Daily Mass Project – 4th Week of Advent – Names, Kneelers and Nephews

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St. Albert the Great – North Royalton, OH – Fourth Sunday of Advent – Dec 22nd

Presider: Fr. Joshua Trefney, Parochial Vicar

1st Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14

2nd Reading: Romans 1:1-7

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24

Initial thoughts: The one thing (besides having the most beautiful adoration chapel) that I always liked about St. Albert’s is that their bulletin has a little Lectio Divina for everyone to do for the following week’s readings. So this way, you aren’t just skimming the bulletin – you could take it home and pray with it.

I’ve been to this parish several times since it’s just down the street from my childhood home and I have met a very dear friend of mine in the pews here too. (Hi Ivi!) It’s a gorgeous parish and it is clearly thriving. They are also celebrating their 60th year which is crazy to think that I attended it as a kid (when we couldn’t make it to our home parish of St. Anthony’s) in the late 80’s in just their 28th year.

Homily reflection: Fr. Joshua preached on our names and how we come to be named. Clearly, our parents make this decision but there’s usually a meaning behind why they chose that particular name for us. (A family name, a unique spelling of your name, maybe they even prayed about it before naming you).

Sidenote: Whenever anyone talks about how they got their name, I tell them that according to someone in my family (this story has been disputed by my parents at separate times but SOMEONE said it was true) but apparently they were trying to come up with names for me and the phone rang, either Mom or Dad answered, the person asked for a Michelle, they told them it was the wrong number, hung up and said, “Michelle, that’s a good name. Let’s name her that!” I like to think the story is true even if they dispute its validity.

Back to the homily – Every name has a meaning. The prime example is Moses and burning bush talking to God and God reveals His name “I AM WHO AM.” I am the foundation of all reality, the Creator of the world and everything in it. God also reveals His heart to His people. Emmanuel has a meaning, “God with us.” God is always present and never abandons us. Jesus means, “God saves,” the Savior of the world. Our names define who we are, too.

Another sidenote: One of my most prized possessions is a little wooden plaque with my name on it that says “Godly One.” My parents had one for myself and my siblings and mine hung on my wall above my dresser and I would just stare at it, wondering, “Godly one? Me???” But I still have it to this day and it’s one of the few things I have kept from my childhood that hangs in my room. Who knows where Mom bought it but I will always treasure it.

Fr. Joshua concluded by mentioning that in the book of Revelation, it says that we will one day know the name GOD calls us.

“To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows except him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17.

Holy moments: I had to confirm I wasn’t hearing things when, during the Eucharistic prayer, Fr. Joshua added the names of “St. Raphael and St. Dysmas” after St. Albert. Turns out they’re his patron saints. I have recently learned a lot about St. Raphael the Archangel and so I thought that was a little “sign” that perhaps I was really supposed to be at this particular mass. Plus, it occured at a moment when my mind was wandering (oops!) and this was probably God’s way of hitting me on the head to pay attention.

St. Raphael, pray for us!


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St. Charles Borromeo – Parma, OH – Fourth Sunday of Advent – Dec 22nd – Noon mass

Yes I double dipped. And I’m not sorry. 😉

Readings: (See above)

I really wanted to go because my nephew was serving and I sat in the pew with my other nephew which was such a treat. Proud, proud auntie!

I did however manage to sit in a cushioned pew!! Ha! Apparently only a few pews have cushioned seats. Wow, what a treat! It’s the little things…

Presider: Fr. Lou Thomas, Parochial Vicar

Homily Reflection: Well finally, someone preached the homily I have NEVER heard before on St. Joseph but always wanted to. I was just talking to someone about the “house of David” thing and how it just baffled me: Jesus is from the house of David…but it’s Mary’s DNA that’s in him, not Joseph’s. Right? So how can we really say He’s from the lineage of David if that’s Joseph’s line and not Mary’s? That has bothered me to the point of tears in praying about it because I felt like I was questioning the entire Incarnation. Fr. Lou explained that in those days, it’s not like anyone would ever question family lineage by DNA. There was literally no difference between a biological father, a foster father, a guardian father, etc. You’re the father? You’re the father. Period. So that really helped me understand it better.

