Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Wondrous God Who Became Human for Us

My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


O what a wondrous night Christmas Eve is... yes, magical, but not of the Harry Potter kind, nor of the Hollywood kind, but rather what happens to us, within us, with us, and all around us when we take note that God is present....

God is ever present, since this single, unique, divine being alone existed before the universe, or anything else that might exist other than God, came to exist. The "magic" happens when we take note that God is indeed present, ever speaking, and ever acting....

He got our attention in a clever and oh so authentic way on this night all those centuries ago when the Son of God, who had humbly accepted to be carried by Mary in her womb for some 9 months, was finally delivered by her into our world to be made manifest, visible, put on display, for our benefit.

Jesus was born not only to get our attention, but to open up for us the possibility of noticing and actually loving God. After all, how hard can it be even for the most hardened human being to love a new-born infant?

Peace to you, my friends, to your colleagues, family, and friends, to your clients and associates, and yes, even to your enemies, if you have any... as Jesus Himself suggested, no, commanded us to do....

Yes, these 12 Christmas Days are indeed magical, powerful, because God offers to change us, to transform us, not to make us someone we're not, but to bring us into being more completely the person we are meant to become, the one we most deeply desire to be, the person who realizes that our very life itself is flowing into us moment by moment from the Source which is God.... This is my Christmas wish and prayer for you and all those you love and care for....

Feel free to share the Advent / Christmas prayer in English or French.... If any of you translate it into Italian or any other language, please send me a copy. Thanks....

“Were not our hearts burning within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us

Merry Christmas !   May you and all those you care for experience the

Presence of Jesus in the ordinary and special moments of life….

Happy, Healthy, and Holy New Year 2014 !

            May the peace and joy of Christmas abide with you at every moment

throughout the year, when you’re alone and when you are with others….

Fr. Gilles     Come Holy Spirit….


My purpose in these posts is to help spread the contributions of a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Agony and Ecstasy both lift us up to God

My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


Dear Fellow Christian, or if not a Christian, Dear Fellow Traveler on the road of life....

As it often happens to us moderns, or people living at the beginning of the third millennium, we run the risk of defining or valuing ourselves a lot by our "doing"... and when you go through a "valley" in life, dark shadows of suffering, pain, isolation, loneliness, loss of employment or recognition, or of downright persecution, harassment, exploitation, or abuse; then you could say that you are feeling as though you are "in crisis mode" and unable to do as you normally do.... Well, one could say "So far so good" in the sense that what you are feeling under such circumstances is entirely human and normal for a human being that is still alive.

For the Christian as a disciple of Jesus, as also for the Jew or Jewess as a son or daughter of God, this is a time of grace. For the Muslim, it depends on what kind of faith they have come to experience, since many dominant movements or trends in Islam are all about controlling and engineering society and the behavior of others - much as the Catholic Church, which I dearly love and to which I am very devoted, has done in many places at various times - whereas the Word that God addresses to both Jews and Christians and all people of good will is that the Lord is offering us human beings during times of trial a "spiritual package of grace" that under normal circumstances He is not able to offer us because we would not notice or if we did notice we would not recognize the value and would simply pass over it. God not only wants to advance his divine work in the world of human beings, but He also wants to give human beings growth towards the eternal life He offers and which begins already here and now on Earth....

When our ability to "do" is diminished, the reduction of "noise", of "racing thoughts", of "impulsive activity", and of so many other dynamics begins to "clear the air" within our soul; so that we could say that "the dust begins to settle" and "the smoke begins to clear" and our soul's "eyes" can begin to notice a divine presence and activity it may never have seen before....

To the mind, it appears as an interior "light" that clears up many thoughts and dismisses many thoughts as useless shadows and makes room for the thoughts that are in the "mind" of Christ.... Jesus can begin more easily to "think his thoughts" in our mind and guide us along and further, deeper into the "mind" of God.... Call it wisdom, and it opens up before our mind many doors through which we can enter into all the vitality and possibilities generated within the Holy Trinity. In simple terms, God can help us step back and take a "big picture" view of our life, activity, and experience.

To the heart, it appears as an inclination to relax, to trust, to rest in God and let Him take care of things for a change, and stop worrying, stop thinking that everything is up to me, and a greater, easier willingness to let God do his part. In this heavenly light, all things suddenly become much more clearly as in God's hands, that the Holy Trinity are and always will be "Master of life and existence" in the universe and in the heavenly realms.... Our heart suddenly remembers it is only a creature and not a god, that this corporeal existence began a short time ago in our mother's womb and will shortly leave this earthly realm and be clothed with immortality in preparation for entry into the heart of the Holy Trinity to enjoy unending life for all eternity, and it will be anything but boring....

To the soul, the divine presence and activity becomes slowly more perceptible as something that is so real that it is more real than I am, than the world is, than life itself. The soul begins to grasp the magnitude of the divine being - the Father, the Son - Jesus, Risen from the dead and Master of all - and the Holy Spirit; who have existed for all eternity... we are incapable of grasping there having been no beginning to God, intellectually that is... but the soul slowly accepts to "walk on the water" like Peter and simply accept the eternity of God and that He is offering us the incomparable gift of entering into that eternity.

