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Posts tagged ‘Holy Land’

Packed for a Pilgrimage

I am at the stage of this journey where I think we have what we need in the bags.

But the most important stuff is next to my skin. You travel with a special pouch around your neck or tied to your waist – under all the clothes. Next to your body.

Like armor. A shield. Security blanket.

Things most necessary for the journey and your survival.

The sword of the Spirit. The breastplate of righteousness. The helmet of salvation.

And you keep feeling for those things to reassure yourself that everything is in its proper place.

The Hour Is Coming

I say it all of the time.

If you ever travel to the Holy Land, it will have a daily impact on how deep you are able to go into the Daily Readings at Mass.

Not once in a while.

Not every few weeks.

Not even every other day.

Every single day.

Today’s Gospel and Old Testament Readings both bear this out, but let’s just focus on the Gospel Reading.

Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.

A few days ago, we read about the resurrection of Lazarus, which occurred on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives.

Today, we read of the end of times, when the Messiah returns and all the graves are opened and each one given over to the judgment.

Look at the photo. It is of the Mount of Olives. The oldest active cemetery in Israel, perhaps the world.

According to Jewish Tradition, when the Messiah comes, these graves will be opened first.

It’s easy to imagine. It happened to Lazarus before it happened to anyone else along that slope.

A foretaste? To be sure.

The memories and Readings make me glad I went. They also make me ready to go back.

Scripture has a place. It is rooted in a place.


Behold, this is where it began.

Day Eight Novena from Israel

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Whatsoever is Holy on Monday of the 31st Week of Ordinary Time

It’s Monday. Just a few weeks ago, I would have spent the night before on an Amtrak train from St. Louis to Chicago. I would have hopped on the 124 and taken it to North Michigan where I would have hopped on the 146 and taken that bus to the corner of Cornelia and Lake Shore Drive. I would have wheeled my carry-on to my apartment and set my alarm for 5:30 AM so that I could snooze a bit before rolling out of bed and returning to the bus stop to take the 135 or the 146 back to North Michigan in the Loop.

Today, I am lounging. I’m doing some holy lounging.

I’m not in a rush to figure it out. That is a big deal for me. I’m always rushing to figure something out. What do I write next. Where do I work next. where should I go next. What should I read next. What is God wanting from me now. What do I want from Him. What does He want me to want from Him.


It is not the same thing as discernment.

Both yield questions, but one is rife with generalized anxiety. The other is quieted confidence that one will figure it out when one is supposed to figure it out.

One is a hungry baby in a mother’s arms, seeking to be fed.

The other is a weaned child in the arms of that same loving mother.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm says, I busy not myself with great things, nor with things too sublime for me. Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me.

It doesn’t mean things aren’t still running through my head. They are. But they are not hitting my soul. I have quieted my soul. I have leaned my head against Mother Church. I have let her arms hold me close.

I am like Israel. Led by the Lord. Loved by the Lord. And now hoping in the Lord – for the Responsorial today ends with these words: O Israel, hope in the Lord, both now and forever.dsc_0279

It is enough.

Today is not the day for announcing what comes next. Today is the day for resting in my Mother’s arms.

Diamond. Gone. Poof.

It is possible to be attached to good things.

It is also possible to find your place of detachment in the middle of that loss.

I’ve had the nightmare at least ten times in the last twenty years of my marriage. Literally, I have had the dream.

I look down at my left hand, and … it is gone. The diamond is missing.

In the dream, I realize that there is practically no way I will ever find something so small, something with img_0011no color, something that looks like a piece of glass.

Only it isn’t.

It is the symbol of my husband’s love and our commitment to one another.

But, a few days ago, as I sat in my writing chair, the place where I feel most at peace with God and the world (outside of church and Mass), I looked down at my left hand. And the diamond was gone.

I have turned the house upside down looking for that stone.

It is gone.

I have retraced my steps again and again. To no avail.

And I have accepted the fact that this is one time St. Anthony isn’t going to help me out. I guess I needed a lesson in attachments – even to the very best things.

So, I look at the picture of my husband holding my diamond-less wedding band. And I admit, I miss the diamond. The one my husband gave me early in August 1996.

I’m missing a number of things right now. Good things.

I just resigned a position as Director of Public Relations for Israel Ministry of Tourism where I was blessed to write a massive proposal on how we think as Catholics and why the Holy Land is important to us. I was able to interface with some of the biggest names in the Catholic Church in the United States. I was able to take some of them to the Holy Land and assume the duties of a Catholic liaison to IMOT.