Holy Moments: The sign of peace with my 6’2″ nephew and watching my other nephew serve and carry the cross. “I volunteered to carry the cross for you, Auntie!” My heart was leaping. Also, the Communion Chant was “O Holy Mary.” SO beautiful and one I know I’ve never heard before in my other mass experiences. And kudos to the violinist. I’d love to hear a violinist at every liturgy. Outstanding job!

St. Joseph, pray for us!


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Church of the Holy Angels – Bainbridge, OH – 9am – Monday December 23rd (Chapel mass)

My former parish! I saw some good friends I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Always nice to see familiar faces.

Gospel: Luke 1:57-66

Presider: Fr. Max Cole Pastor and Deacon Vince Belsito

Homily Reflection: Deacon Vince gave a great homily about the question in the Gospel, “What will this child be?” He used a real life example of the only child in the chapel for mass that day and asked the mother if she ever wonders what her child will be. Deacon Vince is a teacher so he always wondered that of his students. Heck, I’m still wondering what will become of me and I’m 41!

In the meantime, he asked that we reflect on that question and I remember thinking, “I don’t need to write any of this down because for sure I’ll remember it.”

Well, I can’t recall anything else from that homily so that’s about it. In my defense, I wasn’t preparing to blog about it so that’s my excuse.

Holy Moments: During the prayers of the faithful, the priest asks for the people in attendance to speak their prayers out loud if they wish so it’s always interesting to me to hear what specific prayers people are asking for. There was always one woman when I would attend there who every single mass would pray “For the lost souls and those separated from the church, that the light of God shine upon them.” So even if no one felt like speaking up, she would always say that, without fail. This particular mass was for a gentleman’s mother who passed and so he spoke up and thanked everyone for supporting him and thanked us all for praying for her. So while some may say it’s a distraction to others to hear all of these prayers being said out loud (one at a time of course), I did appreciate hearing from him since I could remember her when it came time for the Eucharist.

Bonus material: So here’s a question to ponder: If you have a chapel with kneelers, should they be used? I noticed that only a few of us knelt during the Eucharistic prayers and everyone else remained standing. Maybe this is because in the Worship Space, there are no kneelers. So it’s what people are USED to. But, I was told by a priest once: “If you have kneelers, you use them.” Why not have the presiding priest simply suggest, “If you are able, please kneel?” That would seem to solve that issue. Speaking simply for myself, it helps me enter in more fully to this mystery that I’m about to take in the precious Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord. I can reflect and think about that much more deeply when I’m in a posture of humility, is all I’m saying. Feel free to comment and tell me otherwise!

In the meantime, my prayer is that someday a tabernacle will be placed in the sanctuary. And maybe some kneelers too. 😉

Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, pray for us.


 

Doing the will of the Father – St. Cyprian

I read this in the Liturgy of the Hours that I pray every morning and came across this last week. I wanted to share it for several reasons:

  1. If I blog about it, that means I can easily refer back to it. It certainly beats writing this on post-it notes
  2. It’s a long “checklist” that I’m pretty sure I’m not doing 100% but would like to.
  3. I’ve been wanting to write about something for a few weeks that would strike the heart of everyone, not just a select few and this appears to be something we can all strive for.

So here goes!

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The following is from a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer by Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr.

All Christ did, all he taught, was the will of God. 

