Sunday, January 25, 2015

Get off your carousel

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Deacon Mike Keucher
24/25 January 2015
Preached at All Saints, Taylorsville, KY & St. Francis, Mt. Washington, KY
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 | Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 | 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 | Mark 1:14-21

Image source
I'm happy to be here this weekend. Thanks for having me, and Fr. Dale, thanks for the invite.  I may be from the diocese across the river, but I'm no stranger to Louisville. A lot of that is because of Fr. Dale, who has always been a me.  He and Fr. Jack have both been good mentors for me.  Fr. Dale is also the reason I know far more about the history of the Archdiocese of Louisville than that of my own.  I'm also no stranger to Louisville because I've got several friends at seminary from this wonderful diocese. You know some of them: Deacons Shayne DuVall, Adam Carrico, and Peter Bucalo.

In fact, Peter, Shayne and I just returned from a long trip in Europe.  We saw a lot of churches and religious sites.  One night in London, Peter and I went to the downtown area and discovered a huge carnival that was going on downtown that put our US carnivals to shame. This thing was acres and acres. It was mashsive. After an hour in there, we came across a fascinating, captivating thing: a bar on a carousel. Now I went to IU, but I'd never seen something quite like this.  I was quite taken with this thing. The bartender told me he speeds it up as the night goes on. I wondered how people could endure the thing after the second or third drink.  I also wondered how they order another drink: do they ask for “another round”?  It was neat to be on it for a bit!

After thinking about it, though, I wonder if that might not be a true and yet in some ways sad image of how we spend our lives.  We often go around and around and around again, too busy drinking our drafts to realize that we're not going anywhere, that we're making no headway.  Fr. Dale and I became fast friends, partly as a result of our common love of Fraiser. I was just watching an episode the other day where Fraiser receives a lifetime achievement award.  You’d think that would make him glad, but it actually makes him depressed, for he realizes upon receiving it just how little of what really matters he had achieved in his 40 years of lifetime.  All that he had sought in life was fame, cheap relationships, promotions, possessions—and none of it seemed to matter.  He felt empty, without purpose, as if he were going around and around.

We all have our carousels, though maybe not quite as much as Fraiser. We are in church after all!  But consider this. The Labor Bureau says that the average American lives 78 years and spends 9 of them watching television, 4 of them in traffic, 1 and a half of them in the bathroom (can't do much about that one...), and 55 of them in front of some kind of electronic screen.  Not all of that is a waste, but the point is we spend so many of our years wasting time, going around and around on a carousel, going no where.  Oh--we know what our priorities ought to be: God, family and friends--but ask yourself: where did I spend most of my hours last week? That question is an important one to ask and answer regularly.  Answer that question and you come face to face with your priorities, your real priorities.  We are all on some carousel or another. 

The Ninivites were all on their carousels.  Nineveh was the capital of evil. Its residents were scoundrels, addicts, prostitutes, drunks. Not a lot of churchgoing there. They were stuck on their carousels of sin.  Jonah is sent to get them off. He succeeds.  Corinth was similar: St Paul says in the second reading that there were two groups of folks in Corinth: those who wouldn't stop partying and those who wouldn't stop crying, and all had seemingly forgotten about our Christ. Paul tells them to get off their carousels. And they do. And then there is Jesus, who finds four fishermen in today's Gospel who were aimlessly and without success floating on their boats. Jesus calls them to leave their routines, their carousels behind, and invites them to FOLLOW ME. Be my disciple. Not 10 minutes from now or when you're done fishing or after lunch or when Lent roles around. But now.  And he tells us today what he told them then: if you are to be my disciple, you will follow me, which means getting off that carousel of comfort or sin or addiction or just plain routine--not just because we want to get to heaven, but because time spent following Jesus is frankly more fulfilling and rewarding and enjoyable than wandering around in circles through life without him on a carousel.

And how do we get off the carousel?  The way we have always done it: prayer, service, study, fasting, you know the list.  Today's emphasis on repentance--“repent” is Jesus' first word of his public ministry--insists that getting off the carousel means repenting, going to confession. Maybe getting of the carousel means reading a religious book, like the Catholicism book you can pick up for free out in the narthex.  Maybe for you it means means praying a rosary each day, or volunteering someplace. Maybe it means a daily Mass here or  there.  Maybe it means trying to get others off the carousel just as we see St Jonah, St Paul and Jesus doing in our readings today.