Every day, I dressed up, left my apartment (second home), hopped on the bus, took it to the Loop in Chicago’s big business, skyscraper section and rode the elevator up to my office with a window.

Right now, I’m at home. In my bedroom. Laptop on my lap. Looking down at my left hand – with its missing ring.

Yes, I’m missing a few good things right now. I’m practicing some detachment.

I read a passage yesterday from a man who has a name that is one letter removed from my own last name.


Not Bossert.

What he wrote was a bit of hope. An explanation of sorts. A promise.

“When God desires a work to be wholly from His hand, he reduces all to impotence and nothingness, and then He acts.”

That does not mean that we get attached to a promise or a hope or a glimpse at what might be.

That’s too much of American heresy. It isn’t true detachment.

But, I can live without my precious diamond. The marriage is the thing.

I can live without my office in Chicago. The love for Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy Land is the thing.

I am due a lesson on detachment. I have been given so much. And none of it is mine. I’d be a fool to boast.

And yet, I suppose I have, in my own I’m-not-boasting-I’m-so-humbled-to-be-so-blessed-and-undeserving way of boasting.

So. I, Denise Bossert, am the band with the broken, empty prongs.

Waiting to be filled.

Or not.

And I can still say.

All will be well. All will be well. And all manner of things will be well.


The Root and the Shoot

I have had an amazing year.

Like Dorothy to the Scarecrow, my heart is telling me I will miss one thing the most now that I have returned to my St. Louis home and left my Chicago apartment.


Her name means Pearl in Hebrew. And a pearl she is.

It was worth purchasing the entire field, that season of life that lasted from November 2015 to last week–just to possess this great pearl.

Do you know what it is like to talk with a Jewish woman who knows her faith about Chanukuh or Shavuot or Pesach?

When you both realize that Shabbat features Challah bread, with leavening, but Pesach (Passover) only has the unleavened bread, like the Eucharist…you realize something.

When you both realize that there is an exquisite Hebrew poem that talks about the Queen of the Sabbath and you realize that Saturday is known as Mary’s day…you realize something.

When you both begin to wipe away tears because you realize that holiness means something very much the same to each of you, and that the Ten Commandments are the bedrock for both of you, and that you have far more in common than what you do not have in common…

When you realize that you love the same land.

When you discover that Ruth and Naomi are favorites to you both.

When you realize that she prays for the deceased Jewish man or woman and invokes Sarah when the name of the deceased person’s mother is not known, and you realize that you ask for the intercession of Mary, the New Eve. When you realize that she asks for the intercessions of Eva for all others.

When you find out that you are both praying for the Messiah to come–and it is a daily prayer.

When you see the similarity in the Mezuzah and the Holy Water Font, the Mikvah and the Baptismal Font, the days of feasting and fasting.

When she asks if Christians think that Jews are irrelevant now that their Messiah has come and you realize that she just needs to know that nothing could be further from the truth, that the Old Covenant with the LORD remains because God does not revoke His promises, that the New Covenant with Christ means that the Light of the Nations really has gone out into the nations and that you are a beneficiary of that holy nation.

When you choke on your deeply-felt emotions as you say in a husky voice, it is as though you are my matriarch and I am your offspring, even though you are old enough to be her mother.

When you realize that Judaism doesn’t see itself as going out to convert the world even though it is promised to be a Light to the Nations–and you see that paradox clearly yet fully fulfilled in Christ, because we are called out to share the Gospel. It is a mandate. A calling. A supreme duty.

When you talk about the minutiae of both religions and realize that it really is the Root and the Shoot, that she is part of the root, and you are a branch of the Shoot…

That is when you realize that ECUMENISM is the most exciting thing you have encountered in a very long time. It is not dry. It is not dead. It is not hopeless or wrought with angst.

It. Is. Beautiful.

When she pauses one day in Advent to ask how you can believe in the Ten Commandments and yet not believe in One God, and you say that you definitely believe only in One God, and her face is full of questions and doubts. When you say that you believe in God the Father, and she nods in agreement. When you say that you believe in His Spirit, and she nods in agreement. You pause and think, I am 2/3 the way through the difficult teaching on the Trinity. When you say that you believe God became a Man because the whole world needed to be redeemed, and she says, but God did not become a man, and you say:

“He didn’t–

Until He did.”

And in that moment you realize that you have never been asked to defend the Incarnation, but what just came out of your mouth is true.


That the Incarnation was unthinkable.

It was impossible.

It was not even in the realm of the imagineable.

And then, God did the unthinkable, impossible, and unimaginable.

So that the holy nation that was once a tribe and before that a family and before that a married, childless couple might become a Light to the Nations–

So that you, too, might be grafted in.

