Saturday, June 30, 2012

Golgotha and the Tomb

There is a curious fact about many of the ancient holy places in the Holy Land which is perhaps especially evident at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, viz. the sites seem too close to one another. The tomb in this Church is just down from Calvary (Golgotha). Here is a cross section of how it is so (and has been so since the Roman Empress Saint Helena built the Church precisely on this site.

The Romans were experts at building with precision at significant locations: e.g. the Vatican Basilica in Rome originally built by Constantine with the high altar directly over the grave of Saint Peter, as it is today.

There is one much deeper reality which must be kept in mind as one visits the Holy Places and hears all the discussion about accuracy of place. Men fight about land and places and temples, but Christ declared that He Himself is the True Temple of God. Places are not Holy except from the Holy God who makes anything Holy that is Holy. Christ said "the Kingdom of heaven is within you"! Christ and Jesus Christ alone is God's Holy Temple, God's Holy Place, the Holy Land. You are in the Holy Land in so far as you are in Christ, living in Him and He in you. That, in fact, is heaven. Heaven is fundamentally a relationship. God is love. He who lives in love lives in God and God in Him.

You are truly in the Holy Land only when you are holy! And, if you are holy, you are in the Holy Land no matter where you are. The Holy Land is within you!, in your parish tabernacle, in your personal dedication to the daily duties of your state in life: your family, your work, your personal relationship with Christ. There are no territorial substitutes for the love that God has for you.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Una Voce Jerusalem

6:00 AM this morning I offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the Catholic (Medici) altar on Calvary in the extraordinary form.  Two Missionary of Charity Sisters attended with one other Religious Sister and a couple of laymen.  It was a low Mass for the first class feast today: Saints Peter and Paul.  I offered it for everyone who has asked me to pray for them and everyone for whom I have promised to pray, and especially for the deceased members of my family, most especially one deceased brother.  That Mass on Calvary was the climax and the ultimate purpose of my entire trip and study this month in the Holy Land.

One note on the logistics of offering the extraordinary form here (and perhaps anywhere in the Holy Land): BYOB!  Bring your own book (and cards and anything else you will need) for they are clueless about the Traditional Mass.  When I asked the Franciscan Friar Sacristan if they happened to have a 1962 ritual on hand he had no idea what I was talking about even after explaining the Motu Proprio.  Anyway, thank God I had my pocket daily Missal with me.  In contrast, Santiago de Compostela provided a beautiful and almost unused old Missal and traditional vestments when I was there a couple of years ago.

Although the Latin Patriarchate has expressed it's approval of such Masses (which it has no authority to forbid in any case) it seems that nothing has been done to facilitate it.  The Holy Sepulchre sacristy had myriad Missals in dozens of languages.  I'm sure they have a pre-1962 Missal hidden away in any number of the Patriarchate churches and  houses right here in Jerusalem (as I found in Bir Zeit for my daily Masses there all month).  This is a very warm and hospitable land, I suggest the Holy Places give a little attention to this matter so close to the heart of Pope Benedict.  I noted last night that the beautiful pilgrim procession and benediction led by the Franciscans was done completely in Latin Chant.  The Old Mass makes sense here where the ancient rituals are done in the ancient languages for the glory of God and the benefit of the faithful here from every land.

By the way, the Palestinian funeral of the mother of a priest which I attended in Jifna in the presence of the Patriarch, though moving in many ways, included some blatant liturgical abuses: e.g. the Patriarch himself and other clerics concelebrated with nothing more than cassock and stole!  I was aghast in disbelief.  One more reason for Una Voce in the Holy Land.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hitch-hiking the Holy Land


This was my first impression of the Sea of Galilee, having been picked up by two young Israeli professionals who were articulate and modest on the Middle East political situation.  The Jews are the hitch-hikers in the Holy Land and so I experienced it as an excellent way to mingle with them, not to mention the fact that my trip was largely on Saturday so that getting public transportation was impossible.  I got from Cana to Capernaum and back to Nazareth without a hitch! and some great, though brief, and much needed, open air road time on the Sea of all Seas!  It was hot.  I sweated.  And it was wonderful.  Capernaum is very much alive with the sea, the monuments new and old, and the activity of the Lord, again, very active here even today.  The place is quiet and pristine.  A great place for a retreat: e.g. Tabgha, the site of the miraculous catch, at the foot of the hill of the beatitudes and just a couple of miles down the coast from Capernaum.

All this was last weekend, my last full weekend in the Holy Land.  The previous weekend I went to Bethlehem.  Nazareth and Bethlehem made me think of Pope Benedict's upcoming third volume of Jesus of Nazareth (on the Infancy and Hidden Life) which should come out any day now.  I can't wait!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Plinthos in Palestine

Here in the land of Our Blessed Lord for the first time, I had arranged to take a course in Arabic at  Birzeit University near Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority.  Birzeit (approx. population of 8500) is an ancient and traditionally Christian town and is still largely Christian with a large Latin Rite Catholic Church (the steeple at the right).  The priests wear cassocks on the street, so I fit right in.  The Palestinians, Muslims and Christians, are very respectful of and friendly to priests.  The parish is very active and there are many activities which include processions: e.g. in my short stay so far (ten days) we have had two May processions and an outdoor kindergarten graduation and a funeral and street procession of the mother of a priest: the Latin Patriarch and his predecessor and a couple of other bishops and around twenty other priests participated.

As I write the minaret call to prayer is sounding (as it does five times a day).  The Muslims are fascinating.  They act just like everyone else, except most of the women wear their traditional and very beautiful traditional long colorful dresses and shawls with head completed covered.  The other day at the university the director of the program assigned a Muslim female student as my conversation partner.  So, me in my cassock, we sat down with a dozen other female students on the steps of one of the academic buildings as they enthusiastically and joyfully helped me get through some of the more difficult Arabic pronunciation. I was enchanted by their beauty, innocence, simplicity, friendliness and refinement.  At the same time I considered how comical the scene was.  Here I am, a Roman Catholic priest at the "Hamas" University surrounded by Muslim young ladies.  I could not help to think first that that is a picture that I have to get before I leave (if my friends could see me now!) and, second, that we must be breaking at least some Muslim law!  Well, the following day I received word that the young lady would no longer be my tutor and I now have a young Muslim male student tutoring me with just as much enthusiasm.  I think I'll keep it low key this time!

Back in my town I have been mingling with the youngsters at the couple of pool halls in town: nice tables!  They have a policy: loser pays.  Well, I have played alot and paid only once!  They are all enthusiastic (Muslim and Christian alike) to play with the priest.  The environment is very wholesome, typically Mediterranean (you can see the sea from here on a clear day just beyond the Tel Aviv skyline), with no drinking and no women out a night!  The greatest scandal is the pool shark priest!

By the way, yesterday I was in Ramallah for the second time and my first time alone.  I loved it!  It was just like being anywhere in Greece or Italy or Spain.  Everyone is great and very welcoming.  The food is great and I have not gotten sick, except perhaps a bit homesick.  And the climate is wonderful.  This is an essential and crucial and very much alive part of the Holy Land.  I would dare to say that this is the heart of the Holy Land, at least the Christian heart, viz. the Palestinian Christians (the Christian Philistines (not Arabs!) , as they term themselves).  "Palestine" in Arabic is said "Philistine".

Pope Benedict is scheduled to come to Lebanon in September.  

I better go, it's time to shoot pool.

Tomorrow is my first Philistine wedding experience.  It should be great!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...