Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

In honor of this liturgical celebration, here are some cool Holy Land pictures that have to do with St. Peter.

This is a picture of me touching the Sea of Galilee.  This was a wonderful site to visit on the trip. It was amazing to think of all of the life that happened on that Sea, beyond the Biblical stories.  I remember being flooded with images of St. Peter.  That Sea and its shores are truly the place of his conversion.  They are the place where he worked, lived, got it very wrong, got it more right than he could have ever imagined, and where he first began to learn to love our Lord.

This is St. Peter's house in Capernaum. This is where the first domestic church began.  The whole village of Capernaum was a really cool experience. You could still see where the houses and roads of the first century village were. You could also see the foundation of the Synagogue where Jesus prayed and visited (upon which sit the remains of a 4th century Byzantine Synagogue).  Being here, I could almost sense the hustle and bustle of life back then - not its busy-ness, but its liveliness.

This is what the locals call "St. Peter's fish."  It is the kind of fish that Peter would have caught, and that Jesus would have prepared on the sea shore after His resurrection. I ate it for lunch on the Mt. of the Beatitudes (overlooking the Sea of Galilee). For those of you who need proof of that statement, enjoy the following pictures...
It was good.  In fact, it almost tasted like chicken...you know, once I got past the whole "my lunch is looking at me" thing.

This is inside the Church of Peter's denial of Jesus.  I love this portrayal because in the same image it shows the moment of St. Peter's most obvious rejection of our Lord and the honor that God bestowed on him.  It captures the complex nuances of St. Peter with which people today can so easily identify.
Following along the same lines as the bottom portion of the previous picture, this is the Church of the Primacy of Peter.


On this Solemnity, may our hearts grow in love of our Lord and His Church. May all Christians be united under the primacy of the Church He instituted, and may we all find the eternal rest and happiness that Sts. Peter and Paul rejoice in now.

Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Toy Story 3

Last night I saw Toy Story 3. It was a wonderful movie. I laughed; I cried; I was entertained.

The movie has a rather sentimental touch to it. Andy has grown up and is preparing to leave for college.  The end of the movie impacted me deeply.  It was about growing up and moving on.  It showed the value and significance of childhood as a whole.  As Andy struggled to let go of his toys, as a viewer I struggled with my own attachments to childhood - a time when life was very different from now.

I cannot say that my childhood was carefree. Even as a child I was burdened with worries (it's just part of my personality).  However, childhood was a time of freedom.  Not only were my days filled with time to freely play and enjoy the beauty of life, but also my heart was filled with the freedom to love joyfully, fully, and unashamedly. I could appreciate the simple things. I rejoiced in the goodness of the world around me.  I played, learned, and grew with an innocence that made my approach to life then differ from my approach now.

At the end of Toy Story 3, Andy passes on the secret of childhood itself.  He helps another to more fully embrace its simplicity and grandness.  He rediscovered in himself (and helped us discover, too) the joy and the freedom to live and to love that childhood is blessed to understand.

P.S. There is a great lesson to be learned from the toys themselves.  They struggle to know their real purpose, to love unselfishly, and to sacrifice everything for each other and, together, for Andy.  They see that their purpose is to be there for a child, whenever that child needs them.  They recognize that their existence is not for themselves; they have a greater purpose.  Though they do not live that perfectly, they strive for it constantly.  The cling to each other to defend it.  And in the end, they are rewarded for it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Loaves and Fishes

Note: I wanted to post this on Sunday, but blogger was having problems and I couldn't create new posts.

This picture was taken at a Church along the Sea of Galilee.  It is the Church of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. The rock that you see below the altar is the rock upon which it is believed the miracle took place. The altar and church were built above and around the rock, which has not been moved.

The mosaic on the floor just in front of the rock shows two fish and a basket with four loaves of bread. The absence of the fifth loaf mentioned in the Biblical account of the event that took place is intentional. When the priest celebrates mass, the bread that he offers (which becomes Christ's body) is considered the fifth loaf.

The symbolism here helps to covey this miracle story as a prefiguring of the Eucharist itself.  It also connects the mass we celebrate today to the eternal actions that Jesus (fully human and fully divine) performed here on earth - in the very spot pictured above.

