living in the home.
Luke 5:10 tells us this: “James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon (Peter), "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." So, from this, we know that Simon-Peter had partners in his fishing enterprise.
Indeed, these revelations have personally caused me to think a little differently about Peter. He was financially successful, he was a fisherman who worked with partners and he was likely at least part owner of several fishing boats. Peter also lived with his extended family and he was a devout, observant member of the Jewish Temple community in Capernaum.
In every possible way, Simon-Peter was a prime candidate to become one of Our Lord‘s Disciples and, ultimately, the Prince of the Apostles .
Peter’s Home In Capernaum
Let’s take a peek at the transformation of Peter’s home after he left Palestine for Rome.
Archaeologists believe that at some time in the mid-1st century, Peter’s home was converted into a church for use by very early Christian worshipers. This seems highly likely; after all, both Peter and Jesus Christ lived in the house and, according to the Gospels, a number of Jesus’ miracles took place either in or quite near Peter‘s home.
During the 4th century, Peter’s home was enclosed by four high walls that measured 88-feet per side. The new walls were covered with colored plaster and an atrium was added at the entrance. It is unclear whether the structure, rightly called a precinct, had a roof or not. Local tradition has it that Saint Helena commissioned the building of the walls and the enhancement of the existing church.
Egeria, a nun from Galicia, visited Capernaum at some time between AD 382 and 384 and she gives us one of the earliest testimonies of a Christian pilgrim visiting the Holy Land. Egeria described the original “Black Synagogue” and the fact that Peter’s home had become a Christian church.
The entry in Egeria’s Journal beautifully sums up what she saw: “And in Capernaum, what is more, the house of the Prince of the Apostles (Saint Peter) has been transformed into a church, with its original walls still standing. Here the Lord healed the paralytic. There is also the synagogue where the Lord healed the man possessed by demons; one goes up many steps to this synagogue which was built with square stones.”
On The Road To Rome
Theories vary as to what Peter did between the time he left Palestine and the time he arrived in Rome. Some experts believe he was the Bishop of Antioch for a spell … and others totally deny the possibility.
There is no mention of Peter in the New Testament after the Incident at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14) and the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15).
Both of these “discussions” centered around the Laws of Moses and whether or not male Gentiles entering the Church should be circumcised. Peter’s argument was that the Gentiles should adhere to the Law and Paul argued that it was enough to exchange circumcision for Baptism. Eventually, Peter saw the wisdom of Paul’s point of view and he capitulated.
After that point in time, Peter apparently traveled to the Capitol of the Roman Empire … Rome.
Peter In Rome
There is an ancient tradition that Peter arrived in Rome around the year AD 50 or 51. Among his earliest converts was the entire Pudens family. Quintus Cornelius Pudens was a Roman Senator (mentioned in 2Timothy 4:21) and his wife, Priscilla, was a member of the powerful Glabrio family . The Pudens had two virgin daughters, Pudenziana and Praxedes (their story is amazing) and a son by the name of Tomoco.
The tradition goes on to relate that Pudens provided living quarters for Peter in his palatial villa on Viminal Hill. Eventually, Senator Pudens allowed Peter to use his home as a domus ecclesiae (house church) and as the center for Christian activity in Rome. Of course, being a Christian was a serious offense at the time, so all activities were held secretly to avoid the attention of the Roman authorities.
The Pudens house church was very likely the site where Peter baptized his immediate successors as Bishops of Rome: Linus Cletus and Clement.
Apparently, Peter lived in the Villa Pudens for most of the remainder of his life. His activities included the conversion of many new Christians, performing the Sacraments and daily celebration of the Holy Mass.
Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, was briefly imprisoned and, in about the year AD 66, he was crucified in the Circus of Nero on Vatican Hill. Tradition has it that Saint Peter requested to be crucified upside-down because he did not consider himself worthy of going to death in the same position that Our Lord did.
As an aside, Karen and I have celebrated the Holy Mass in the Basilica of Saint Pudenziana, the tiny church that was built over the Pudens’ home in AD 140. A larger three-apse church building was added to the original structure in the 3rd-century. When we were there, we could literally feel the warmth, peace and holiness of that blessed place.
