Day 7 of the Catholic Digest Holy Land Pilgrimage with Steve and Janet Ray from the Footprints of God pilgrimages.
Today our day started with mass at the Garden of Gethsemane at the Basilica of the Agony. On our way into the church we stopped to look at the olive trees that date back to the time of Jesus.
Right in front of the main altar is the rock where Jesus suffered his agony in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-50). I pictured a small rock where Jesus knelt and prayed, but this rock was large enough for Jesus to lay prostrate. Inside the church there are several mosaics of Jesus’ agony, the kiss of Judas, and the guards coming to the garden to arrest Jesus.
Fr. Frans Berkhout spoke about Jesus patiently, humbly and lovingly accepting the cup the Father gave him. When you love someone you go out of your way for him, like a mother who wakes up in the middle of the night for a sick child. Where sacrifice is great, love must be all the greater. Jesus loves, accepts and forgives even to the point of death. The meaning of the garden is love and sacrifice. Fr. Berkhout reminds us to reflect on the meaning of the garden and among these old trees and holy rock, learn to sacrifice.
Steve Ray explained the connections between the Old Testament Adam who went into the garden and committed the first sin and the New Adam who would go into a garden and reverse everything.
Next we traveled to the cave where Jesus taught the disciples to pray the Our Father. Currently there is a Carmelite order on this site. Inside the cave we sang the Our Father and then walked around the courtyard looking at tiles of the Our Father prayer written in hundreds of languages. Amer, our local guide, gave the history of this spot and explained how remnants of the Crusader church were discovered.
Next we traveled to the Church of the Dormition of Mary. According to both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, Mount Zion is the place where the Mother of Christ is said to have fallen asleep just before she was assumed into heaven. In the lower church there is a painting of the Assumption of Mary. Normally we have Mary holding the child Jesus, but in this painting, Jesus is holding Mary. There is also a statue of the Blessed Mother asleep.
Next we were able to visit the upper room where Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples and later where the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and Mary. This upper room is not the same room that Our Lord was in, but it is the same location. There was once a church built over the upper room, but was later turned into a mosque by the Turks.
Today the building is considered a museum, which is a shame since four sacraments were instituted in this spot: Holy Orders, Eucharist, Confirmation, and Confession. Steve Ray reminded us that this is the room of priests. Let us to remember to pray for priests.
Our last morning visit was to the prison where Jesus was held on Holy Thursday night. Jesus was held in a cistern hole under the house of the high priest, Caiaphas. He was lowered down by a chain and imprisoned while he awaited his crucifixion. Our group had the opportunity to go down into the pit of the cistern and pray Psalm 88 which prefigures the suffering that Christ would have to endure. We also saw the ancient steps that Christ would have walked up when being led to Caiaphas’ house.
After lunch I had the opportunity to travel with a small group to the town of Bethany where Jesus raised Lazerus from the dead. We know from the Bible that Bethany is very close to Jerusalem. This used to be a 20-minute trip from where we are staying, but due to the huge walls that are around some of the Palestine area, traveling to Bethany takes over an hour.
Our local guide led us through the streets of Bethany until we reached a small stone archway. We climbed down a long, steep staircase and then crawled underneath the rock wall to enter a small opening into the tomb of Lazarus. Once we were inside, one of the fellow pilgrims read the Gospel account of the Raising of Lazarus (John 11). I pictured the burial cloths of Lazarus and the amazement of the crowds when he came out of the tomb.
We also visited the Sanctuary of Bethany that is in custody of the Holy Land Franciscan Fathers. There are many beautiful images in the church. One image depicts the raising of Lazarus and there is another main image of Jesus teaching Martha and Mary.
It wasn’t until later that I discovered how important this trip would be. When I returned to the hotel and checked my email, I read a message from my dear friend letting me know that her father had past away. Having just visited the tomb of Lazarus, I was reminded of the words in the Gospel of John:
“Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’” (John 11:21-26).
Steve Ray pointed out that our Protestant brothers ask us why we pray to dead saints. But where does it say in scripture that they are dead? We believe in the God of the living and we believe we will be united with our friends and family again at the resurrection of the body. This is our belief as Catholics. This is resurrected living. I hope this Gospel passage will bring consolation to those who have lost loved ones.