Monthly Archives: November 2014

Finding a Home on Mount Tabor

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At the top of Mount Tabor, on the path to the Church of the Transfiguration, there is a canopy of sweet-smelling shady Eucalyptus trees that lead into a lush courtyard garden. Low and high stone walls topped with ornate iron work and cascading vines separate a patchwork of gardens full of a variety of plants and colorful flowers. Statues and garden objects dot the landscape, the most magnificent being the life-size statue of Christ on the cross bending down towards St. Francis, whom He made custodian of His Holy Land.

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All my life I have been attracted to gardens. As a child I loved collecting rocks and little statues, and as an adult living in New Orleans, I loved touring the ironwork in the French Quarter. I can spend hours at a plant nursery just looking and dreaming of my perfect garden. The garden of my dreams is always filled with ironwork, statues, and colorful flowers galore, covering the ground, filled to overflowing in pots and cascading down the side of stone walls.

As I walk the grounds at Mount Tabor, kept since the 14th Century by the Franciscan Order, I realize that I am in my dream garden. It is so beautiful and in it is everything I long to place in my garden. This beauty opens my eyes to see that at the very place where the Son of God revealed His Glory to His apostles, He is doing the same for me. Since childhood, God has placed in my heart the love for His created things, anticipating the day that my heart would transcend to the Creator Himself.

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For years, I had made no room for God, choosing instead to occupy myself with the glittery but ultimately empty places of the world. For years, now I see, that Jesus has passed through my heart without finding a place to stay. He has been waiting for me to hear His cry from Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Overwhelmed at the revelation that God has pursued me all my life, I seek the One who has always loved me. I enter the Church of the Transfiguration, find Jesus in His Real Presence in the Tabernacle, kneel before my Creator and my Love, open the door of my heart, and invite Him in.

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Sweet as Cana Wine

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In Cana of Galilee there is a small Catholic Church named after its village – Kafr Kana (Hebrew: Village of Cana). A large wedding took place here 2,000 years ago that is remembered every day in this small town with the population of Arab Christians and Muslims. That wedding is recorded in John 2:1-11. Those invited to the Wedding were Jesus and His disciple, and the mother of Jesus was there as well.

Today, the Church of Cana is an active community of families that have been worshipping at this Church for many generations. They are proud to tell visitors about their love for Christ and His mother, Mary.

The Church is built over the ancient ruins of the “wedding house” we read about in the Gospel of John. Pilgrim groups are welcome to pray in the church and couples who have received the Sacrament of Matrimony are so happy to be able to renew their wedding vows. Imagine, renewing your wedding vows with your spouse in the very place where Jesus blessed the young couple with His Presence, and provided the “good wine” for their celebration!

Tom and I have lead numerous pilgrim groups to the Holy Land and arranged for the couples in our groups to have this opportunity to renew their vows to one another in this holy place. We also join the pilgrims, and each time it is a moment of grace as we remember the very first day we looked into each other’s eyes and committed ourselves to one another in marriage. Parishioners also offer us “Cana Wine” – a sweet wine to celebrate!

Thirty six years ago, on November 25th, we entered the Sacrament of Matrimony with Christ. We were married the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. We often comment on how we thank God for finding each other.

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With Bishop Oscar Cantu after renewing our marriage vows.

The Sacrament of Marriage is so important that the Church says that the love of the husband and wife for each other should reflect the love that Christ has for His Church.

Marriage is God’s gift to us, and it is our primary vocation which must be protected. Outside of our salvation, we have no greater task than to protect our marriage, which may be God’s means to heal us and others on the way to eternal life.

Each is responsible for the salvation of the other; we can help each other get to Heaven.

It is especially in our marriage that we live out the two greatest Commandments as we read in Mark 12:28-31:

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

If we do not love God above everything else, we will never reach our potential in loving our spouse or our children. That is by God’s design. If you are faithful to God, you will be faithful to each other and grow spiritually!

What do Catholic church buildings teach us?

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I’ve heard so many stories from Catholic converts about how they felt mysteriously drawn to Catholic church buildings, even before they knew what everything inside the buildings meant. Catholic church buildings are markedly different from other places of worship…but what does it all mean?

When I started learning the remarkable symbolism behind Catholic churches and their elements inside, I felt like I was discovering an entirely new (yet ancient) world!  Allow me to share just a taste of this with you.

“Visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ… In this ‘house of God’ the truth and the harmony of the signs that make it up should show Christ to be present and active in this place.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1180-81)

Beginning a Journey…

As you enter most Catholic churches, you’ll step into a “foyer” area, or a large front porch. This is called the narthex, where we transition from the outside world into the House of God. It is where liturgical processions begin. Because of its transitory nature, the narthex is also known as the galilee; reminding us of Christ’s journey to the Cross, from Israel’s Galilee area into Jerusalem.

 …To the Water, To the Ship…

As we enter the church, we dip our fingers into holy water fonts, making the Sign of the Cross over ourselves to remind us of our Baptism. Some churches have a separate baptistry area, with a large, octagonal baptismal font. Its eight sides refer to Christ’s resurrection on the eighth day (Sunday).