You say: none of that is what I do: I don't do confession, I don't volunteer, I don't pray the rosary. Jesus says: get off your carousel. And follow me.

Let's start following him now, at this very altar. Here we will receive the very one who calls us, strengthens us, and leads us off the carousel in directions he alone knows—and even to eternal life!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Holy Land Pilgrimage

Greetings all. And Merry Christmas!

A few days ago I returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was a wonderful experience. I did not take a computer with me, but I have found the time today to hastily type out my journal--with some additions and some omissions.  I will be uploading my daily reflections from the trip here in the coming minutes.  You can find them all by clicking the Holy Land Pilgrimage 2014 category link.  Also, here is a list of all posts:
In about seven hours, I leave for another pilgrimage: to Europe!

Also, you can read more about the Holy Land trip and see more photos by going here:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Day 9 - The Way of the Cross

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Inside the Church of St Anne
We woke up for our final day of the pilgrimage. After breakfast, we left for the Old City of Jerusalem, and entered through St. Stephen’s Gate, to visit the Church of St. Anne, where the Blessed Virgin Mary was born.  The acoustics in this church are amazing, so groups often come and sing a song of praise in honor of the Blessed Virgin. We did as well.  We chanted the Salve Regina. Those who entered just stopped in their tracks. One got on his knees.

I prayed Vigils there in the church, and again the readings spoke directly to this.  The second reading as from a homily by Saint Bernard, In Praise of the Virgin Mother.  He speaks about
This group sang beautifully
how the whole world was awaiting Mary’s reply:
You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
Fr. Peter Smith
Wow.  In the crypt, I prayed that Mary might make me a humble and fruitful priest.  While I was praying, there were other groups singing upstairs in languages I didn't even recognize. Some sounded less than pleasant me, but I'm sure they were beautiful to God.

Afterwards, I spoke with Fr. Peter Smith, a missionary of Africa who was in charge of hospitality this day. He was a friendly character who shared a bit of the story of the place and even parts of his own story.

Pool of Bethesda
Next to the Church of St. Anne is the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the paralytic man. Here, Jesus performed that miracle, only to have the scribes say, "How dare you do this on the
Sabbath?"  Wouldn't they have been a bit more surprised that a paralytic man had just been healed, in the blink of an eye?  Yet they overlooked the miracle and focused on the letter of the law alone.

Praying the stations
We then prepared to walk the Via Dolorosa.  We had Mass near the first station, at the Church of Flagellation. It was a nice Mass in a beautiful church building. We then prayed the Via Dolorosa, the REAL stations of the cross.  The stations are now in the Old City market area, so there were plenty of people along the way, shopping and carrying about their business. This made me think of that painting, The Mill and the Cross. It shows a busy city with hundreds of people, each going about his business, and hidden in the picture--in a Where's Waldo kind of way--is Jesus carrying his cross.  Those around him were too busy or too uninterested to notice or pay any kind of attention. That painting suddenly made sense to me in a new way. Jesus' passion continues each day in the world. But, mostly, we are too busy to see it.

Group picture outside the Holy Sepulchre
We finished the stations at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where we were given some more time to pray and explore. Unlike yesterday, when the place was so quiet (though it was never really quiet) and less peopled, now it was bustling with folks everywhere. It was loud.  But, still, it was prayerful in some way. I spent a good deal of time up at the chapel that stands at the site of the crucifixion, atop Mt. Calvary. I venerated the rock of calvary again, and then found an empty bench in a corner not more than 30 feet away, pulled out my Ipod, and listened to Samuel Barber's Agnus Dei. Listen here. Here the Lamb of God was slain.

We went back to the hotel, checked out, had a last dinner and then it was time for the airport.

None of us left the same.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Day 8 - The Holy Sepulchre

Friday, December 19, 2014

4:30am, outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
We woke up at 3:30am today in order to get to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in plenty of time for our 5am Mass in the tomb itself.

The Holy Sepulchre houses a church within a church, which is where Jesus was laid and rose from the dead. This is where we had Mass. The Catholics have "custody" of the tomb from 5am to 8am each day, and each Mass is limited to 25 minutes.  It's a tall challenge given that, because it is the site of the resurrection, the appropriate Mass to celebrate there is the Mass for Easter. Gloria and all.