The Basilica of Santa Pudenziana, was both the Pope’s residence and the official church for the Bishop of Rome until the year AD 313. After that date, the newly-built Basilica of Saint John Lateran became the Pope’s church.
So, Who In The Heck Was Peter?
Back to our original question … Who in the heck was Peter?
Peter was much more than a simple, bumbling fisherman. He was a strong leader of men and he was financially successful in the secular world. However, Peter simply walked away from everything he knew when Jesus Christ said, “Come, follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). The fact that he did this shows enormous strength of character and an ability to make a perfect snap decision.
There is a facet of Peter’s personality that is often missed; there were times that he showed remarkably good judgement. An example of this is his deferring to Saint Paul after their argument during the Incident At Antioch. A lesser man would have let his pride stand in the way of doing the right thing. Peter’s acquiescing to Paul made the Church much more accessible to the Gentiles.
Truly, Peter was a character with whom every one of us can relate. … he was human to a fault. Like all of us, there were times when Peter was incredibly afraid. Indeed, sometimes Peter made mistakes and he was saddened by them. Peter was also fearless when he needed to be.
And, most of all, Peter loved Our Lord more than anything else in the entire Universe.
May God Bless You
OUR NEW NATIVITY SET
Late last winter, our really good buddy, Linda, sent an e-mail to a group of her friends. The e-mail read something like this, “We’ve bought a brand-new outdoor nativity set at Costco and we need to make room. Would anybody like to have our old Costco set?”
Karen, had always wanted a Costco nativity set, so she instantly e-mailed back, “Yes, please; Steve and I would love to have your old set. Many thanks.”
Linda must have been lurking on the Internet because she e-mailed back within a few minutes, “My friends, Steve and Karen, our old Costco nativity set is yours. It needs a bit of repair, but I’m sure you guys can do that.”
Our old crèche was one of those classy blow-up ones; we bought it on sale for ten bucks and it was a veteran of many blessed Christmases at our home. Our balloon nativity set was pretty neat, but it was truly on its last legs.
So, the new one was entering our lives at precisely the right time. It’s strange how that happens.
Our New Nativity Set
It was only a few days later that Matt and Linda delivered their old Costco nativity scene. It was raining at the time, so the four of us pitched in and carried the fiberglass statues to our covered back deck.
When the figures were put together as a group, they made a very impressive set. There were Mary, Joseph, three Wise Men, an Angel and, of course, the Baby Jesus in a highly detailed manger. I remember thinking, “That’s really COOL.”
And it truly was.
After many thanks and hugs, Matt and Linda left and it was then that I started to look at the repairs that would be needed.
There were major repairs had to be made to the figures of Mary and Joseph. Mary had a hole in the back of her cape that was about the size of four baseballs and Joseph’s right arm was separated and holding on by a thread. The Angel had some breaks in the fiberglass, but nothing serious, and the three Wise Men were in darned good condition. The Baby Jesus and the Manger were perfect.
They arrived in late-winter and the rain storms simply kept coming, so I put the nativity set in a covered space between our home and a large shed. My plan was to deal with the repairs after the rainy season ended.
It was early-summer when I started the working on the nativity statues. Mary was the one that was going to need the most attention, so I dealt with her first.
The hole in Mary’s backside was a bit of a daunting project because I had to recreate a large area in the folds of her outer garment. I’m a retired watchmaker and goldsmith, so I worked on the statue in the only way I know how; small, perfect increments. Frankly, it took many hours and a lot of artsy fiberglass cloth and resin work, but the results were fabulous.
The fiberglass and resin work on the figure of Saint Joseph was relatively straight forward. It took about ten applications of cloth and resin to get Joseph’s right arm in perfect condition.
“Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground”
About two weeks ago, I got around to the repairing the multiple cracks in the Angel statue and it ended up being a horrible disaster. During the first step, a complete cleaning of the figure, the Angel came crashing to the concrete of our trailer pad.
The Angel quite literally broke into a thousand pieces.
