Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Homily - "Here"
“The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” ( Phil 4:6-9). In my time as chaplain here, I have wanted you to experience the peace of God…the grace of God. It’s what is best for you, and like any parent, I want what’s best for my (spiritual) kids. We have tried just about everything in order for you to have an experience with the peace of God – on campus and elsewhere. We have done many trips and pilgrimages – to World Youth Day in 2011 when we went to Madrid and stopped by Rome, Paris, and Lourdes; on mission trips and service trips over spring break in Appalachia. These have all been good and grace-filled, and given GW Catholics an experience of the grace of God.
The most fruitful trip we have taken was our pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past May. 19 of us went for 10 days just before the trouble and bombings began. It was an awesome trip…awesome! It’s been interesting telling friends and family about it. So many people said, “I want to hear all about it”, but then about 30 seconds into telling them all about it, they don’t want to hear any more. It’s either that they aren’t interested anymore, or they say to stop talking about it because they are jealous and probably won’t ever go. It is one of those “you had to be there” trips, and it’s hard to fully describe it, but I will try over the next few minutes.
We spent the first few nights in Galilee on the “Mount of Beatitudes”. This is where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, and it overlooks the Sea of Galilee. It’s not a huge body of water, so we could look out over it and think, “this is where Jesus walked on water or called Peter or did this or that”. This is where it happened! This is where He was! Going for a walk at night on the grounds, it was amazing to think, “this is where he preached the Sermon on the Mount”. We couldn’t believe where we were. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel”. We were in the vineyard! It was a good primer for when we went up to Jerusalem.
For the 17 students, the pilgrimage really began in Nazareth at the Church of the Annunciation. On the Church’s façade is a Latin phrase that meant, “the Word became flesh here”. “Here” became a theme for the trip. In many of the missals that I used at Mass at different sites, it said that (such-and-such) happened HERE. I’ve never seen that in any of the prayer books at Mass. We went into the Church, and down to the grotto of the Annunciation. This is the cave where the angel appeared to Mary at her house when she was a teenager and revealed God’s Plan for Mary to conceive the Savior. Mary said yes, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit… “the Word became flesh”. The students were so moved by this, and were saying, “this is where it all began”. I was so psyched as a chaplain, firstly, because they are pro-life! Life begins at conception, so the Word became flesh at conception. December 25 is great and all that, but the Word became flesh at the Annunciation on March 25. Secondly, the students were theologically accurate that God became man when Jesus was conceived at the Annunciation.
The most powerful moment was at Gethsemane where Jesus had his agony in the garden the night before He died. We walked through the garden and saw the 2,000 year old trees that have been described as the “silent witnesses” of Christ’s agony. We talked about the agony Christ went through; Mother Teresa said that he went through the worst human pain there is…loneliness, rejection, isolation. He also sweated blood. Then, we went inside to the Church of Agony for Mass. In the Church, there is a huge rock at the base of the altar. It is believed that that rock is where Christ agonized and sweated blood. It’s where He first shed His blood for us. In thinking about his suffering – with which we could all identify – and the blood He shed, we heard the words at Mass that we probably take for granted: “this is my blood…poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”. The whole experience was so powerful…overwhelming, really. It was the only Mass that I thought to suggest confessions after Mass because there were other priests there. But, I totally forgot to announce it. After Mass, I made my thanksgiving and went out to meet the group. No one was around. I was thinking, “where did they go?” They were all in line for Confession.
The most emotional Mass we had was in the tomb. IN. THE. TOMB. Our guide hooked us up with an early morning Mass in the tomb where Christ was buried and rose. It is in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We first went up to Calvary which is the highest point in the Church. We learned that at the time of the Crucifixion, Calvary was just outside of the city line, so as today’s Gospel says, “they threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him”. We then went down to the floor of the Church to the tomb. The students were in the front area, and I went alone to the small back area to celebrate Mass. Our guide had said that he’s been to Mass in the tomb 50 times, and 3 times the priest cried. No pressure! Well, when I began Mass, the water works started immediately and continued all Mass. It was literally Niagara Falls for me and all the students. We could barely talk. I was offering Holy Mass on a marble slab where He lay…where He was buried…where He rose. I was thinking the entire time, “who am I to be here doing this?” We also thought of Mary Magdelene and the Apostles, and all the events of Holy Week that we celebrate so reverently every year. We were right there where it all happened!
Many of the students who went were looking for an experience of the presence of God…of the peace of God. Among the 19, we had some doubters. We came back 19 believers. There were 19 conversions in the Holy Land. One of the graduating seniors quite her well-paying job in a law firm after the trip to work for the Church. It was that powerful for all of us. “Then the God of peace will be with you”. The God of peace was with us.