  • Humility in our daily lives
  • an unwavering faith
  • a moral sense of modesty in conversation
  • justice in acts
  • mercy in deed
  • discipline
  • refusal to harm others
  • a readiness to suffer harm
  • peaceableness with our brothers
  • a whole-hearted love of the Lord
  • loving in him what is of the Father
  • fearing him because he is God
  • preferring nothing to him who preferred nothing to us
  • clinging tenaciously to his love
  • standing by his cross with loyalty and courage whenever there is any conflict involving his honor and his name
  • manifesting in our speech the constancy of our profession and under torture confidence for the fight
  • and in dying the endurance for which we will be crowned

This is what it means to wish to be a coheir with Christ, to keep God’s command; this is what it means to do the will of the Father.”

St. Cyprian, pray for us!

Behold, The Lamb of God: Easter Vigil 2019

On April 20, 1986, I made my first Communion as a second-grader at my home parish in Parma, Ohio at St. Anthony of Padua.

Thirty-three years later, here at my new hometown of Plymouth, Michigan, at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church I was blessed to attend our Easter Vigil and was honored to be a sponsor to an engaged couple. I also witnessed 31 other individuals (yes 33 people entered the Catholic Church at our parish; God is so good!) enter into full communion of the Catholic Church, after spending the past 8 months meeting every week for their RCIA classes.

This was only my second Easter Vigil and it was absolutely hands down, one of the most amazing experiences EVER. 

The choir, the music, the decor, the baptisms, the readings, the rituals, the prayers, the homily, the candles, the fire, the crowd, the incense. As one of our  teenage candidates said, “It didn’t feel like 4 hours.”

As soon as it was over I wanted to start it all over again! And as our pastor said to the newly initiated – They know more being Catholic than anyone else – because they made a point to learn, to ask questions, to seek the answers and it led them to the fullness of Truth.

33 years after making my first communion, I have a much deeper appreciation for our faith, due in large part to the friends I’ve made here who are converts, as well as taking the initiative to learn and study and ask questions. It’s been remarkable living here and attending this awesome parish for the past 21 months.

OLGC records everything so luckily, I’ve been able to re-live the entire Holy Week all over again. You can watch the Vigil in it’s entirety here, but before you click, allow me to share what I think, are some of the more moving and particularly special moments of the night:

Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave
Is He worthy? Is He worthy
Of all blessing and honor and glory?
Is He worthy of this?
He is

 

I’m still on a high from it all. I think when you witness such a grand event, when you truly start to “get it,” and understand what Jesus did on that cross, it brings you to tears.

As it should.

Happy Easter Season everyone!

Theology on Tap – Lansing Diocese – The Catholic Church and Feminism

I recently gave a talk on the topic of the Church and Feminism in the Diocese of Lansing for their Theology on Tap Young Adult group. We adjusted the title to “Can You Be Pro-Woman and Catholic? Yes.” 

Recall that Theology on Tap talks take place at bars, so the environment is not one where you really want to “teach” as much as just “share” some knowledge. In other words, you can only go so deep with folks. Even though I’m pretty comfortable talking to groups at bars, I much prefer a classroom setting to get into the nitty gritty. But overall, the feedback was very good and everyone really enjoyed the Q&A afterwards (not recorded).

The beauty of recording these is that I get to edit those rambling bits out. Click this link (if you’re reading this in your email) or click the link below if you’re reading this post in your web browser.

However, if you really enjoy watching me from the side, (what a screenshot, right?) and you like my ramblings, go ahead and watch some of it below here:

Happy Easter everyone!

Rediscovering Our Identity – Part 2 – Link to Audio

As a follow up to my previous post of the transcript of my Women’s Lenten talk, I have uploaded the audio to my Vimeo channel. There’s nothing to watch, it’s just audio.

Still awaiting the full video of all three of the talks from that night. But in the meantime, here is the talk. Note – You’ll probably have to put the volume up as high as you can go in order to hear me.

 

 

Using my gift of gab for good.

“What am I supposed to do now? Just tell me what to do!”

This is the PG version of my prayer a few weeks ago on the Feast of the Assumption, as I sat in front of the tabernacle at a tiny chapel at my parish. I had just come from the noon mass and attempted to pray in larger day chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, but it wasn’t doing much for me. So I changed venues and went to this smaller chapel (nicknamed the closet chapel because it’s about the size of a walk-in closet).