Inside this church within a church is here the
resurrection took place
Our Mass there may have been short, and cramped (it is tiny!) but it was beautiful. It was something else to kiss that tomb, the very place where Jesus was when he rose from the dead and destroyed death.  Death was destroyed here, I thought. 
Mass was incredible.  Somehow Fr. Bob was able to pray my favorite Eucharistic Prayer, the Canon, in that 25 minutes.  My friend and brother deacon, Adam Ahern, preached a two sentence homily: "St. Paul tells us if we don't have the resurrection, we have nothing. Do you have the resurrection?"

Mass ended just in time
Outside of the tomb, about 20 feet away, were two confessionals. A local diocesan priest kindly heard confessions there, and so did Fr. Bob, although the latter of course couldn't hear the confessions of his college seminarians. 20 feet away from the place of the resurrection, the words of absolution were prayed upon me. And I wept.
Because I felt the resurrection. In the deepest part of me I felt it.  A friend of mine who recently converted said those words of absolution are the most beautiful words ever spoken, that he had been longing to hear them his whole life. I agree.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also the rock upon which Jesus was crucified. It rests underneath an altar, and there is a hole there big
Under this altar is where Jesus was crucified
enough for one to put his arm down. You reach down, and further down. And then you feel it.  It is cold, chilling.

We left for breakfast and then went to Mount Zion to visit a few places.  First we went to the Abbey of Dormition, where Our Lady fell asleep. I had heard about this place before. It is a Benedictine-run church and it rests upon the very place where Our Lady was assumed into Heaven. I prayed a rosary there, praying through the names of folks who are friends of mine on Facebook.

Grotto of the Church of Dormition
From there, we went not too far to the Upper Room, where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. We proceeded to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, where Peter denied Jesus three times. Most believe that this place was built upon the house of Caiaphas, who was High Priest at the time of Jesus' execution. It is believed by many that Jesus was held captive in the dungeon in the crypt of this church. I spent a good bit of time down there, praying the office, which again spoke to the situation aptly. In that tiny little dungeon room, a small book is there, opened to Psalm 88: "I am counted among those who go down into the Pit I am like those who have no help..."

Crypt of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
We left St. Peter's and headed back to the hotel. Some of us, upon returning, wanted to take the chance to go to the Dominican House of Studies, located at the very site of St. Stephen's Basilica. We toured the church on our own, but because three brothers came from Owensoboro and have St. Stephen as their patron, we wondered if we could see his tomb. Turns out, he is not there. A kind Dominican welcomed us into the cloister, offered us coffee and some good hospitality. He spoke so passionately about things, and that was refreshing. He recommended several books: Simon Tugwall, "Ways of Imperfection"; Wenham & Dunn, "Elements of New Testament Greek"; Goodacre, "Synoptics: A way through the maze."  He had lots of good things to say, and as we were parting ways, we discovered it was his birthday.  I was also pleased to meet another Dominican there who is from the Chicago Province, which staffs St. Paul's in Bloomington.

We returned to the hotel for our final night.

Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
Basilica of St Stephen
Basilica of St Stephen

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Day 7 - Tears

Thursday, December 18, 2014

This morning we drove to the top of the Mt. of Olives for a spectacular view of Jerusalem. We began with a visit to the Church of Pater Noster, where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. It was a very peaceful place. We offered the prayer together in the place where Jesus taught it, holding hands. It was hung all around the church and property in hundreds of languages. I thought about how many people have called upon God from the bottom of their hearts in these languages over the years. God understands it all.

After spending some time there, we walked the Palm Sunday Road to Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. I offered Morning Prayer looking out upon the city, not knowing until I
had finished the first psalm 9Ps 87) that the psalm prayer would be so beautifully appropriate: "Lord God, your only Son wept over ancient Jerusalem, soon to be destroyed for its lack of faith. He established the new Jerusalem firmly upon the rock and made it the mother of the faithful. Make us rejoice in your Church, and grant that all people may be reborn into the freedom of your Spirit." Funny how the Church's liturgy speaks to our experiences so closely and readily sometimes.

Palm Sunday Walk
As we walked the narrow Palm Sunday road, we sang together, "All Glory, Laud and Honor." I imagined what it must have been like for Christ coming down on his donkey, knowing exactly what was to befall him when he got to the destination. As we walked, we passed by tombs. Evidently, when a man was buried, a vile of his wife's tears was buried with him. It was a sign of the eternal gift of her joys and sorrows, the deepest parts of her soul, to her husband. This was common practice the days of Jesus. It gives new meaning to the story of Mary washing the feet of Jesus in Bethany, which, though we did not visit it, was only about two miles away from this road. When Mary washed Jesus' feet with her tears, she was showing that the deepest parts of her she was giving to her Lord. A good lesson for any disciple.

