My how things change when you put God at the controls instead of trying to do things on your own. A year ago I was with a group of people who signed up to travel with Gus Lloyd and Lino Rulli from the Sirius XM Catholic Channel.
To this day I am not really sure why I had signed up for the lottery to be able to buy our tickets to go, when I heard about it I thought that would be cool but just knew the chances would be 1 in a 1,000. But something inside me made me sign up for the lottery for a chance to buy the tickets. It was as if I had no choice, I was compelled to do it, as bad as it sounds I did not even discuss it with Debbie my wife and we discuss everything before we do something, especially something that would be this expensive. I think this was the start of God taking over, he knew if we discussed it, we would quickly decide we could not afford it so we would not have signed up for the chance to go.
Then the shock, I received an email stating that our name was drawn and we could purchase our tickets to go. When I read that email I froze, How was I going to tell Debbie I entered a lottery for a chance to go to the Holy Land, a trip that would cost close to $10,000 and I had not even discussed it with her?? I thought God what have I done?! But he was not done with me, as I sat down to read the days readings the Gospel was the parable Jesus taught about the rich man who had a great harvest. He told his workers to tear down his silos and build bigger ones to store his harvest for he would have plenty of grain for a long time. But Christ stated what a foolish man for tonight your very life may be called of you. With Tears steaming down my eyes I knew we had to find the money to go. That night I sat down and asked Debbie to listen and reserve judgement until she heard me out. That perked her ears wondering what I did this time. I first told her about the lottery, then about the email, and finally I read the Gospel reading for that day. Her face turned from one of displeasure, to concern, and as I read the Gospel to one of love with tears running down her face. All she said was God is calling us so we need to plan and find the money. That proved to be easier than we dreamed and suffice to say God was there for that as well. We were on our way, we turned everything over to our Lord.
We arrived at the airport and started meeting the other pilgrims. In just 10 days we became more like family than anything else, complete with tears as we said goodbye to each other. We walked the part of the world that Jesus Christ called home on Earth. Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, Cana, and Zion or Jerusalem. The raw emotions still come up thinking about this trip.
Nazareth, where the word became flesh through the trust of a teenage girl created by God for this purpose. Can you imagine what is was like for her? A small village of around 300 people, she is betrothed but not married, she said yes to God and now she was carrying a child. What courage she had, what trust she had that God would take care of her.
The Sea of Galilee, the place where Christ spent most of his time teaching us. Teaching 12 simple men to be fishers of men. Teaching us the Beatitudes, multiplying the fish and the loaves, climbing that tall mountain to get instructions from Moses and Elisha, and not long before he left us to back to his Father in Heaven, where he asked Peter if he loved him 3 times to match his 3 denials, where he helped Peter understand our human frailties and put him in charge of his infant Church on Earth, telling him to “Feed my Sheep”.
Cana, where Christ performed his first sign, (note not his first miracle) by changing water into wine as a favor to his Mother, our holy mother the Virgin Mary.
And then that long trip to Jerusalem, where he would finish his task on Earth to secure our salvation. I remember riding on the bus and as it came around a corner on the highway sitting high we looked to our left and saw the beautiful city. The golden dome, the twin gray domes of Holy Sepulcher. We were listening to John Starnes singing “The Holy City”, our guide and bus driver had timed it perfectly. Tears ran down my cheeks and I saw a site I had before only dreamed about.
Standing on the Mt of Olives overlooking the great city, thinking of Christ weeping over that city knowing it would be destroyed in less that 100 years. Teaching his apostles how to pray to our Heavenly Father at Pater Noster. The Upper Room where together Jesus and his apostles had the Last Supper where Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist, I was humbled to be an extraordinary Eucharistic Minister, I was offering Christ, body and blood,soul and divinity to my family, our pilgrim family. Walking the Via Delorosa, thinking of how Christ carried his cross on these narrow streets stone steps up and down and then back up to Calvary. Walking early one morning to the Holy Sepulcher, attending Mass directly in front of Christ’s Tomb, our priest, Fr. Darryl Milette going into the tomb for the consecration. Walking up to receive our Lord in the Eucharist, I was facing the open door of the Tomb, tears running down my face so hard I could not reply Amen to Fr. Darryl as I received our Lord. This was the culmination of it all, this is why Jesus came to us. That through his sacrifice we might not only have salvation but also learn how to live our lives. He taught us to love one another.