Gratefully, no one was there. I say gratefully because I proceeded to kneel down and sob openly for about 20 minutes. I had read just a few lines from the PA Grand Jury report the night before and managed to avoid most of the worst headlines from it the next morning. But apparently, the gruesome details I did manage to read by accident the night before crept back into my mind. And I was devastated. And angry. And frustrated. And at a loss for what to do or what to even ASK the Lord in this situation.

Eventually, my feelings of anger turned into actual prayers:

“How can I turn this into something for YOU? What can I do to channel this into something that helps to heal your Church that is going through a major crisis right now?”

It’s basically the prayer we probably all should/do pray everyday: “Thy will be done.”

The answer I received was pretty quick and simple: “Keep going.” 

Keep going with what? With my discernment of my vocation? Keep sobbing in chapels?! Can you give me a bigger hint here, Lord?

But then it became obvious to me: What have I been doing for the past 3.5 years? What  am I good at? What excites me and where do I really thrive? To be honest, as awkward as it is for many people, I actually LOVE to talk about chastity and sex and marriage to complete strangers. 🙂 I know, who woulda thought?

And from the feedback I’ve received, especially this past year, apparently people are responding well to my speaking engagements. You can view one of them here for a talk I did called: Engage the Culture – The Catholic Response To the Sexualization Of the Culture. Unfortunately, you can’t quite see my powerpoint on the screen, but at least you can hear me.  There are more/will be more of these as they are posted on the OLGC channel.

So with that affirmation, I asked what I needed to continue on with my “TOBsessive” practices.

And quite frankly, I need the certification in order to speak well to this teaching from JP2, but most importantly, to be seen as a credible resource.

The great news is that I’m almost done with the certification process through the Theology of the Body Institute: I’m just 3 classes away!

The reality is that the classes are not cheap. I’ve been blessed to be able to take 5 of them without really doing too much damage to the bank account. But these last 3 will be a bit of a challenge.

So after more prayer and wise counsel from people I trust, I decided to ask for help with the finances by creating a GoFundMe page. Several other TOBsessives have done this as well and so I figured, why not give this a shot?

Full transparency: Each class is $1,175 and you can see the price for yourselves right here: http://tobinstitute.org/programs/courses/

If you cannot give financially, I simply ask for your prayers. I know God is faithful and He always provides. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for whatever you give. I promise you I will continue to use the knowledge I’ve obtained from the 5 courses I’ve already taken to promote the Catholic Church’s teachings on human sexuality and always to speak the truth in love. I have seen firsthand and experienced how the power of the Gospel works in everyday lives.

TOB changes lives because it changes hearts. I’m a living testament to that and I would love to give this gift of transformation to others, with God’s help, as best as I am able.

In Christ,

Michelle

Helping Myself To Some Leftovers

aisle-altar-arches-226345Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option – A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, writes a short section on “Love and Support Unmarried People in the Community.”

Dreher correctly writes that the church can me a lonely place for singles.

While it’s correct and right for the Church to affirm marriage and family as the ideal forms of the Christian life, we singles sometimes get overlooked.

What about our witness? What about our lives? And what about those of us who haven’t discerned a call to marriage? It’s not wonder that our nickname is “the leftovers.”

Their status as singles that leaves clergy and parish staff scratching their heads a lot. Where can they “place” us besides babysitters and clean-up crew?

It’s normal to be confused by us because really, we confuse ourselves! We’re in our 20’s, 30’s and some of us are nearing our (gasp!) 40’s. More and more people are delaying marriage, more and more of our friends are co-habitating, and more and more of us are getting sucked into the online dating scene or possibly something worse out of desperation to be in a relationship.

We may be succumbing to the hook=-up culture. If you haven’t dated anyone in the past 5-10 years, the dating marketplace has dramatically changed. And if you haven’t dated in more than 20 years, I doubt you’ll recognize single-dom today. It’s messy. It’s strange. It’s sad. And it’s lonely.