Church of Domunus Flevit
We arrived at the other end of the Palm Sunday walk at Dominus Flevit, The Lord Wept.  This is where Jesus looked upon his beloved city and cried for it. I wonder what it would be like if priests were to cry over their cities for their lack of faith. Often I think we just don't care enough. Jesus did. The chapel at this place was so simple and beautiful. We had plenty of time to pray there.

Then we were off to the Garden of Gethsemane. We went first to the Grotto of Gethsemane, where we had Mass. A sign that hung read: "Here Jesus Christ came when he was in Jerusalem. Here he came on Holy Thursday after the Passover. Here Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Here Jesus Christ said to those who came to arrest him, 'Who are you looking for?' And here they answered, 'Jesus Christ of Nazareth.' And here he replied, 'I am He.'  Here Jesus Christ was arrested and led away." 

Tombs with tears
All this happened, I thought, right here. Wow. I will never think of Holy Thursday the same, or Jesus' arrest. My friend and brother deacon, Michael Cronin, preached a very nice homily. He summed it up at the end: "All we can do is trust that our YES will bear fruit as His did."

Following Mass, we walked a bit to the garden where the Agony in the Garden took place. I paused there and prayed Midday Prayer, and sure enough the psalms spoke to it. Right beside the garden is the Church of All Nations, but before I even entered, I noticed a sign outside that listed 16 countries, mostly poor, whose people gave for this church.  Jesus, in his body the Church, is still neglected and treated wrongly.
The agony in the garden

Inside the large and tall church were 8 candle lights hanging from the ceiling and dark purple windows. It is dark in there--all the time. I mean dark. My brother seminarians and I knelt around the altar, built atop the stone that marks the site of agony. It is called the Rock of Agony. Some of my brothers lay upon that rock. We kissed it for what happened there upon it. It was an incredibly moving experience, and most of us wept and prayed away, in the words of the collect from Mass, the "enemies of our salvation." Just as Jesus did. Right here.

Dcn Michael Cronin preaching
Next, we went to Ein Karem, the birthplace of St. John the Baptist, in order to see thee Visitation Church. This is where Our Lady proclaimed her Magnificat, which we pray in union with her each night in Vespers. We knelt where Mary first proclaimed it and attempted to truly pray those same words.

The day concluded with a tour of the Shroud of Turin exhibit at the Notre Dame Center.  I witnessed so many of the college men weep there. And I thought, "Mother Church will be just fine."

The theme of tears continued, sadly. We boarded the bus and Fr. Bob shared that his mother had taken a very bad turn health-wise and that he would need to cut his trip short. We prayed for her that night with a rosary. Providentially, Fr. Bob was able to get to New York just in time to pray with his mother one more time, offer a final Mass for her in her hospital room, and say goodbye. May she rest in peace

Church of all nations

Visitation Church

Notre Dame Center

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day 6 - The Dead Sea and a Tree

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The day began with a beautiful Mass at the Mount of the Beatitudes, where I was privileged to deacon and preach. I spoke a bit about what I wrote in my reflection yesterday, but also about a sign that caught my attention right there on the mountain by the Church of the Beatitudes. It reads, "Who makes us happy Jesus as you? Therefore my heart rejoices in you, Jesus O Joy Eternal. Kingdom of Heaven shall truly begin when we love our poverty, grieve for our sin, Jesus of Joy Eternal." The question that confronted me was: Can we love our poverty? The Beatitudes insist that poverty is not a bad thing. In point of fact, the poor are the blessed ones. There are many different kinds of poverty. Rather than denying it, trying to overcome it as if it were evil, or compensating for it, or whatever, can we love it?

After Mass, we departed Galilee and drove to the original site on the River Jordan where Christ himself was baptized.  There, each of us standing in the water, we renewed our baptismal vows.

The Bible tells us that the Children of Israel crossed the River Jordan opposite Jericho when they came into the Promised Land. The prophet Elijah divided its waters and crossed with Elisha on dry land. Naaman the Syrian dipped in the waters seven times and was cured of his leprosy. And Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan (John 1:32).  Each year, pilgrims from far and wide come to the Place of Baptism to immerse themselves in these holy waters. We saw many of them there while we were there.

