Christians mark Palm Sunday in Jerusalem | ajc.com

Christians mark Palm Sunday in Jerusalem  | ajc.com.

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A Roof Over His Head

I’ve been thinking of this post for two or three weeks — another pilgrimage reflection — a bit of humor.  A visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem — the place where ‘the little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head — away in the manger.” Here our group was divided in half as we awaited our appointed time to enter the Grotto of the Nativity to celebrate Mass.  As we waited, our leader, Fr. John Abela, corralled us around like his flock of sheep — come closer.  We were in the midst of a great amount of iron scaffolding.  The scaffolding surrounded the perimeter of the church interior and reached high into the rafters — the church that sits over the Grotto of our Jesus — the Star of Bethlehem.

Fr. John gestured our gaze up to the ceiling and declared, “You are looking at a miracle!”  We were curious.  He continued with great drama, “You are looking at a miracle — the roof is being repaired!  It has been 70 years under discussions.”  What?  Really?  The Church of the Nativity shares its custody with the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Franciscan Friars), and Armenian churches and are under a “status quo” arrangement that requires an equal sharing.  It is like walking into a house and each room is decorated by designers of completely different tastes.  We await our appointed time for Mass as we only have 20 minutes and must start on time.  If we are not on time we will be in the “report” at the end of the week when they review “time.”  Really?  I found a current article on the topic that is titled “Warring clergy unite to repair leaky roof in Church of the Nativity.”  Warring clergy?  Really?  Not the Franciscans.  It is an interesting conundrum — no doubt — but “squabbling over who cleans what?”  Apparently cleaning something can be construed as ownership and all things being equal — well — neither of the Christian churches would want the other to claim they alone paid for and repaired the leaky roof.  It is so complicated.

Church of the Nativity roof

I think of Fr. John Abela as I read this article and can almost hear his laugh.  Just before Thanksgiving we learned that Fr. Abela had suffered a heart attack in Rome.  Just yesterday, we learned that he had untimely (in our eyes) passed away on Sunday, Dec 19th — the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  He will be buried in his home country of Malta on Christmas Eve.  It amazes me how, even weeks beyond the end of our pilgrimage, the significance of our relationships continues to unfold.  We were most blessed and graced to have been Fr. Abela’s last Holy Land pilgrimage group.  Sometimes people cross our paths for only a minute, hours, or days and yet they leave an unforgettable mark.  I think of the times I moved closer so that I could hear all that Fr. Abela was telling us.   His love and knowledge of the Holy Land so apparent.  I think of the holy hour he led at the Church of Gethsemane — the thought provoking reflections on the Gospel accounts of the agony in the garden.

Had I known Fr. Abela would soon leave this world, would I have listened even closer?  Would I have made sure to take my journal and make notes.  I think of the disciples who were sleeping in the garden — specifically asked to remain awake and watch while Jesus prayed.  Had they known what was about to unfold, the kiss of betrayal, would they have slumbered any way?

So, Fr. John Abela will be interred on Christmas Eve — the Eve of the Star of Bethlehem.  At least the Star of Bethlehem is getting a new roof — and maybe now a Friar to watch over it all.

The below photo was taken in Nazareth on October 27th, 2010.  It is iconic of our pilgrimage — Fr. Abela gesturing as he taught us so much.  The Holy Family is watching over him.

Check the links below for more information posted on the OFM web site of the OFM Province of Malta

Link to his death announcement and biography

Here is a link to photos of his funeral Mass in Rome

Fr. John Abela laid to rest in Malta link to article and photos and video of excerpts from funeral

Fr. John Abela, OFM — St. Joseph’s Church – Nazareth – Oct 27, 2010

Fr. John Abela’s last Holy Land Pilgrimage group – Oct 25 – Nov 2 2010

Postcard to Me

In Bethlehem, we were given a blank postcard and asked to answer this question: “Why was Jesus born for me?”  This was not the only postcard assignment we received during this pilgrimage and they are ‘take home’ assignments — no rush to answer now — think for awhile — talk it through with others.  But, it must be done and turned in before we depart Israel — at least if you want it mailed to you for Christmas.  After a day at the Shepherd’s Field and an evening talking with friends, I went to my room and put these words on the postcard to me. I wanted it to be God’s message to me — what was God asking of me now — “Trust Me More”. It arrived the other day.

Why was Jesus born for me?

I didn’t know what was going on at home with my father — he was in the hospital with pneumonia when I wrote this.  I didn’t know he would return to the hospital soon after my return.  It is so easy to feel alone when family looks to you to make things right again — to restore peace and hope.  It is so easy to feel alone but we are not.  I wonder about Mary and Joseph — the trials they faced leading up to the birth of God’s Son — Jesus.  Was it easy to feel alone while fleeing for safety — no room in an inn — a shepherd’s cave — a manger?  It is so easy to feel alone and yet we should not — we are told often to ‘fear not.’  The Angel appeared to the Shepherds in the field and said

“Be not afraid for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”  When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing which has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. ~ Luke 2:10-15 RSV-CE

We are coming upon the last Sunday of Advent — our waiting, our watching for the Star of Bethlehem is drawing to a close. When Jesus comes to you, does he find room in the Inn of your heart? The Good News is upon us. Make haste to Bethlehem! I close my eyes and I am there again.

Grotto of the Nativity

Jesus Freak Sundays

I was going to write on something totally different today–until I got in my car after Mass this morning.  My rosary CD started skipping so I popped it out of my player — just needs cleaning.  Oh what to fill in slot 6 of my 6 CD player — I scanned the other CDs in my holder — yes, “Jesus Freak” — nothing like celebrating the birth of the Church with DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak.”

I like to imagine being an original first person witness to the teachings and miracles of Christ.  I’m sure I’d be standing on my tip toes trying to see over and around the taller people in the crowd — trying to see His face — hear His voice.  The overly righteous part of me thinks that any way.  I may have thought it was all crazy.  It is one thing to be a follower of someone you can see and hear.   It is a much different thing to follow someone who claimed to be God — who was crucified and died before many witnesses — who was  resurrected from the dead on the third day — who was seen walking around with many witnesses after having raised from the dead.

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday and today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  Jesus’ mission went truly supernatural.  The miracles almost seem nothing compared to this — even Lazarus was just a dress rehearsal — “Resurrection of an entombed dead person: Take 1.”  If it was Jesus that put a face on God, it was the Holy Spirit that gave God breath.  Just as God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and gave him life — God gave life to the Church in the breath of a mighty rushing wind. In some cosmic way, the Trinity was present at the onset of creation in Genesis.  In another way, the Trinity was present at the baptism of Jesus.  My uncle took my picture when I was submerged in my Southern Baptist baptismal pool.  God sent down the Holy Spirit like a Dove when his Son was baptized.  Supernatural.

In the Catholic Church, we sign ourselves with the Trinity — In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  We are baptized into the Christian faith by these words of the Trinity.  And, if in life we strive to live up to our baptismal promises — to profess something of the Trinity — the dead rising — and maybe a virgin birth — we may indeed be labeled — Jesus Freaks.   So, I reveled in this loud music in my car all afternoon today.

Jesus Freak Lyrics — yes, you need to read them.  Gotta love a locust eating saint.