I am Ruth.

She is Naomi.

And I highly doubt that we will ever be the same…though I am old enough to be her mother.

Best Workout EVER!

I have never been fond of working out—except maybe swimming.

But now that I have reached a certain age, the idea of putting on a swimsuit doesn’t thrill me. I was never particularly fond of it. Shopping for a swimsuit has always been worse than buying new jeans. But now that I’m fifty, all I can say is give me the jeans, the dress with the knee-length hem, the timeless pieces that flatter rather than flaunt. I’ll pass on the swimsuit.

Swimming as a way of staying in shape has been taken off the list too.

If I had my own private pool, then maybe. But alas, I do not.


The last ten years, I have focused more on eating lighter. I’m blessed with good genes, so I have remained (almost) within the weight guidelines for women my age/height.

But something happened last year that changed my attitude about working out. Pilgrimage changes you.

At least, it did me.114

I am a writer and I carry every tool of my trade with me—everywhere I go. My deluxe travel backpack includes my computer, iPad, iPhone, and Nikon camera. It has countless other essentials like a portable charger, charging cables, and pen & paper for quick note taking. And when I’m in flight, I have my Bose noise-cancelling headset. I usually have a good book to read, my Rosary, and a change of clothes just in case my suitcase is lost in transit.

I push the limit on weight regulations for a carryon bag.

After lifting that thing about five hundred times over the course of ten days, I realized that I needed to start working out or pilgrimages would be something I did once, back in 2014.

I certainly wouldn’t be able to meet the physical demands of being a travel writer into my sixties. No way.

Others travel lighter. Their backpacks weigh a fraction of what mine weighs. But every pilgrim has to have some degree of muscle tone. One still has to be able to lift a fifty-pound suitcase onto a scale, off of a baggage claim carousel, into a bus luggage compartment, over a raised hotel threshold.

3And you have to be able to walk a mile—with ease.

So, there I was, after that May pilgrimage, staring at the calendar. My fiftieth birthday was right around the corner.

Would this be a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage, or would I say yes to what God was calling me to do, all of the places He was calling me to go?

That “yes” would require a change in lifestyle. I was still in that happy zone of life where I could make the change without too much effort.

I had made it through the Holy Land, but how much longer would I be able to do things like this? If things didn’t change, I had maybe five years before my body cried uncle.

I looked at my swollen ankles at the end of the ten-day pilgrimage and told myself that I was going to eat even better—and I was going to work out—not sporadically as I had done in the past. But with purpose. With intent. I was going to have a plan.

As with writing, working out has become a creative release and a prayer.

I have to share with you what I do when I step onto the treadmill, because I enter another place, and I realize that I should have done workouts like this years ago.

The treadmill incline goes to 15. The speed setting can accommodate the fastest runner (which I am not).

I tend to keep the incline between four and six for most of the workout. I keep the pace at the fastest walk I can manage without flying off the end of the treadmill.

I close my eyes, and I imagine I am in all those places I have been. I am walking through the gates of Capernaum.

I am descending DSC_0694the Mount of Beatitudes.


I am journeying to Shepherds Chapel in Bethlehem or walking through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem.




Sometimes, I lower the incline and increase the speed. I am practically running—because I am trying to make my next flight, and it leaves in just fifteen minutes (in my pretend world). The gate is on another concourse. Speed is suddenly the key.

Then, I smile. I am in my favorite place of all. I’m at the foot of a Judean hill, ready to make the ascent to the Church of the Visitation.

I see the incline. There are steps, but this is not quite like a stair master workout. The steps are not steep, but they are numerous.Ein Kerem You take a step, walk another step or two. Take another step. It’s more like terracing. All of the pilgrims make it to the top, but we each go at our own pace because it is a hill, and it isn’t easy.

I turn on my music, the song that fits the scene. I close my eyes and imagine that I have just passed through Ein Kerem, the town where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. I am standing at the foot of the hill. My eyes scan the terraced steps. At the top, I see the Church of the Visitation.

At my side, I imagine the Blessed Mother. She is filled with joy. This is the end of her journey after the Annunciation. Soon, she will share the message with Elizabeth, the first time she will share this glorious news with anyone. And she is filled with joy because Elizabeth will understand. The rest of the world isn’t ready for this news yet, but Elizabeth is ready. And Elizabeth is right up there.


It’s time to share Jesus Christ.

boots closeup

My feet want to run.

I set the speed to the highest I can handle. It is the speed at which I take those steps when I am there and actually make that climb. I set the incline for 15—the highest it will go.

And then, I close my eyes.