Almost pushed in...
We continued on our journey to Jerusalem, our home for the next four nights. We stopped along the way at the Dead Sea in order to go swimming. It was wonderful and fun. Of course, there is so much salt in there that one cannot stay in there for very long. They advise about 30 minutes, max. I have never floated so well. When our time in the water was over, we lathered in mud in order to cure our skin a bit. It was great fun.

We also stopped in Jericho, at the site of the Zaccheaeus tree. I read from Scripture while we stood below the massive, ancient tree:
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
I have always loved this story. Seeing the tree and the road, it became all the more real. This is the first story I ever read for myself in the Bible. I remember it. My grandmother gave me my first communion bible and I opened it to a random page. It happened to open to Luke 19. And the story just kind of grabbed me. I have returned to it many times over the years.

We left and shortly thereafter reached Jerusalem. We had a nice and relaxing evening.

Here are some photos of the group swimming in the Dead Sea. TONS of fun

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 5 - Transfigure us, O Lord

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

We left for Mt. Tabor early this morning from our refuge on the Mount of Beatitudes. The bus could take us only so far, before the road got so narrow and curvy up to the top that only authorized vehicles were allowed. We left the bus and then boarded smaller vans that took us to the top of this majestic mountain.

And it was majestic indeed. So many things struck me about this mountain as I was sitting there praying.

First, I recalled a poem Pope Francis wrote years ago about the transfiguration:
Transfigure me, O Lord, transfigure me,
And no only me.
Purify also all the children of your Father who pray to you or have prayed to you or who perhaps did not have a mother who helped them babble an Our Father.

Transfigure us, O Lord, transfigure us.

If perhaps they know you not, or have their doubts, or even blaspheme you, wipe their faces clean as Veronica washed yours.
Draw back the cataracts from their eyes
so that they see you, Lord, as I see you.

Transfigure them, O Lord, transfigure them.

I like this poem a great deal. It suggests that encountering the Transfigured Lord is not about God changing--becoming all dazzling white and whatnot--but more about our ability to see God as he is.  God's nature does not change. At the transfiguration, at the very place I was standing, the miracle was that the disciples Peter, James and John came to see the Lord as he is, in a true, full way.

That is a miracle. A real miracle. When we encounter our God, we ought to be transfigured ourselves. Moses went up to the mountain to talk to God, and Scripture says he returned glowing white. Everyone knew what he had been up to. It was the same, I believe, with Peter, James and John after the transfiguration. They were changed. They recognized that Christ was God, and how could an encounter with God not change a person drastically?

Pope Francis' poem--actually, it's more a prayer--asks God to transfigure us all, those who believe and pray, those who once did, and those who have never known. Transfigure, he prays, even those who have doubts and blasphemies. Wash their faces and make them glow just as surely as Moses' did, as Peter's did, as Jesus' did after Veronica wiped it.  And help us, he prays, to see you God face to face as you are as Peter James and John did all those years ago at the mountain of transfiguration.

It was unreal to be at the top of that mountain. And yet there is a higher mountain we ascend each and every day, when we ascend the altar of the Eucharist. And yet how often I fail to see the Lord as he truly is in the risen bread and wine during the consecration.  How often I fail to allow that mountaintop experience to change me as much as this physical place did all those years ago for Peter and James and John.

There were a lot of Michaels in our group
As I looked off of the mountain, I realized that we were awfully high up, as close to glory as perhaps one can get. The clouds almost enraptured us, almost trying to subsume us into glory. I stood there in amazement.

The church itself is quite interesting, too. When you walk in the door, you see to the right and left little side chapels for Elijah and Moses, representing the prophets and the law, who stood in flesh next to Jesus at the transfiguration. Jesus brought it all together. The prophets and the law--they are part of the holy Chuch--but they are just the beginning, hence their placement in this church building. They are nothing compared to Christ himself. Some people, though, never get beyond the prophets and the law. And that is sad. But the church is arranged in such a way as to remind us that, even while they are important, they are just the start to something much more.

It also struck me that this mountain has seen so much violence. It saw great conflict that got quite ugly with the Old Testament figures like Deborah and Barak, the Israelite army vs. the Canaanite army, and surely more. Mt Tabor was also the site of three centuries of crusades, and the ruins stand outside the church even now. The position of Mt Tabor has made is a strategic place in wars. And yet it felt so peaceful to us. I don't think it was an accident God chose this place for the transfiguration. I think he looks for those places of conflict and war and violence and unease and wants to get to work precisely in those places. It's true with physical places, but also in our lives. Perhaps discernment qualms, relationships, spiritual matters or financial matters--God looks for those places of unease and difficulty and says, "I will go there and show my glory there."  As I prayed, I realized just how important a lesson of the transfiguration this is.