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Of course, it’s not all bad news. There are still good men and women out there. I picture them all wandering…aimlessly searching for their equivalent. They want someone just to have a conversation with. It’s been a while since they’ve sat down and had an actual conversation face to face. They’re used to 1 dimensional screens. Some of them don’t know life without a smartphone, without the internet.

Most would love to meet someone organically. But lately, that seems to be harder and harder.

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As more and more people become secularized, and more and more people leave the Church, that whole, “Maybe you’ll meet someone at Church” seems to be falling away.

Where are the solid young people, the orthodox Christians and Catholics?

Besides the pews, because I promise you there are some of them there, many of them are hanging out at the Latin Masses, which is growing in popularity, at least in my diocese. A lot of the TLM’s take place in parishes that aren’t your typical Catholic parishes with Bingo and Daycare. It’s usually the larger cathedrals/older churches that still have a Low and a High mass and that’s attractive because it’s different. And for those young adults who desire authenticity, the traditional Latin mass is home to many young adults these days.

There’s also groups like your local Young Catholic Professionals chapter or simply those that attend a Theology on Tap event or Young Adult event. And they may not go just to meet a potential date; they go so they can meet other people, period. It’s an added bonus if they end up dating.

While it’s good to meet like-minded singles, it doesn’t always end up being the case. And it’s hard to meet people at mass when you’re in the pews trying to worship.

So gatherings of young adult singles doesn’t always have to revolve around religion, per se. Recreational/intramural sports leagues and going to the bars for trivia nights and just hanging out in casual social situations is usually enough to meet someone to engage in a conversation with.

But in the meantime, I appreciated Dreher’s advice for the parish community with regards to guiding and mentoring young singles:

All unmarried Christians are call to live celibately. And that can be incredibly difficult in today’s culture. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea, besides a Young Adult Ministry, to “consider establishing single-sex group houses for unmarried members to live in prayerful fellowship.” He goes on to point out that it’s difficult to live chastely in a culture “as eroticized as ours, especially when there is so little respect for chastity. One expects this from the world, but the church must be different.”

While setting up housing may not be an option for your local parish at the moment, there is something you can do, no matter what your state in life, to help with the “leftovers” – encouragement and mentorship.

I’m attempting to do something like this with a 4-week series with the Young Adult ministry at my parish called Dating and Discerning Marriage As A Catholic. We’ll be hearing testimonies from young married couples (some with kids, some without) about their dating experience, their marriage, how they pray as a couple, how they pray as a family, practicing chastity as they dated and now that they are married, the ups and downs of NFP, etc.

It’s going to be a very engaging series touching on subjects like interfaith dating, setting boundaries within friendships, how the heck to practice chastity in today’s world and how singleness bears fruit, despite it’s difficulties.

I’d love to report back on it after it’s over here so look for that in the fall.

In the meantime, pray for the young people who come to this series to have receptive hearts and minds as they hear from the couples as well as myself; that they learn something new and especially for those who have been single for a long time, who desire nothing more than to do God’s will and feel a painful ache to be married, but for whatever reason, haven’t met their future spouse.

Spend some time with your single friends when you get a chance. Ask them how life is going. Don’t pry into their dating life unless they begin that conversation. And don’t pity them. Pray for them and offer any insight you have with them on relationships and marriage. Don’t try to tell them that you know what it’s like, but DO try to share your own stories of struggle and success. Give them hope.

They are not leftovers. They are the future of the Church. And they need our support and our love.

 

Overcome with Gratitude

So something random and interesting and really quite extraordinary happened to me yesterday (Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday) morning.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that it was the first sunny day in who knows how long here in Michigan.

I don’t know if it was the fact that I was in a good mood to begin with.

I don’t know if it was the smell of clean clothes and clean countertops in my kitchen that I just sprayed as I cleaned my apartment and did the dishes and laundry. (Who doesn’t appreciate a clean dwelling space?)

