GRACES PRESERVED IN ANCIENT STONES

13th September 2015, at Sr. Mel’s

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His were the footsteps we followed. Here we are again, gathered one last time as a pilgrim group, to retrace the footsteps we took. As we looked back, there is a persuasive longing in our hearts to return. We had been wonderfully blessed; our hearts filled with graces to help us walk our journeys ahead.

IMG_0583There is something somewhat different about our faith since we returned. The Word is alive in a very different dimension. As we listened to the Word proclaimed, our spirit wandered into the sites cited. We had been there and this new sense has allowed the Word to penetrate deeper into our senses. Our imagination stirred, and we resolve to dwell deeper into scripture, to study and reflect, and walk the history to its origin, to the time of Adam and Eve. The footsteps we followed had linked for us the Old and the New.

“I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living” – (Psalm 27:13)

IMG_0547And so we did, abundantly so. Unfolding before us, in the land where he walked, we embraced the unconditional love of the Father, coming home in resolve to love as He did; to pass on this love we have encountered in our privileged life, to allow love to flow through us, so that others will be privileged too.

IMG_0844It is time for us to make a difference, to call for a transformation within ourselves. Graces received will be graces preserved and nurtured. A changed life will be a fitting tribute to the land of the living. A land where we found forgiveness, the time when we wandered away will no longer come back to haunt us.

IMG_0933It is a time for us to make a difference to the people we will meet on life’s journey, to accept each for who they are. For here on this land are a people in conflict simply because we cannot accept each for who we are.

IMG_0995And so we will now walk on, journeying beyond our Emmaus; the Breaking of Bread now personally significant, the Mass now alive in us. Even though we have not found all the answers to our life’s puzzles, we are graced with patience to take each step in hope and anticipation.

One day our steps will return to tap again on graces preserved in ancient stones.

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AT EMMAUS, MY ENCOUNTER WITH MY RISEN LORD.

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“Emmaus was the first site we prayed at on my first pilgrimage and it is the last site of my second pilgrimage. In between was a journey; a changed life and hopefully, and in faith now, a life changed.”

The gospel passage of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had always meant a lot for me. The stories in my life, the events happened, the initially unseen guidance, the unidentified inner voice, and the road my faith have walked on, is kind of parallel to this passage; I can identify with this walk on the road to Emmaus.

This is my second pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and to this site. A lot had happened in my life since. During my first pilgrimage in May 2013, I had just lost my job; hope for the future was mixed with bitterness about the past. My road in life led me to a job in Bangkok. Displacement had not been easy; I always looked back and wished things never changed, and found myself clinging on to the past. In many sacraments of reconciliation, I heard that I need to “Let go, and God is with you” and that “God is giving you a new life out of your troubles, embrace it”. I had come on this second pilgrimage hoping that this will book-end this transforming period of my life; that I will be free to walk on without the heavy baggage of past needs.

The night before, the last night for our pilgrimage, we were told that the Emmaus site will not be opened as the priest has to tend to an event in Jerusalem. I was disappointed. On the way there, Fr. Angelo said “it would be a miracle if it is open”. An inner voice said that a miracle it will then be; I walked through the open gate with joy and gratitude.

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I ventured on to the path with two other pilgrims just trying to re-enact the walk of the two disciples, not expecting anything ahead; it was just a common, nondescript path. The path rounded a bend where a sign pointed to a Chapel of Adoration up the small hill. We decide to walk on. I was never here on my first pilgrimage. At the top of the hill was a small chapel. Inside, we can spend time with the Blessed Sacrament. We decided to enter to give thanks for a wonderful and blessed pilgrimage.

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Soon after I knelt on the carpet in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I was suddenly overwhelmed. It came without expectation. I cried what must have been a bucketful of tears, I could not control myself; such was the power of whatever that was happening within me.

I was touched, I was healed, I was affirmed, I was assured, and I was comforted. I did not need to find the energy and resolve to surrender all that had been troubling me, in between the tears, they were just taken away from me. Lifted, and I, liberated. In between tears, I felt my grip loosened of things I had been clinging on to. Tears after tears washed away all that hurt, all that uncertainty, and all the fear. When the crying stopped, I felt washed, cleansed, renewed and thankful for my new life. I have finally embraced it; what God want to give me. I can now walk on beyond my Emmaus.