This was one of my favorite churches on the trip, and the image of the fish and four loaves is found all of Israel (on magnets, postcards, t-shirts...you know...tourist stuff ;-)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Still Me

I expected things to be different.  I expected me to be different.  I expected to be in the Holy Land and feel different.  I thought I would be breathless with each footstep, completely enamored by the magnitude of the places where I stood.

But I wasn't. Not constantly. Not even mostly.

Please do not misunderstand: I love the experience I had in Israel. In fact, yesterday, for the first time, I had an intense longing to again walk along those streets.

But the chills and the speechlessness I expected were not part of my experience.

Being in Israel was hard.  Not because of a culture or spiritual shock.  It was hard because it is so very different from the place it was over 2000 years ago.  The people are different.  The streets are different.  Churches have been built everywhere.

When I imagined the trip, I imagined wandering around the places where Jesus walked, talked, and prayed.  I imagined being lost in thought and prayer, captivated by the scenes which Christ my Savior saw.

Then, it turns out that Mary's Well was built 10 years ago, the guide on the "Jesus Boat" on the Sea of Galilee will have everyone doing wedding dances, Biblical Cana was discovered in the valley below the site that has long been revered as that of the first miracle, and the visual stimulus of the images that Christ saw are blocked by the walls of Byzantine and more modern churches.  It was hard to convince my mind that I was in the Holy Land, not merely in some church in the United States dedicated to things like the Agony in the Garden.

While it is true that my memories will serve me well in future reading of the Gospels, those moments that I spent walking there were hard.  They didn't change anything.  At least not any of the things I expected to have changed.

Perhaps that is the beauty of the Catholic Church.  She is universal.  Jesus is just as present in every mass, everywhere in the world, as He was in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Galilee, Capernaum, and Cana back then.

Whether I am there or I am here the Truth remains the same.  And the Truth provides me with a good life lesson.  Throughout my life God will continue to bless me with external potential instruments of His grace in my life. Whether those instruments be my friends here in the U.S. or the very land that supported the weight of Christ Himself 2000 years ago, the fact remains the same.  At the end of the day, no matter what instruments He has the potential to use, if I'm not open to His love, if I do not listen for His voice, if I do not allow my heart to be converted, I will not grow.  I will not love Him more.  I will not have greater joy or greater peace.  I will remain unchanged.

The challenges of living the Christian life exist everywhere the Christian exists.  I have to beg Him (there as much as I do here) to change my heart, to cultivate within me true conversion.

Here or there, I'm still me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hope That Doesn't Ever End...

...even when the sky is falling.

Kutless (a Christian band) has a song called What Faith Can Do. The chorus of that song goes like this:
I've seen dreams that move the mountains, hope that doesn't ever end - even when the sky is falling. I've seen miracles just happen, silent prayers get answered, broken hearts become brand new. That's what faith can do.
 I love this song. It is the song I listen to first every time I turn on my ipod. However, that line there in the chorus about hope has been a stumbling block for me.  It hasn't been something with which I can connect. I've yet to find myself in a situation that is so desolate and full of despair that the powerful hope expressed in those lyrics has been warranted.

Until now.  Until the Holy Land.

There are many things about my pilgrimage that I remember vividly, many that will continue to be part of my prayer for years to come. However, the thing that I cannot get past right now is the faith of the Christians there. The lyrics to that song I've loved and listened to for so long now came alive in that faith. Theirs is indeed a faith so strong that it nurtures hope, the kind that doesn't fade.

You see, in the Holy Land, the sky is falling. Many times it is falling right down onto the Christians, who are, by great statistic, the minority.

At the end of the day, when they are surrounded by Muslims and Jews making money off their faith, worshiping something else in the space of their Savior, and dominating the culture and the land, they still have faith. Strong faith. A faith that is not shaken. A faith that knows it is part of a religion that is bigger than the hardships they face.  The Christians know that they are part of a universal Church, that they are united in prayer and that in the Communion of Saints they are connected to a people outside of themselves.

And they have hope.

Hope that one day there will be peace.  Hope that the Christians around the world will not forget them.  Hope that one day their reward will be great in Heaven. Though their numbers and the space that belongs to them sometimes fade, their hope never will.

That's what faith can do.

That's what faith is doing.

It was a blessing to witness it first hand.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Things (other people) Say

Me: What am I supposed to do with my life!?

Fr. Seper: Love Jesus.