As I looked at our totally smashed Angel, I thought, “Now, that is the end of this one … there is simply no repair. Oh well, I guess we can have an outdoor nativity set without an Angel.”
Karen happened to be in the shower at the time, so I left the carnage in place and went to tell her about the mishap. I was singing Willy Nelson’s country-western song, “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” as I told her and I’m not sure if Karen saw the humor in the event.
Karen really loves Angels and she thought that this particular Angel statue was especially beautiful. Even more, my bride of fifty-two years was convinced that the Angel was the perfect complement to Our Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph and the Baby Jesus.
Later, when Karen looked at the broken statue, zillions of pieces and all, she opined that we could Super-Glue it back together again. (Why do these things always include the word “WE”?) I had visions of Humpty Dumpty and attempting to solve the world’s most complicated jigsaw puzzle.
Surprisingly, or maybe not so, Karen was absolutely correct. After we spent tons of hours of fitting small pieces together and many tubes of Super-Glue, the Angel statue approached a fixable status.
At this point in time, I’m almost totally done with the fiberglass cloth/resin work and it’s coming along fabulously. Honestly, the Angel is turning out to be fully as perfect as the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Angel is the last piece. All of the rest of the Costco outdoor nativity set figures have been carefully repaired (where needed) and have received umpteen coats of an ivory-colored outdoor enamel. And, except for the Angel, they are safely under a clean tarp and fully protected in the covered walkway between our home and shed.
We’re almost ready for CHRISTMAS.
Friends, it’s pretty obvious that the nativity set is a physical representation of the Holy Family. And ours even has an Angel … literally, the source of the Annunciation; the announcement of the Incarnation by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary. (Luke 1:26–38)
In spending time working with each and every one of the statues, I’ve had many opportunities to ponder the relationship between each of the characters in the Miracle of the Nativity of Our Lord. It was almost like our friend, Linda, was teaching me another wonderful Bible lesson, except that the examples were physical, rather than mere words.
Beyond that, it was a pleasure repairing the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph … after all, they are our Spiritual Mother and Father and paying them back, if only a tiny bit, was the least I could do.
There is one last statue I must comment on. The “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” has become very special to both Karen and me. We literally took a box full of fiberglass shards and fitted enough of the puzzle together that I could finish it with fiberglass cloth and resin. Indeed, forming an Angel out of the ruins has been totally a labor of love.
In many ways, doing a little bit of “sweat equity” on Matt and Linda’s old nativity set has made it quite literally OURS. Truthfully, given the choice between using our refurbished crèche or a brand-new one from Costco, we’d definitely choose the set we so lovingly repaired.
My friends, come Christmastime, please stop by and see our lights (Karen is big into that) and, especially, our outdoor nativity set … guaranteed, I believe you’ll love the display.
May God Bless You
PILGRIMAGE … the very word brings all sorts of wonderful things to mind. Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s define the term “pilgrimage” and explore the concept a bit.
I believe that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it best in defining a pilgrimage as simply “A journey to a holy place.” At first look, the M-W definition seems weak, but that is precisely what a pilgrimage is; it’s a journey to a holy place.
Also, please note that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary didn’t put any distance or time restrictions on the term. According to that excellent definition, whether the pilgrim travels one-mile or ten-thousand miles, or one-minute or one-year, to “a holy place,” it’s a pilgrimage.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us this in CCC-2691, “Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward Heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal in prayer.”
Please note that, like the M-W Dictionary, the CCC stresses that the pilgrimage is a journey made in the interest of holiness.
Pilgrimages Are Very CATHOLIC
The religious pilgrimage is almost entirely a Catholic concept. I guess we come by this naturally because from the times of the very-early Church, Catholics have been making pilgrimages to the Holy Land and other holy sites.
There were undoubtedly earlier pilgrims to the Holy Land, but the earliest recorded visit was that of the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux in AD 333. Roughly fifty years later, a much more complete journal, Egeria’s Travels, was kept by Egeria, a nun from the Roman province of Galicia (far northwestern Spain).