We often think of the next area – where people sit – as the “congregation,” or even the sanctuary.  However, the proper name is the nave, the Latin word for “ship” (think of “navy” / “naval”).  Why a ship?  The Church is the “ark of salvation,” the ship that carries us to Heaven over the stormy seas of life.  Our Pilgrim Center of Hope logo is a ship for this very reason.

Up to Jerusalem

During Mass, we see the liturgical ministers process up to the front of the building, to a place many might refer to as the “stage” or the “altar”.  This area is actually the sanctuary, from the Latin for “holy place”.  The sanctuary area is raised higher than the nave to signify…

  • The head of Christ (the nave signifies His Body, the people)
  • Mount Zion – where King David’s fortress was located, and also the location of the Upper Room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (instituting the Holy Eucharist)
  • Jerusalem – the location of the Jewish Temple, and of Christ’s crucifixion
  • Heaven – the “New Jerusalem” where we will celebrate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Christ) forever

To receive Holy Communion, we always process toward the sanctuary because it reminds that we are pilgrims journeying toward Heaven.

TabernacleThe Old and the New

In the sanctuary, we see our Jewish roots married to our Christian identity.

  • TabernacleTabernacle means “tent”.  The first Jewish Tabernacle was built by the Israelites after they were freed from slavery, as God’s dwelling place among them. Our Tabernacle is an ornate “box” commonly made of precious metals, containing the Body of Christ (bread consecrated during Mass that Catholics believe becomes the real Body of Jesus Christ).
  • Sanctuary Lamp – The (often red) candle which, when lit, indicates God’s presence in the Tabernacle.  The ancient Jewish Sanctuary also contained a sanctuary lamp. It was kept just outside the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwelt.
  • Altar – The altar is no ordinary table.  Ancient Jews slaughtered an unblemished lamb on an altar as sacrifice for their sins.  Jesus came to become the Lamb of God, who was slaughtered as a sacrifice for all sins.  Today, the altar is where we offer bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb of God.  At the altar, time and space are no barrier; by the Holy Spirit’s power, we are present at Jesus’ Crucifixion.
  • Presider’s Chair – Whereas the altar represents Christ’s priesthood, the chair represents his kingship.  In ancient writings, a seated figure was a figure of authority.  The presider’s chair is where the priest or bishop who is celebrating the Mass, sits.
  • Ambo – Represents Christ as prophet. This “podium” is where God’s word is proclaimed to the people.  It may jut out from the sanctuary into the nave, symbolizing the prophet going out to the people with God’s word.
  • Crucifix – Cross with the body of the suffering Christ. During Mass, a crucifix must be present.  It reminds us to unite ourselves to Christ’s sufferings*, and points to the reality of what is taking place on the altar during Mass.

Many modern churches lack an altar rail around the sanctuary.  This is a beautiful “table-like” rail designed as an extension of the altar.  At the altar rail, people would receive Holy Communion.  Thus, the altar rail is not designed as a mere barrier around the sanctuary; it is a table where the Banquet of the Lord is given to the people.

Earth and Heaven

Catholic churches’ beauty and art are essential to Catholic worship.  Statues, paintings, mosaics, and stained glass of the saints, angels, and Biblical scenes remind us of the family we have which spans history – past, present, future – and space – across the globe, in Purgatory, and in Heaven.  Catholic Mass is where “Earth and Heaven kiss”.  The ornamentation, marble, precious metals, jewels, etc., communicate this supernatural reality.

God does not need our beautiful things.  Yet, from the beginning of Judeo-Christian history, God has asked us to make sacrifices and create beautiful religious articles / structures.  Why?  Our physical, human nature needs physical reminders of what cannot be known by our senses.

This is all just the “tip of the iceberg”!  I encourage you to seek out resources and continue learning.  Here are a few:

* See 1 Peter 2:21-24, 1 Corinthians 2:2, Romans 6:3-5, and Colossians 1:24.

Casting Your Ballot

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One can never find all of life in life. Being born, growing up, obtaining an education, finding a job, marrying, raising a family, eating, drinking, playing a sport, enjoying a hobby; these are all wonderful facets of our temporary pilgrimage on Earth. But none of them have the capacity to provide LIFE as God created and intended it.

The reason is God has rigged this thing we call “life”. Rigged it so that the best life has to offer is never big enough to fill the vacuum in our souls. Rigged it so that we can never be fully satisfied by anything less than the presence of God.

Within every one of us is an innate, inextinguishable yearning. If we do not allow the cry of our soul to be answered by God, we will begin dialing other numbers. The appeal for some confused souls to join ISIS, a terrorist movement, or to be connected to a gang, are, I believe, an attempt to fill this void.

But none of those numbers can deliver what they offer. Saint Augustine expressed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Elsewhere he writes, “Sin is energy in the wrong channel.”

Since I became Catholic, just a little over a year ago, I have spent more time in prayer than I ever had before. This, enhanced with attending Mass regularly, has deepened my awareness of my dependence on God. We now have an ongoing conversation – all the time and about everything. This simple act of making Him the center of my life is what gives me the greatest feeling of wholeness.

Indeed, this internal thirst will either drive us deeper into the arms of God or those of His rival. The choice is ours.