So this is true, the story of Emmaus. We will encounter him at the “breaking of bread”. I encountered my Risen Lord at the Blessed Sacrament high on a hill at the end of a path I was unexpectedly led on. This is my greatest experience of God; my biggest God-moment in my privileged life. This has been a pilgrimage book-ending a chapter of my life. Hopefully it will launch a sequel, with many chapters, for my life to be lived in testimony of the Risen Christ; he who walks step by step with us, never missing one.

His steps led me down that path and up that hill. I have encountered. I want to walk on. I will follow in his steps.

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DAY 9 – HIS FOOTSTEPS FOLLOW OURS

IMG_1159IMG_1160IMG_1161IMG_1162Today is a day of thanksgiving. We have indeed received many blessings and graces on this pilgrimage. We have experienced the Bible in a dimension privileged only for those who come to Holy Land. At the sites and in our sights, through the voice and person of Fr Angelo, from the open sharing of this group, through the people we met and in the silence of our personal reflection, we have heard His footsteps. We have encountered Him.

 

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We visit Yad Vashem to remember the victims of the Holocaust. We visit the Israeli Museum to view the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

We go fittingly to Emmaus. A lot had happened to us over the last 8 days. We have a conversation with our inner self. We quietly ask our inner self, what is happening and what are we to do with this experience? We have come to follow in his steps, where are his footsteps leading us to? Do we want to continue following? 

IMG_1194We celebrate our last mass in Holy Land in a chapel at St Peter’s Church, Jaffa. This is also the home of Fr Angelo. From here he gave us blessings for our journey home. Yet our spirit do not want to leave. The Holy Land is home to our spirit. But we must go as we are sent to continue to live the life given personally to each of us. We will continue to walk the path of our life but now with renewed hope, strength and courage. We must allow the life we live to proclaim the Good News. 

We have come to follow is his steps but from today we walk on, knowing that his footsteps follow ours.

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DAY 8 – O EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US

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We went for Christmas mass in the Manger grotto where Jesus was born! We rejoice! As in many occasions on this pilgrimage we found ourselves truly blessed! God has been generous with his gifts for us and seem to go out of his way to give us the experience. We are first at the Grotto. It is not yet opened to the public. We have the once in a lifetime opportunity to take our time and venerate the star that mark the place where our Saviour was born. He shares with us the humble moment of his birth in the humble surroundings of the cave and manger. We seek the humility to open our hearts to let Him in. 

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Today is our day off; a rest day before we continue ‘our walk to Emmaus’, to come home and allow this pilgrimage to change our lives.

We go to Bethany to catch up on the schedule of holy sites. We visit the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We easily identify with Martha as we are city dwellers always not having enough time to dwell in the Lord. 

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IMG_1031In the compound we find a mustard plant and hold mustard seeds in our palms. They are the tiniest seeds we have seen. Is that all God ask of our faith for mountains to be moved? Indeed, to believe and to give ourselves to him is to rise from our personal tombs of darkness just as Lazarus rose from the dead and emerged from his tomb. 

We visit the Franciscan Church of St Saviour before we let ourselves free to enjoy the sights and shops of Jerusalem, City of God. 

IMG_1063We thank God for the many graces we received on this pilgrimage. We found graces in the passion of Jesus identifying with the cross he carried to the challenges of our life. Our crosses do seem quite small. We regained the meaning of coming for mass, the splendour and beauty of its meaning, and the intimacy we felt with the Eucharist in the small chapels and grottos we celebrated mass in.  

We found love, mercy and forgiveness waiting for us in this Holy Land. We found humility to be poor in spirit, to be more and more dependent on Him. We find some strength to surrender more to his will. We found answers, though not yet complete, to what we are seeking spiritually but confident that it will all be revealed to us, like the little ‘yes’ in Mary that eventually made all these possible. We found our answer in the generosity of his love; to use this love to love others. We find Jesus present in each other from the time more than a year ago when we made preparations to the nightly personal sharing of the steps we have taken to follow in his steps. 

We are indeed grateful for this opportunity on this pilgrimage to renew ourselves and be at peace. In following his steps, He walks with us.

DAY 7 – HE LOVES US

We woke up knowing that the day ahead will be intense. We walked more than 20,000 footsteps following in his steps in this holy city. Our spiritual pulses were racing.

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IMG_0538We started at Calvary venerating the foot of the cross, inserting our entire arm into a hole that held up the wood of the cross. As deep as our arm went, this spiritual experience tore deep into our hearts. This is the depth of his Love.