As a side note, if you want to read an account of an early pilgrimage, I highly recommend Egeria’s Travels. Every single word is fascinating, but the best part is the eyewitness account of Holy Week and Easter in Jerusalem in AD 384. The ISBN is 0-85668-710-3.
Indeed, Saint Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate Bible and his incredible co-translators, Saint Paula of Rome and her daughter, Saint Eustochium, were essentially Catholic pilgrims. Jerome was from the town of Štrigova(now in modern-day Croatia) and both Paula and Eustochium were born in Rome. All three eventually settled in Palestine. Many do not know it, but the Vulgate Bible was translated in a cave below the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
After the 4th century, the floodgates opened and the number of Catholic pilgrims increased a thousand-fold. The literature of the Catholic Church is enriched by the journals of many pilgrims … the written works of Eucherius, Theodorsius, Cosmas Indicopleustes, the Placenza Pilgrim and many others speak to us through the ages.
Interestingly, our Protestant brethren apparently do not share our interest in pilgrimages. Personally, I do not comprehend why this is so; after all, we can only understand our faith when we better understand our roots.
Pilgrimages Near and Far
Those of us who live in the Portland area are incredibly blessed to have the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother close by. Known locally as “The Grotto,” this sanctuary is an amazingly quiet and holy place. Indeed, if a Catholic wants to simply get in touch with God and immerse himself in prayer, The Grotto is a wonderful place to do it.
During my fifty years of big game hunting, many of my trips into the bush had definite spiritual aspects to them. Praying the Holy Rosary under the Southern Cross in South Africa’s Northern Transvaal instantly comes to mind. And lying on my back above the Arctic Circle, watching God’s Miracle of the Northern lights is another. Indeed, the world’s most wild places are incredible Cathedrals of God.
To most Catholics, the term “pilgrimage” means a journey to a distant holy place. Rome, Assisi, Fatima and Santiago de Compostela are excellent examples of Catholic pilgrimage destinations. It has been Karen’s and my great privilege to have visited all of these sites and our faith and connection with God was strengthened by each.
The pilgrimage that affected Karen and me the most was our journey to The Holy Land. Indeed, when we traveled to Israel we got an brand-new perspective on the place where Jesus lived, walked, taught, was Crucified and was Resurrected. And celebrating the Holy Mass in front of His Tomb, in the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre, increased our faith immeasurably.
One Last Pilgrimage
Karen and I will be taking a religious pilgrimage in the late-Spring of next year. This will be our fifth, and very likely our last, trip to some of the holiest places in all of Christendom.
During this pilgrimage, we’ll be visiting Lisbon, Santarem (Eucharist Miracle), Fatima (Angelic and Marian Apparitions), Santiago de Compostela (the relics of Saint James the Greater are enshrined there), Madrid, Saint Ignatius of Layola’s home castle, Lourdes (Marian Apparition and healing waters), Monserrat (Black Madonna) and Barcelona … plus innumerable very special stops along the way.
Thank goodness the Director of OCP Pilgrimages, Carol Stahl (1-800-LITURGY), scheduled a full fourteen days for our pilgrimage. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have time for individual prayer and contemplation at the holy sites that we’ll be visiting
This will be a great pilgrimage, made even more wonderful because it’s being led by our pastor at Christ the King Catholic Church, Monsignor Rick Paperini. Indeed, sharing the pilgrimage with our personal Catholic spiritual guide will be very special.
A Few Thoughts
Friends, it’s been my experience that a pilgrimage is less about recreation of the body and more about re-creation of the mind, spirit and soul. It is about immersing ourselves into the godliness of a holy place.
Literally, every time we’ve gone on a pilgrimage to a foreign land, Karen and I have returned physically exhausted, but spiritually renewed. That’s just the nature of pilgrimages.
I find it very sad that we are about at the end of our “pilgrimage days.” Frankly, we are getting older and more fragile and the looooong air flights in the ever-shrinking airline seats absolutely kill both of us.
Having said that, we are incredibly thankful that God has allowed us the privilege of enjoying several pilgrimages. Each and every one has been special in its own way and we have no doubt that our upcoming pilgrimage to Portugal, Spain and France will be the finest one of all.
May God Bless You