And I climb the hills of Judea—to see Elizabeth with Mary.

This is no ordinary workout. This is contemplation. This is prayer. This is the way I have to do it. The reason I do it.

All for Christ. All for Christ. All for Christ.

Even a workout on a treadmill at Planet Fitness.

I feel the joy, the exhilaration, the surge of grace, the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

My mind and body know when I have reached the top. Having actually been there multiple times at this point in my life, I know how long it takes to get to the Church of the Visitation at this pace.

And I reduce the pace. Lower the incline. Because I am at the top now.

This is prayer! Who knew!

Seeing the Franciscans at the TombThen, I step onto the stair master, but only for a couple of minutes, and I take the steps two at a time to get a steeper rise. Now, I’m at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There are only a few steps to climb to get to Mount Calvary and the site of the Crucifixion, but they are steep, and when we are there, we always turn to help our fellow pilgrims up the steps.

I haven’t done it yet, but I plan to do a ten- or fifteen-mile stint on the stationary bike. I’m still working my way up to it because I tend to focus on the treadmill. But I have a journey in mind. It’s a spiritual journey by way of contemplation from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to Ein Kerem. It won’t be easy. I will have to set the machine to rugged terrain. Hills. The hills of Judea.

Or maybe I could do a ride to the top of Mount Tabor.

Or through the range of mountains known as Mount Carmel.

Eventually, I will hike to the top of Masada. It was the winter oasis for Herod, a fortress built on cliffs. It takes between 45 minutes and an hour to make that climb. But the vistas are amazing. The final chapter in the story of that place is sad, but there is something about being there—so high—looking down over the land surrounding the Dead Sea. I listen to music when I work out, which helps me to enter the contemplative realm. The song that fits what I felt when I traveled to the top of Masada is a song by David Kauffman called “Be With Me Lord.”

This year, I will be returning to the Holy Land and fortifying those memories, which I will carry back with me and into the gym.

I will also make pilgrimages to new places, to Mexico on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe and climb Tepeyac Hill. I will also travel to Poland and see places dear to Saint John Paul II and the Franciscan Monastery founded by St. Maximillian Kolbe. I will see the cell where he was martyred.

And I will carry these places and prayers back with pic

Pilgrimage changes you. It changes everything.

It can even change the way you approach the gym—because everything becomes a prayer when you begin to see every journey as a journey to the Heart of Our Lord.


It is time to make a pilgrimage. A nine-day God-seeking novena. A journey to Our God.

Luke 2:41–They went up to Jerusalem for the celebration as was their custom. Luke 24:15–Jesus approached and began to walk along with them.




This is the essence of pilgrimage: Go to meet your God, and He will come to you when you enter the journey and seek Him. The whole pilgrimage thing, that entire God-seeking way of life, has been part of our faith from the beginning.


Abraham departed from Ur.



The Hebrew People went up to Shiloh to encounter the Lord in the days of Hannah & Samuel.


And then they made journeys to Jerusalem in the days of David & Solomon & to this day.


Model of the Temple Mount, Israel Museum, Israel

Even when they found themselves in a foreign land, the Jewish People sought the Lord. The pilgrimage was part of their DNA. Moses approached a burning bush and removed his sandals for he was standing on holy ground and the Lord said to Moses, “Come now, I will send you.”

He was to lead them out to a holy place to pray, but Pharaoh said no. God upped the request. “Then let my people go – forever.”

They had the ultimate pilgrimage to make. And God Himself would throw His protection around them.


The entire Hebrew People passed through the desert into the Promised Land, seeking the Lord of the Promise by way of a journey.

Then, there was Ruth who traveled to Bethlehem, following Naomi, seeking the Lord of her husband’s mother.

And a foreigner, Naaman, at the direction of his wife’s servant who was just a young Hebrew girl, traveled to Israel to meet God’s prophet.

When exiled, the Hebrew People returned – and they went up. Up to Jerusalem. A journey to higher ground. A journey to the Lord Most High.

Mary received the Word, and immediately went on a pilgrimage of her own, to Ein Kerem in the hills of Judea, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home.


Ein Kerem, Israel

Mary and Joseph were forced to go to Bethlehem to complete the census, but they made it a pilgrimage – in which they encountered the Incarnate Word of God!

Soon after, the Holy Family went to the Temple for the Presentation – imagine. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity went on a pilgrimage to encounter the Godhead!

And they returned to Jerusalem every year at Passover, because Pilgrimage & Passover go together. The God-quest and the Eucharistic Feast go together.



All of it rooted in pilgrimage because at its core, pilgrimage is about encountering the Lord God.