We entered inside the Tomb of Jesus. Here, on where he laid before he rose, we celebrated mass. In here, the angel sat and told Mary of Magdala to tell others that He Has Risen. In here, John saw and believed. In here, He rose from the dead to become the meaning and reason for the life we live. This is why we have his footsteps to follow.

This is the ultimate privilege – to be here and have mass celebrated for us, hopeful that this experience will lead us to love others the way he loves us. 

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We retraced our steps to start to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross. Just before, we went to the birthplace of Mary and sang her a praise song in the perfect acoustics of St. Anne’s Church. The notes of our hymn lingered on sweet and beautifully; just like the love of our Blessed Mother. We visited the Pool of Bethesda where we prayed for healing; for others and for self.  

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We began at the first station at The Chapel of Flagellation and walked slowly through the old city on its worn stone paths, smoothened down the years. The bustling old city is a distraction but we found solace in the chapels at each station. We enter again The Holy Sepulchre to complete the journey of our redemption at The Tomb. We prayed in the Chapel of Adam and Stone of Anointing, the sin of man now redeemed.

We are somewhat lighter as the joy of the Resurrection begin to take its place in our hearts. We are ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit as we enter the Upper Room (Cenacle). Here we beckoned the Spirit to come. Come sweet Spirit, come. 

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On the way to St. Peter at Gallicantu, we visit Dormition Abbey to remember Mary’s death. At Gallicantu, we again felt forgiveness as we realised the number of times the cock has crowed in our life. We looked at the Macabee steps reminding ourselves of the steps we are taking, as these steps were most definitely walked on by Jesus.

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We moved on to Ein Karem where we echoed Mary’s song of praise, The Magnificat at the Church of the Visitation. Like Mary bringing Jesus to her cousin, we are hopeful for this pilgrimage that we will begin to bring Jesus to others. On the eve of the Feast of St John the Baptist, we visit his birthplace. We too can be St John the Baptist as we make the paths straight for others to encounter Jesus in the mission to reach out to returning Catholics.

We went back to Jerusalem to visit the Wailing Wall and prayed for unity and peace for all people and all faith. 

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Our long day ended with Holy Hour in the Church of All Nations in Gethsemane. After encountering Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we venerate the very stone he prayed on to his Father before his arrest. On this stone, we see the will of the Father fulfilled; from Mary ‘yes’ in Nazareth to Jesus’ ‘yes’ in Jerusalem, “Let thy will be done”. On this stone, we prayed for courage and strength to allow for God’s will in our lives.

DAY 6 – OUR DOOR OF HUMILITY

We caught sight of a donkey as we started off, prophetic of the day ahead. It would be a day of contrasting emotions, ending like that of the donkey, head bowed, just moving on, lumbering along its journey in humility.

20150827_095750We head towards the town where hope was born. We leave the desert joyful in expectations. We sing carols as we enter the little town of Bethlehem. We enter under the roof of the place where our Saviour was born, by bending low to get through the Door of Humility.IMG_0278

We went out to the fields surrounding this cave just to feel the privilege the shepherds must have felt on that first Christmas night; the first ones called to adore Him. Our spirits sang joyfully in the Chapel of the Angels giving glory to the Most High.

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We enter Jerusalem. The city is busy, the pace of life picks up. There are distractions. Holy sites come one after another. But this is also typical of our personal spiritual journey as we head towards our spiritual Jerusalem.

We ascended Mount Olives to stand on the ground Jesus last stood on this earth at the shrine of the Ascension. This was the place of his last footstep. We came to follow in his steps and from here on we must follow in his spiritual footsteps. There is a reverence about this place especially when we hear that He will be with us till the end of time.

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We recite the most meaningful Our Father for a long time at the Pater Noster. We descend lower to Dominus Flevit. We share Jesus’ sorrow as he wept over this city, prophetic as her troubles has continued from then till now. The sight of the city from this vantage point provoked the response, “O, Jerusalem!”

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We visit the Garden of Gethsemane at the Church of All Nations and celebrated mass with a heavier heart in the Grotto of the Betrayal of Judas. Here was also the grotto where the disciples were found asleep as Jesus prayed. Can we do better than the disciples?

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We visit the Tomb of Mary to end a contrasting day when joy and sorrow co-existed. We retraced the spiritual footsteps we have taken in our life and find ourselves in need of direction, affirmation, healing, reconciliations, encouragement, empowerment, assurances to take our next spiritual step.

It was a day of humility, humbled to be here, humbled by his birth and death. Heads bowed we try to take our next spiritual step; that of humility.