But all of a sudden, as I was listening to a podcast from Bishop Robert Barron (of all people!) and folding laundry (of all things!), I had this overwhelming sense to drop to my knees and praise and thank God out loud.

This has simply never happened to me. The urge to thank Him was simply overpowering. I was just overcome with a mixture of joy and elation and gratitude, for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t get over it!

Maybe it was the fact that I had gotten up very early and just started to clean like a madwoman. I had incredible energy and had neglected to do my “typical” routine of sitting down on my couch, opening my LOH, or praying a rosary.

I almost feel like God was saying, “Umm…Hello!? Creator of the universe over here. Are you even going to acknowledge me, my daughter? What happened to thanking me first thing? The dishes can wait.”

So I went out on my balcony, because it was such a beautiful day, and I was literally watching birds chirp in the trees and prancing (jumping?) in the grass. And not a cloud in the sky. The only other sounds coming from the cars driving by on the street. And maybe my neighbor’s wind-chimes when the breeze picked up a little.

It was simply the most beautiful scene I could have envisioned on this Sunday morning. Truly a day that the Lord had made.

I came back inside and saw my Grateful Giving prayer card sitting on the table. I had been given this little card at a church function in Cleveland a couple years ago and kept it on my kitchen table and another copy in the visor in my car. A great prayer to pray on the way to work/school/etc:

God, Creator and Giver of all that is good,

we thank you for our many blessings.

Mindful of your generosity, we acknowledge

that all that we have is from you.

Daily, we offer you thanks and praise for

the beauty of the earth, our work, our family

and our loved ones.

In the dawning of a new day, you are with us.

In each dark hour you are here.

Blessed by your grace, we show gratitude to

You by sharing what we have.

By serving our brothers and sisters,

We serve You.

As you protect and guide us on our journey,

We, your disciples,

remain ever grateful for your constant love.

AMEN.

But wait, it gets better!

This morning, I read this in the Office of Readings:

“In a word, every blessing is showered upon us, both in this world and in the world to come. As we contemplate them even now, like a reflection in a mirror, it is as though we already possessed the good things our faith tells us that we shall one day enjoy. If this is the pledge, what will the perfection be? If these are the firstfruits, what will the full harvest be?

From the book On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great

I’m pretty sure they call this an affirmation.

Because that’s what it felt like; a showering of blessings. And if I’m this overwhelmed by His goodness to little old me, how much more awesome is going to be when this is all perfected?!

As I sat on that balcony, I thought- I GET to clean!! I know it sounds so strange but how many people would DIE for the chance to have a roof over their heads to clean! Or a bed they get to sleep in. The ipad that I GET to listen to a podcast or a homily or watch a TV show or a movie, anytime I want. I GET to read all these books on my shelf, anytime I want. I GET to write on this computer for my little blog, anytime I want. I GET to text or call or email anyone in my family or my friends, anytime I want.

What gifts!!!

I get to live in the greatest country in the world where I am free to worship my Lord and Savior. I get to drive a car to a job that I get paid to fight for religious freedom and pro-life causes. And just a month ago I got to travel to the Middle East to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I’m still in the shock and awe phase apparently.

Maybe I’ll come back to this post the next time I feel like complaining about my slow internet connection, or the price of gas going up, or when I burn my toast.

Thank you God for this little life of mine.

Holy Land Pilgrimage: Top 5 Moments

I was blessed to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from March 24th until April 2nd.  A trip of a lifetime!

It’s going to be next to impossible to describe everything I saw the “holy moments” that all took place and the awesome other pilgrims I met on this trip, but I’m going to do my best to summarize in one post my top favorite moments. Here we go:


1. Basilica of the Annunciation – Mary’s House:

From the outside and this little pitiful picture, it doesn’t look like much. But this is all you can really see from the walk on your way up to it. It wasn’t until I got back home that I saw what it looks like from afar: church-of-annunciation-muzio2

This was one of the sites we went to after arriving in Nazareth. And we arrived on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation! (Although this year, March 25th was Palm Sunday so it was moved to April 9th.) But, it didn’t really matter. It felt like divine intervention that we were there.