Being so far up was quite neat. Not long ago, the Church would build almost all of her buildings--her convents and monasteries and parish churches and parochial schools and seminaries, etc--on hills.  Why?  Because they are places of transfiguration. They are places where we are to be transfigured ourselves, where we are meant to come into closer contact with God himself and see him as he is. As priests, I think this is an important check to make in evaluating our institutions: is this helping people see God, to be subsumed by him?

II also thought about the seminary as a place of transfiguration. St Meinrad is built on a hill. It is a place where I have come to recognize God in ways I never dreamed I could, anyone could.  I think seminary is our Mt Tabor. Each class period, each table conversation, each spiritual direction appointment, each required lecture or event--it all has the power to help us better see God, to be transfigured.

It was a true blessing to serve as deacon of the Mass at Mt Tabor. I got to preach, too, and I said some combination of the things above.  Afterwards, I met a kind Franciscan who took us into the caves and into the ruins of the old Benedictine monastery that had been sacked by the Persians.

We left Mt Tabor and climbed down the mountain instead of riding down. I'm glad we did. We prayed together the luminous mysteries as we walked, including the fourth luminous mystery that focuses us on the transfiguration. At a couple points, though, we all just stopped in wonder and for photos along the side of the mountain. The view was simply breathtaking.

Right around the cave
After a nice outdoor lunch, we went to Kursi, the site where the man who was possessed by demons found relief from Jesus. Kursi is the site of a cave where this man lived while hiding away from the rest of the world. He was so troubled, so embarrassed that he felt he had to flee into isolation. This is where he was when Jesus came expelled those demons from him.

Dcn Adam Ahern reading the Beatitudes
Following all this, we went to check out the cave area where Jesus is believed to have proclaimed the beatitudes. Adam Ahern read them there. I wondered what it was like for people who heard them all those years ago. I imagine they were surprised. No one had ever imagined--and still few do today--that the poor were the blessed ones, or the marginalized or otherwise disenfranchised. God looked upon the shepherds and the scoundrels and maybe even prostitutes and tax collectors and betrayers and doubters--he looked at them all. And he
saw blessedness.  He didn't proceed into a lecture about how they could improve, how they could make him happier. No. He blessed them, he blessed a people who scarcely believed there was anything worth blessing. Thinking about that made me cry. Because so many people still believe that about themselves. It seems to me a significant part of my ministry as a priest will be 1) recognizing the blessedness that is in people, 2) and pointing it out.  A priest is an agent of blessing, must be, and so is any real Christian.

Hiked back up the hill and reached the retreat house. I spent some time watching the sunset on the Sea of Galilee. As I sat there, I kept hearing a group of seminarians climbing back. They had gone down to the water. As I heard them for 15 minutes, I imagined that similar sounds captivated the people scattered around this mountain when Jesus spoke his beatitudes. It must have been music to their ears. And I bet they were moved...moved enough to approach the one speaking words they never dreamed they'd hear.

Then it was time for dinner and relaxation.

In the ruins

Praying the rosary as we descend
My view later in the evening
Another view


Monday, December 15, 2014

Day 4 - On this Rock

Monday, December 15, 2015

Today began with a short bus ride to the site on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus first called John and spent much of his time with the Beloved Disciple.  We began the day with a Mass outside, right there looking upon the site where Jesus called John for the first time according to tradition.

Fr. Bob used the canon as he celebrated Mass.  It was simply beautiful when, during the Eucharistic Prayer, Fr. Bob spoke the words inviting us to remember those who have died. During that moment of pause, I remembered my loved ones who have died. The moment went on a while, and we could hear the waves from the Sea of Galilee. I thought of some lines from the seminary's annual Advent Lessons and Carols that always move me: "Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but from another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which none can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we are forever one." As I thought about Fr. Charlie, I could feel some extra water in the eyes.

Mass was beautiful. The breeze, the calming sounds of waves, the birds singing, the sun gently shining, the closeness of it all--I began to think that perhaps this is how Masses were with Jesus, when he, the High Priest, was the scheduled presider or celebrant or whatever you want to call it, I doubt he would mind.