I came home confused in a way, I was feeling things that I had not experienced before. I was showing more emotions than I used to. I could watch a movie on TV with Debbie and start to cry when something beautiful happened in the movie, what was wrong with me? Debbie would just look at me and smile. Something changed in me, something was happening to me spiritually. I had a prayer life, well sort of, I prayed the Act of Contrition when I laid down at night, that counted didn’t it? I felt more drawn to stop by church to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, just because I felt like doing it. Why did I start to cry in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacriment once in a while? Was I going nuts? Was I all of a sudden finding myself fighting depression?
One day as I was in prayer at Church our Priest, Msgr. Greg Ketchum, walked through to check on something, he was used to seeing me there by this time, but he noticed I had been crying. He stopped next to me and sat down. He asked if I was OK and could he help me. I shared with him what I felt but did not understand ever since coming back from the trip. He looked at me and smiled then asked, “You have been in Spiritual Direction for about 3 years, have you noticed any of this starting to happen in the last 3 years?” I thought about it and had to admit that my emotions had been coming closer to the surface more in the last 3 years. My prayer life had also increased but still this was a more recognizable change. He said “You started Spiritual Direction because you felt God calling you to do something but were not sure what it was. Maybe it was so you would have the courage to go on this trip maybe something else. In time God will give you your answer, but what you are experiencing now is a gift from him.”
After Fr. Greg shared what that gift was, I believe it came as a result of me turning everything over to God in the Holy Land. During that 10 days I thought of nothing at home, I was completely engulfed in learning all I could about Jesus’s life here on Earth. I spent that 10 days sharing myself with my newfound family and learning all about them, we shared stories of faith and trust in God. Our love for God and my new family grew each and every day. This loved we shared, as Fr. Greg put it, “Melted my Heart of Stone”.
Since that time I have learned to trust God more, now I have a prayer life and if I do not stop to pray morning and night it is like missing a meal, it throws off the day. I have been blessed by the people around me, what a difference to carry a smile on your face and wish everyone a great day. The reaction of picking up my morning beverage and wishing the lady serving me to have a “Blessed Day” is priceless. To this day when I come up to her you can see her expression change. She smiles and is cheerful, it is as if people want to wish each other well but are afraid to because it may not be “politically correct.” God is not interested in politics.
The past year has been full of great memories and blessings. A new grandson, the opportunity to get more involved with our parish life, sponsoring a RCIA candidate and feeling the love as he joined our Church, and being asked to help lead an Adult Formation class. Through Fr. Greg’s guidance I will soon attend an introductory meeting with Debbie to see if God is calling me to the Permanent Diaconate.
It has been a very blessed year indeed, our Pilgrim Family still chat with each other daily via a private online social network. We offer prayers for each other, we support and love each other. We share good times and troubling periods. We have regretfully shared the loss of one of our family members, but we have also shared many blessings such as 2 fine gentlemen have been accepted and now started their discernment to the Permanent Diaconate.
And now a 2nd Pilgrimage to the Holy Land has just started with Gus and Lino, we have a few of our family members with them. I know our family members will help them on this path, I pray that these new “God Bless you Brothers and Sisters” also let the love of God into their hearts, that they learn as I did to, “Let go and let God take charge of their lives”. God rewards us more than we can even imagine if we let him lead us. So as my memories of last year’s pilgrimage continue to flood my mind as I hear and see pictures of their trip this year one thought comes to mind. Welcome brothers and sisters to your new family. Get ready for a wonderful ride when you let God lead you.
So if you are reading this, “May our Heavenly Father watch over you and keep you in his mercy in your lifetime, may you feel the love of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and may the light of truth from the Holy Spirit guide you and may God bless us all.