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Posts tagged ‘Israel’

Day Eight Novena from Israel

It is the land where faith began.

It is the land where the world will end.

The Alpha and Omega walked there.

The Lord, walking and healing, the Messiah, whose left arm stretched back to the beginning of time and right arm stretches forth to the end.

In the beginning…

Even so, Maranatha…

The Holy Land fascinates me, but it is more than that. It calls to me, but not like a particular country’s culture intrigues a couple and they apply for a spot on House Hunters International.

Not like that.

I need Israel. I need to get off the plane and into a vehicle and start moving closer to The Galilee. I need to see the rocky, dusty, rugged hills and then press farther north.

I need to let The Galilee come into my soul. Shuffle my feet through Capernaum and gaze across the Mount of Beatitudes. I need it to feed me for a space of time until I am ready for the final journey.

The journey to Jerusalem.

The journey to Golgotha. To the Stations of the Cross. To the Tomb.

This year, I am making a retreat of it. A novena. Nine days.

And the ninth day will be my last, which will also be the first day of Lent.

Ash Wednesday.

Come along. Come. Facebook page. Facebook profile.

This website.

Enter the Holy Land Novena where we will prepare for Lent.

I’m taking your hand in mine. Come. Let us go to Israel and usher in these forty days.

Best Year of Mercy Video EVER

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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.

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.

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.

Remembering Israel, the Pope, and the words that matter now more than ever…

Last May, I traveled to Israel with the Catholic Press Association as a guest of the Israel Ministry of Tourism to cover  Pope Francis’ meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople. On May 26, the day after Pope Francis met with Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem, the Holy Father attended a reception at President Shimon Peres’ home. I was also invited to that reception and had the privilege of hearing the Holy Father address President Peres and the people of Israel.

I met four young men that day. They were from a school near Mount Carmel. I loved the true brotherhood I saw in the boys who sat in front of me. As far as I could tell, they loved three things: their country, their Pope, and soccer. These are the things you learn when you make small talk and wait for the Pope to arrive.

During the Holy Father’s speech, I snapped a picture of Pope Francis who was seated a short distance in front of us. My line of vision to the Holy Father passed directly between the heads of these young Carmelite students. As I snapped the picture, the Holy Father was saying:

“Mr President, you know that I pray for you and I know that you pray for me, and I assure you of my prayers for the institutions and the citizens of the State of Israel. I likewise assure you of my constant prayer for the attainment of peace and all the inestimable goods which accompany it: security, tranquillity, prosperity – and that which is most beautiful – fraternity.”

I had to smile, because the young soccer players had thrown their arms around one another’s shoulders and were enthralled by the Holy Father’s words. The young men embodied the spirit of fraternity.

Our last day in Jerusalem, we visited the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane. The area is full of gnarled olive trees, some centuries old. In one corner of the Mount of Olives, there is a young olive tree – just fifty years old. This tree was planted by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964 on the day they met in Jerusalem to pursue unity and brotherhood between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. The Common Declaration between the Holy Father and Patriarch Bartholomew on May 25th affirmed: “Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey towards the unity to which only the Holy Spirit can lead us, that of communion in legitimate diversity. We call to mind with profound gratitude the steps that the Lord has already enabled us to undertake” (2).

On Pentecost Sunday, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met again, this time at the Vatican, and renewed their commitment to pursue unity. There were two other important guests that day at the Vatican. Israel President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had responded to the invitation by Pope Francis to participate in an “Invocation for Peace”.

I thought back to my time in Israel. Our dreams. Our hopes. The living testament to building and rebuilding the bonds that connect us – Orthodox and Catholic, Palestinian and Israeli.

On our last night in Israel, I stayed in Tel Aviv. My hotel room safe was stuck in lock mode and the desk clerk came up to unlock it. He fixed the safe, and I pulled my laptop out and set it on the desk. We chatted a few minutes. About the Pope. About the final weeks of President Shimon Peres’ presidency. About who might take his place.

We also talked about peace and the things that threaten it. Terrorism. Injustice. Political machinations that selfishly seek to destroy others.

The young man was a political science student, and he greatly respected the Holy Father’s approach to the common man. He remarked that the Pope received others, not as a superior might, but as one brother-to-another.

Pope Francis believes in fraternity. He calls to us to embrace the common brotherhood that affirms the bond of our humanity. We are blessed to belong to a Church that does not accept division – because unity and fraternity are beautiful. Lovely. Worth pursuing.

In their Common Declaration Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew blazed the trail ahead of us, saying, “we call upon all Christians, together with believers of every religious tradition and all people of good will, to recognize the urgency of the hour that compels us to seek the reconciliation and unity of the human family, while fully respecting legitimate differences, for the good of all humanity and of future generations. In undertaking this shared pilgrimage to the site where our one same Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and rose again, we humbly commend to the intercession of the Most Holy and Ever Virgin Mary our future steps on the path towards the fullness of unity, entrusting to God’s infinite love the entire human family” (9-10).

The Holy Father’s visit to the Holy Land – those were precious moments – so full of hope. At times, those days and those words seem so far away. At times, the doubts creep in and all seems lost. But it isn’t lost. It isn’t wishful thinking. It is real. As real as those boys seated in front of me – arms wrapped around one another – listening to their Pope, their President, and thinking about soccer.

Some things don’t change. I’m guessing those boys are still thinking about these important things.

And I am still thinking about fraternity, and the words I heard Pope Francis say in Israel:

“I likewise assure you of my constant prayer for the attainment of peace and all the inestimable goods which accompany it: security, tranquillity, prosperity – and that which is most beautiful – fraternity.”


Israel: T-Minus One Day

May 18, 2014 -Last night, I finished reading the Gospel of St. Mark. I read them out of order – Luke & John, then Matthew & Mark – but I did read them all. And now, I am ready to encounter that fifth Gospel. The Holy Land.

Estimated time of departure… T-minus one day.

Lord, help me to remember that today is Your day. Sunday. Quiet this racing mind. And thank you for helping me to get that suitcase packed – even though I keep realizing that I still need something that I packed in it. But it means that the bulk of what I must do is done. It saves today for You. If I can’t quiet my heart and soul today for You, how can I ever quiet it in the Holy Land? This is good practice. An exercise in contemplation while in the tsunami of travel plans. If I can order the racing thoughts to “stand down” on a Sunday in May, then maybe I can find that place of contemplation that I so want to have when I am there… where You walked… where Your mother walked… where everything began.

Israel: Pre-trip Interview With The Catholic Press Team

May 16, 2014 – Here is an interview I did with fellow Catholic Press Association travelers. These are some of the cool folks I will be traveling with in the Holy Land! Enjoy!

Trip to Israel in May

I will be traveling to the Holy Land May 18-28th with the Catholic Press Association as a guest of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. It is an amazing opportunity & the timing couldn’t be better as my book on Judea will be released by Ave Maria Press later this year. The trip coincides with the Holy Father’s visit to Israel.

I look forward to sharing this journey with readers on the blog, through my column in diocesan newspapers, and in the pages of my book. My heart is filled with joy and gratitude.