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This is the spot where the Angel Gabriel asked Mary to the most important question and her answer changed the entire world. Quite a lot to take in as we stood there.

The inscription on the altar reads: Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est =

“Here the Word became flesh”

Here. Right here!

Later on that night we were able to come back and spend an hour of silent prayer here. I prayed Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Annunciation, as well as a rosary. It was easy to become emotional in that moment as the Annunciation has special meaning for me personally. But just, when you sit there and think, “A girl of 14 or 15 years of age was approached by an angel to bear the Son of God…” I just wanted to thank her for her YES. So that’s what my prayer became.

The upstairs/main part of the Basilica is beautiful, decorated every inch with mosaics and sculptures and paintings of Mary from several different countries, including this iron one from the USA:

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2. Basilica of Agony – Garden of Gethsemane

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Some fellow travelmates and I saw a holy hour advertised at the Garden of Gethsemane and the Basilica of Agony on Holy Thursday night. Well, it was not so much a holy hour as it was an hour of standing in the back of the church for an hour with 2,500 of my closest friends. Shoulder to shoulder. This was not for the claustrophobic!

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But what made this so special was that it was during the night of Holy Thursday, at 9pm. Most likely around the same time that Jesus was praying there in the Agony of the Garden, sweating blood.

I was sweating (because it was pretty warm and several people had to leave to go outside because it was just too darn crowded) I began to pray to the Lord to align this “suffering” with His. All I could see was what they projected on the huge screens but for the most part I could only stare straight ahead at the painting of Our Lord praying at the rock.

I couldn’t get my hands on of one of the programs, but from what I understood what was spoken in English, there were 3 Gospel readings and 3 Psalms, all of which were spoken and sung in several (I’ll guess at least a dozen) different languages. We then did Prayers of the Faithful and then chanted the Our Father in Latin to conclude.

While I wouldn’t say it was particularly enjoyable, I don’t think it was really supposed to be. The crowds didn’t make it a comfortable experience, but thinking about it afterwards, it was exactly what it was meant to be: It was prayerful. I was next to a French couple, I was in front of a German family, to the left of me was a Spanish family and directly in front of me was an Arab pair of men. And I think a few American’s sprinkled in there too! The point being, we were clearly there to be with our Lord, as He suffered and prayed in that garden knowing what was about to happen to him. What a time to be present there, despite the crowds!

Here is a brief video from the service as well as some photos from our official visit to the Garden of Gethsemane later on as a group during the daytime.

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The bedrock where it is believed Jesus prayed is the stone you see me praying as well as a miniature sculpture of Jesus kneeling in prayer.

IMG_1250.jpg This is outside the Basilica and just on the outskirts of the Garden. You cannot walk into the Garden of Gethsemane although I know there are people who have been able to spend the night or spend some time in prayer there. It’s most likely doable when you don’t have a large group.


3. Boat Ride on the Sea of Galilee

We made our way down towards the Sea of Galilee and into a boat that, without the motorized engine, would be very similar to the kind of boats Jesus and his disciples may have used to go fishing. After about a 10 minute “tour” and explanation of the landscape and surrounding area, the drivers shut off the engine and allowed us some quiet time just to contemplate this scene. I set my phone on the ledge and hit record, knowing this was a moment I would want to go back to again and again.

