Posted by: frburke23 | March 1, 2017

Thought for Thursday after Ash Wednesday (March 2, 2017)

Thought for Thursday after Ash Wednesday (March 2, 2017)
LUKE 9:22-25
Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected
by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?”
We had another amazing day in the Holy Land! Because it was Ash Wednesday, most everyone ate a light breakfast. We encouraged people to eat a little bit because we would be walking quite a bit and we need them to maintain their strength. Even though we have three doctors on the pilgrimage, we do not want them to work.
We left the hotel at 7:30am for Bethelehem, which literally means “House of Bread”. We learned from Yair, our guide, that in Arab Bethlehem means “House of Flesh”. This is stunning that Jesus, Who came to give His flesh as Bread for the life of the world, was born in a town that means “House of Bread” and “House of Flesh” in two different languages!
We learned that Bethlehem is only 25% Christian now, down from about 80% only about 25 years ago. The fear is that in ten years there will be no more Christians in the Holy Land. I can only wonder what will happen to these holy sites if there are no Christians to guard and protect them. We must pray for the Christians in the Middle East. For this reason, we went to a Catholic store that sells religious items once we arrived in Bethlehem. We are encouraged to financially support the Christians in Israel. This helps them maintain their families and stay in the area.
After shopping, we were able to visit the manger where Jesus was born. Even though we could only spend a very short time in the place because of the line of people, it was powerful to be at the site where Mary gave birth to Jesus. Our guide said normally there is a 2-hour wait to get into the manger, but we were fortunate to only wait about 20 minutes. God seems to be opening doors for us wherever we go. I felt like I was going home when we entered this Church. It did not feel like I was in a foreign country. It is the same feeling I had when I first starting going to the Catholic Church. And now as a priest and disciple of Jesus, I felt like I was home.
We then had the opportunity to celebrate Mass at St. Catherine’s Church, which is adjacent to the Church of the Nativity. Even though it was Ash Wednesday, it is always Christmas at this place. We sang all the traditional Christmas songs while also talking about the new life that we are called to begin as we embark on our Lenten journey. Once again, I was overwhelmed to celebrate Mass in the very place where Jesus was born!
After Mass, we went downstairs and saw the place where St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin between 382-405. This is known as the Vulgate. They say he chained himself to the table so that he would continue working hard. When he needed inspiration, he was very near the birthplace of Jesus.
We then drove a short distance to the shepherd’s field, where the angels announced to the shepherds the glorious news of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We entered a cave where the shepherds keep their animals. This would have been similar to the manger in which Jesus was born. We sang “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. These songs take on new meaning when you sing them where the action actually took place!
We had a vegetarian lunch (falafel) at Ruth’s Restaurant and afterward stopped along the road to visit a “live manger”. This was a stone feeding trough and a stone covering for a well. While we were looking at these things, two young boys brought their young goats to us. We could not resist giving the boys some money to help support their family through a tough time.
We then finished the afternoon in Jerusalem. I did not realize that Bethlehem was so close to Jerusalem, only about a 10-minute drive. In the Holy City of Jerusalem, we visited the Upper Room. We read about the Last Supper from the Gospel of Mark. Since this was the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, I was reflecting on the gift of my vocation.
Where there is an Upper Room, there is a Lower Room. I did not realize that below the Upper Room is buried King David. We read from the Acts of the Apostles, which hints that David’s tomb may be very near the Upper Room, conceivably right below the Upper Room. Because it is a type of synagogue around the tomb of David, the men entered through one side and we had to wear a head covering (baseball caps are allowed). The women entered another door and saw the tomb from the other side. They did not have to cover their heads. It was interesting to see Hasidic Jews praying with great emotion in front of the tomb.
We ended the afternoon by visiting the Church of the Dormition of Mary. The Church declared the Immaculate Conception (God gave her a singular grace that preserved her from sin) in 1854, and the Assumption of Mary into heaven, body and soul, in 1950 in Munificentissimus Deus. This document states, “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” We believe that Mary’s role is to whisper the intentions of her spiritual children (everyone) to her Son, Who loves her and wants to answer her prayers. We sang a few beautiful Marian hymns and then headed back to the hotel around 5pm.
In the evening, we are going to get a tour of the tunnels below the Wailing Wall, which should be fascinating. I will have more to say about this tomorrow.
Have a blessed day!
Fr. Burke


  1. Father Burke,
    When you began writing this Holy Land .journal, my thoughts were, “oh, I hope he does it again because I want to go.” Now, especially today, I realize that I am there. Your writings are allowing me and many others to experience being there. Your gift of writing allows you to share your experiences with the unique ability to make the words visual. You appreciate all your gifts from God, but realize that God appreciates you and your being a vessel for all of us.

    Thank you, Burke, for doing this and sharing.

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