by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
During the pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past January, our group had the opportunity to spend almost an entire day at or in the vicinity of Gerthhsemane.
We were able to celebrate Mass in the Church of the Nations where it is believed that Jesus underwent his final struggle, asking that this chalice of suf- fering be removed, but ultimately praying that not his will, but the Father’s will, be done. Later that evening, we were able to return to the Church of the Nations to make a Holy Hour, watching and praying with Our Lord as well as adoring his presence in the Eucharist.
One of the most beautiful experiences during our pilgrimage was the praying of the Stations of the Cross. It is quite moving to pray at those places revered in Christian tradition as the locations where the events occurred that we prayerfully commemorate in the Way of the Cross devotion.
On my two previous pilgrimages to Jerusalem, we prayed the Stations
of the Cross in the middle of the day, when the Old City is bustling with commerce and other activities. Perhaps, in some ways this provides a closer experience to the circumstances in which Jesus trod the Via Dolorosa.
However, during this year’s pilgrimage, we began the Way of the Cross at 5 a.m., when Old Jerusalem was still asleep. The silence of the sleeping city made the external environment more conducive for prayer and meditation.
It is very powerful to pray at the place believed to be where Pilate, acquiescing to the demands of the mob, condemned Our Lord to death, even though he knew him to be innocent. It brings home the reality of the passion of Jesus walking the path he trod and collapsing under the weight of the cross necessitated because of our sins. One can visualize the encounters of Jesus with his mother, the women of Jerusalem, Veronica and Simon of Cyrene
The last five Stations occurred either on Calvary or at the tomb of Jesus — both of which are now enclosed within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. During the early morning hours, the place of Calvary is rather quiet and serene, much different than the organized chaos one would find a few hours later as waves of pilgrims come to visit the place where Jesus was crucified and died.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments on the importance of the Stations of the Cross in the devotional life of Catholics: “Christian prayer loves to follow the way of the cross in the Savior’s steps. The stations from the Praetorium to Golgotha and the tomb trace the way of Jesus, who by his holy Cross has redeemed the world” (No. 2669).
We concluded the stations by celebrating a 6:30 a.m. Mass actually at the place of the Resurrection — the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea for the body of Our Lord. What an amazing sensation to have trod the path of sorrow and to have prayed at the site of the crucifixion, but now to encounter the living Jesus in the Eucharist at the very place where he burst forth from the tomb.
A couple days later, again early in the morning, we returned to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to celebrate Mass on Calvary. What an awesome experience to celebrate Mass at the place of the crucifixion — that great act of heroic, sacrificial love made present to us at every Mass every day, no matter where it is geographically celebrated. I could not look into the chalice without visualizing the blood and water flowing from the side of Jesus, confirming his physical death, but bringing to birth the sacramental life of the church.
One cannot visit the sites of these holy places without being filled with gratitude for the early Christians, who kept memory of the locations where the events so central to our Catholic faith transpired. Nor can one fail to appreciate the enormous sacrifices made by
so many devout Christians through the centuries to preserve and protect these sacred places for us and future generations.
On Good Friday, in all of our church- es, a collection is taken up to help preserve and care for the sacred places in the Holy Land so that they will be there for future generations. We need also to pray for the Christians in the Holy Land who make enormous sacrifices to keep the shrines of the Holy Land from becoming merely a museum for sightseers. The church throughout the world has a responsibility to assist the Christians of the Holy Land to keep a vibrant, living church alive in the places made sacred by the events of Our Lord’s life.
A pilgrimage to the Holy Land drives home the reality that our Christian faith is not some sort of fictional fable that communicates theological and moral truths. Rather, our Catholic faith is founded on the life of a real person — Jesus — and the actual events of his conception, birth, ministry, passion, death and resurrection.
I pray that you are able some day to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
It is a life-changing experience. If you want to investigate the possibility of such a pilgrimage, please visit the School of Faith website (schooloffaith. com). Mike Scherschligt and his team will provide you with a prayerful, inspirational and educational experience that will help you take your faith to an entirely new level. Reading the Gospel after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is never the same. The sacred words of the Gospel have a deeper meaning and new power.
Also, if you are interested in helping preserve the sacred places of the Holy Land and helping the Christian community there, I encourage you to inquire about the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher. Their mission is to strive for their own personal holiness, as well as to make heroic sacrifices to maintain and strengthen the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
Even if one never has the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the liturgy is able to make present to us the events that changed the world and transformed the hearts of believers. May the Lord renew and deepen the hope, peace and joy that come from our Catholic faith through your participation in the Holy Week and Easter liturgies!