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Technology somehow doesn’t allow me to share the video of the sea to the blog so you’ll just have to take my word for it. 🙂


4. Church of the Nativity – Bethlehem

Preparing to see where Jesus was born was something I really wanted to focus on as we made the bus ride to Bethlehem. I was trying hard to just contemplate this momentous, universe-altering event in my mind. Similar to the Annunciation, I found it difficult to comprehend that I was on my way to see this spot where He was born. I had seen friends’ pictures from their trips here and I knew not to expect a giant chapel or a decked out manger. I knew it was a star in the floor and that it was cramped. 🙂

This is our group making our way down the stairs to the cave:

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I had asked one of our pilgrims to get a picture of me venerating the spot. This all took place in the span of about 10 seconds. Our guide was encouraging us to go two by two to make the line move a little faster. Of course, in my mind, I was thinking, “NO! Can I just have this one moment alone!?” But really, there’s no time to be selfish (and literally no space). It worked out completely perfect actually. As I wait for my travel-mate to send me that photo (he took it on a professional camera and I saw he got a great shot of me) I can share with you this photo I took of one of our pilgrims about to kneel down to see the spot. It’s impossible to get an up-close shot because, obviously, it’s in the ground. 29792704_10155440826477544_8312783687370828990_n

As we got back up from the spot, we noticed that hardly anyone else was down there (very rare!) So before another group made their way there, we gathered in the small space and sang the first verse of O Come All Ye Faithful.

Quite a few teary eyes as we sang this…Right here, where Jesus was born!!!


5. Visiting the Holy Sepulchre to see the Tomb and Calvary

Within the same day (Wednesday, the day before Holy Thursday) after visiting the Church of the Visitation and some other sites, we hopped back on the bus assuming we were going to check-in to our hotel just outside the city walls and just a 15 minute walk from the Holy Sepulchre.

No sooner do we get on the bus and we were told, “We’re not going to the hotel to check or to have dinner yet. Surprise! We’re going to the Holy Sepulchre, NOW!”

Having no idea of the amount of crowds that were no doubt making their way to the Holy Land this week and most likely a lot in the next few days, our guide thought it best to go now to be guaranteed a visit to the tomb and Calvary.

Before getting into my experience, let me share some photos I took myself and then some MUCH BETTER photos so you can truly grasp what this all is. Because I must say, if you’ve never been there, it can look really confusing.

After waiting an hour in line, we made our way into the tomb. This is the entrance to it:

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Another view of the entrance to it (taken on a different day during a procession):

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This is a shot of Calvary:

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And underneath that small altar is a hole that you can reach into with your hand and touch the rock that Jesus was crucified on:

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Since you may be thinking, “What am I looking at?” I did the leg work for you and found some better photos of all the Holy Sepulchre contains:

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An outline of Holy Sepulchre
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The outside of Holy Sepulchre
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A view from above inside
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A view from around the edicule which houses Jesus’ tomb
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Jesus tomb
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Calvary/Rock of Calvary (under altar)

Hopefully these photos make it a little more clear.

As for the experiences themselves, at first it was quite rushed. No one can really spend more than a minute at Jesus’ tomb. I think the longest it ever “felt” that someone was in there was maybe 90 seconds. They definitely keep the line moving!

Secondly, we were instructed not to take photos of his tomb which I wouldn’t have anyways, I was just trying to comprehend what I was kneeling in front of. The magnitude of it all!

By the time I was done kissing and kneeling, it was time to get out of there. Maybe 30 seconds?

Knowing I’d be back there, I wasn’t too upset. We then made out way to Calvary where we waited about 10 minutes to kneel down and touch the rock of Calvary. Again, a bit rushed and not completely understanding that THIS was Calvary! It’s hard to imagine it all when you’re surrounded by other pilgrims, speaking all kinds of languages, some of them pushing a little bit, some of them taking selfies (ugh!) and many just talking a lot so if I was hoping for a moment of silence, that was never going to happen.

We then walked back down stairs from Calvary and were able to venerate the Rock of Unction:

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This is the rock that Jesus was laid on and prepared before He was put in the tomb.

That was the first experience at the Holy Sepulchre.

The second and third experiences I had there were much better, much more prayerful.

And most definitely require a separate blog post about it….

Stay tuned!