The Mass was celebrated right outside of the Church of the Primacy of Peter, built upon that rock where scripture says Jesus prepared bread and fish for his disciples after calling them from the boat. Fr. Bob said that Jesus wants to make us breakfast. I think that is one of the most beautiful ways I have ever heard this passage from scripture described.

It was at this site where Jesus first asked Peter for his love.  Fr. Bob noted that this place is where God in his mercy offered Peter the chance to make up for having denied him three times. Three times he denied. Three times he proclaims his love and desire to feed the sheep. The voice of mercy spoke here. At this spot.

And now I am in that same place. And Jesus asks the same question to all of us there, three times. Do you love me? Then feed my sheep. 

This is a site where so much was asked. And so much was given.

This is, of course, also the site where Jesus instituted the papacy. Critics might disagree. But I believe it. Jesus, in making Peter the leader of them all, did not call him pope with the name pope. That is true. But Jesus, being God, certainly knew what was to become of Peter's office, no matter how informally it was created or instituted. I prayed in thanks for Pope Francis, but thought also of Popes JP2 and Benedict XVI, the ones whose names I heard so often growing up and whose humble, often subtle contributions to Mother Church are incalculable in value.

Finally, where we stood, upon that rocky yet beautiful shore, we gazed upon the waters on which Jesus walked. Most of us took off our shoes and walked out onto the water ourselves.

Afterwards, we headed for Capernaum.  This is the birthplace of the OT prophet Nahum, and in fact it is Hebrew for "Nahum's village."  Nahum prophesied very poetically about the coming destruction of Nineveh. But Capernaum it is far more famous, of course, for being the site where Jesus performed so many of his miracles. This was the place where most of public ministry took place after Jesus left Nazareth. Here he healed a man with an unclean devil, he healed a paralytic, and healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law's fever.  More miracles, too.

Capernaum is also the site of the synagogue, where Jesus taught. He read, according to Luke 4:18-20, from the Prophet Isaiah from the very chair we were looking at this line: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke then says that Jesus rolled up the scroll and that he sat down, and all eyes "were fastened on him."

It was neat to see the ruins of the synagogue and the town. It's interesting that right outside the synagogue, sharing its very walls, were the houses of the residents. Their houses were not only connected with one another, but also with the synagogue. What a beautiful image of church.

We then went on a peaceful boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It wasn't peaceful, though, in the story about the disciples waking Jesus on the night of a storm that looked as though it were about to wipe everyhintg out.  Jesus calmed the storm...and it happened right there, on these very waters. Jesus brought peace to the waters here, and the more I felt it, the more I wondered if perhaps these waters have never been violent since the day of that event.

The fishing continues. As we were out, we passed by a little row boat with two men in it, fishing away.

We left the Sea of Galilee and headed for the Church of the Seven Springs at Tabgha, which marks the site of the multiplication of loaves and fish. It's also where Jesus gave the Bread of Life discourse. The church at the site is run by the Benedictines, so I felt at home, and it is called the Church of the First Feeding of the Multitude at Tabgha. I found it beautiful in a dull kind of way. The altar is placed right on top of a massive rock, which marks the very place where the multiplication took place. How fitting that the Eucharistic table is placed there, for that is precisely what takes place each Mass. We give God the little that we have, and he turns it into something so much more. The priest lifts up a piece of bread and brings back God. I wondered as I sat there about what the people sitting exactly there were thinking when Jesus multiplied the fish and loaves. I assume they were in wonder, but probably also a bit scared. Perhaps we should be scared, filled with that good kind of fear at each Mass.

Tabgha was also that lonely place where Jesus went several times when he wanted to withdraw from the madness and to the lakeshore. The church was so very quiet and peaceful. The floor is a mosaic that dates back to the seventh century or so. For some time in the church I was sitting on a pew, but then a large group entered. Wishing to make room for them, I moved to the floor along the wall. As I sat on that mosaic, I somehow felt connected to all the people who had worshiped here, who had sought refuge here, who witnessed miracles here. To be Catholic is to be connected. A mosaic can be the tool to remind us of that.

Finally, we drove back to the Mount of the Beatitudes after a full day. Somehow we managed the energy to stay up entirely too late enjoying one another's company. Part of the joy of a pilgrimage is the company of other pilgrims. Though we were all on the same physical journey, it was touching us in different ways. We had a great time just staying up and talking.