The disciples throughout the Gospels traveled to one mountain after another, to deserted places, to the respite of a boat on the Sea of Galilee, to an Upper Room.

Zacchaeus climbed a tree.

Olive trees Mount of Olives

Olive Tree, Mount of Olives, Israel

The sick woman sought the hem of Jesus’ garment.

Peter and John were seen running to the empty tomb.


The Tomb, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Israel

The faithful throughout Church history have set their minds and hearts on the God-quest, beginning with pilgrimages to the Holy Land and then making pilgrimages to every place kissed by the Gospel message in which chapels, churches, basilicas, shrines and grottos have been raised –where Jesus Christ has traveled by way of His disciples’ feet, to contemplate those sweet and fleeting visits by His Mother, to touch the soil where martyrs died and the Gospel seed was planted and grew.


We are a pilgrim people, and the entirety of this life is a faith journey.

It is time to make a pilgrimage. A nine-day God-seeking novena. A journey to Our God.

Come, says the Lord. I am sending you.

Go up for the celebration, and I will join you on the journey.

I invite you to come along with me. Come, let’s make it a novena. It’s almost time to enter nine days of prayerful journey – to Our God.




Denise Bossert is a professional travel writer for Select International Tours. Select has provided travel for hundreds of groups and many prominent church leaders.


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Former Protestant Makes Case for Pilgrimages

We were visiting Washington D.C. the summer my dad received a phone call that a parishioner had been involved in a terrible farm accident. Leo Kraft sustained a crushed pelvis when a tractor ran over him. He was lucky to be alive.

Dad was the pastor of the small Presbyterian church where Leo and his wife Zoan worshipped. We cut our vacation short and returned home to the rural community where we lived so that dad could be with Leo and the family.

After weeks of recovery, Leo was finally released from the hospital and returned home. I remember

the day I was riding my bike down the street that passed in front of our house (the manse) and the Presbyterian church less than a block away. I noticed Leo and Zoan as they walked inside the church. It was the middle of the week, so it was odd that someone was going to church. We didn’t have around the clock adoration time like many Catholic parishes do. So the only time people gathered at church was on Sunday mornings or for fellowship and scheduled events. If there was an event at church, we would have known it. We were the pastor’s family, after all.

As I watched, Leo and his wife walked through the front doors and up the aisle, where they kneeled to pray. I felt warm inside. I knew what they were doing. They were thanking God for sparing Leo’s life. It was a rare thing to see a Presbyterian doing something like that. They were usually “proper” and didn’t do the overtly holy things I remembered from our years in the Wesleyan denomination (dad was a Wesleyan pastor before he became Presbyterian pastor). Wesleyans were always praying and hitting their knees in those Wesleyan churches.

As Protestants, we believed you could pray anywhere. One place was as good as the next. The church offered the whole community a place to pray, but praying on one’s own could be done anywhere.

So why did Leo feel the need to hobble to the car in those first days following his release from the hospital and why did he slowly mount the front steps of the church when there was no easy access for one who was recently handicapped, and why did he walk with his wife to the front of the church and kneel when it must have been painful after all he’d been through?

It’s simple, really.

Somewhere inside of us, Protestant and Catholic alike, we know that there are holy places – places set aside for our most fervent prayer time, places where we know God shows up and we can commune with Him.


Anointing Stone – where Jesus was laid after the Crucifixion. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.

Churches. Shrines. Grottos. Monasteries. The Holy Land. Lourdes. Fatima. Knock.

The cathedrals.

Marian gardens.

The bedside of a loved one who is dying.

Mount of Olives

Mount of Olives – oldest cemetery in Israel.

A cemetery.

It is a Catholic concept – this going to a place because we anticipate God will meet us. Sure, Catholics believe they can pray anywhere.

But they also know that there are holy places where one meets God more substantially.194

If there are unholy places – and there are – then there are holy places.

If one can expect the demons to dance in places where evil people do evil things, then we know there must be holy places where holy people do holy things.

In those moments when we long to come close to Christ, we know that it requires some kind of pilgrimage.

A journey.

Flight Route

Flight map of my trip to the Holy Land.

A drive.

A flight.

It’s like the Holy Spirit is sending us. Yes. It is a kind of divine sending and a divine visitation.

Pilgrimage. Perhaps it’s a simple as driving to your church and kneeling before the Tabernacle. Perhaps it is as wonderful as planning a trip to France or Mexico or Rome or Israel.

Yes, we can bow our heads anywhere and encounter God, but somewhere inside, we all know that there is something holy about taking a journey with the expectation of encountering Christ when we reach that holy destination.