We may have had a beginning but we too, in God, will have no ending, because our soul is immortal, incapable of dying. All that is asked of us is to enter into God and in this way avoid the "second death", the death of the soul, which is what happens to souls that refuse to trust in God or to become like Him.... The good news is that even now the Holy Trinity breathe into the soul that opens up in trust the very breathing that is happening in the Holy Trinity... so that deep within us our soul can accept to let the Holy Spirit take care of the breathing of our soul... breathing with the very love and trust that are in the Father and the Son... the Holy Spirit living within us now, and this happens so deep within, so imperceptibly, that the soul is only conscious of being loved and wanting to love back, and beginning to do so by letting go... letting God....

In the body, the divine presence and activity is perceived in a variety of ways and in each of them the scenario is similar... the body senses its own struggle and then also perceives from God an invitation to let go, to trust, to surrender, to make room, to open up and welcome that divine presence and action. This results in the body then softening up, opening, relaxing, letting go, trusting, warming up or cooling down in a way that is coming closer to what would be "normal" and good....

This experience of God happens in a wide variety of circumstances, from ecstasy to agony.... When a soul feels physically the beauty and goodness of God, the love of God, it experiences the kinds of feelings we could associate with allowing oneself to be "seduced" or "won over" by a beloved person. Someone we trust and admire loves us and we are so taken up by trust, gratitude, and a burning desire to return that love that we surrender, we give in, we want to turn our whole life over to the beloved.

When a soul suffers agony - the physical pain caused by disease, medical procedures, torture, accidental injury, or physical degeneration, or any other cause - the body is pushed beyond the limits of comfort, of acceptance, and even of ability to endure. It is ironic that similarly to ecstasy where joy lifts us up and out of ourselves in a pleasant way, agony also lifts us up and out of ourselves, but in an unpleasant way. Still, the lasting benefit for the body is the same or similar. When we accept to be lifted up and out of ourselves - whether by ecstasy or by agony - we are in a position to accept from God a great grace: that of indifference to our own fleshly existence, of such freedom regarding our existence in the flesh that this freedom gives us a new capacity to value God, to acknowledge the importance, value, and extravagant love of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This is why God allows human suffering and eventually death, because his grace opens up for us through these experiences so many opportunities for spiritual growth that also prepare us for greater and greater vitality and enjoyment in eternity. Our time on Earth is so short that God wants to seize every opportunity to help us prepare for the much greater gifts that are yet to come....

Of course, in the meantime, it is right for us to value the life we have now, since it is the only life we know - not just the physical, earthly existence, but also the spiritual and supernatural one as daughters and sons of God. We become more fully and more mature sons and daughters as we take to heart the "things of our Father" and become eager that He be known and loved in Jesus his Son and that more and more people come to this personal knowledge and experience in the Holy Trinity and surrender to God's advances and welcome his love, only to become fruitful in turn and a blessing to all those around us, especially those who have not yet been touched and transformed by the life-giving love of God....

Peace to you Dear Reader and to your family, and if you will allow me to formulate a very Christian wish and prayer of blessing for you and your loved ones, during these days of trial, may you allow the Holy Spirit to lift you up to the heavenly realms within you, as Jesus and Mary walk with you moment by moment, and day by day....

With all my love and respect....

Fr. Gilles


My purpose in these posts is to help spread the contributions of a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Blessed be God who gives his children Kingdom eyes

My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.



It's so good and healthy and actually spiritual that young marrieds open their hearts and minds and spirits to each other and are finding words and images to express what they are feeling and going through as they bear the brunt of the misery of their dysfunctional relatives, near and far....

Much of what we have experienced of family over the years leaves a bad taste in our mouth, and sooner or later we are having the impression that our life tastes like misery, isolation, anger, and divorce, that all paths seem to be leading us there, and we don't see any other way.... By the way, dear Reader, feel free to share both your thoughts and my reflection with your spouse, partner, close friend, trusted relative; since as you may already be blessed to be able to say you and this other person are so trusting and open with one another, which by the way, is the way of love... it is God's way, not the world's way....

You may not know this or you may already know so well by now that the Holy Trinity have given us, those who wish to cultivate and use them, Kingdom eyes which in the light of the Holy Trinity allow us to see clearly the truth about God, about creation, about ourselves, about others, and about the world.

Remember in the Old Testament how God said to Israel that their sins linger on to the 3rd and 4th generation but that in the just his love endures for a thousand generations? Isn't it true... see how, though he was a sinner, because he was repentant and really did love God, David let God bring forth good fruit in his life, fruit that is enduring even today because among his offspring came Jesus....

All the cranky, miserable, nasty, hateful, jealous, malicious, angry, vengeful, wicked... words, looks, manipulations, judgements, actions, behaviors... and more that you have endured from your family and your spouse's or significant other's family - that both of you and perhaps also your children have endured - are in the category of the sins of ancestors that linger to the 3rd and 4th generation....

We all are defiled by such things - kind of like a mom or dad who in attending to their muddy little children who've had a lovely time playing in the mud become all muddy themselves, but it's not their mud, it's the children's mud - so too we are besmirched by people who are defiled by their ancestry and remain caught in it due to their own sin and failure to walk in God's grace or inability or lack of energy, desire, or resolve to extricate themselves. So they are miserable and their misery vomits forth onto anyone and everyone within range.... It's a real bitch, but what can you do?

That things are this way is no reason to give up on life, Marriage, God, joy, laughter, grace, struggle, work, and fruitful living. Just because some people live a bankrupt existence doesn't mean we should give it all up and go naked and homeless like them, figuratively speaking, and literally sometimes....

So just maybe what you're up against is too big, all-pervasive, dark, strong, grasping, clutching, suffocating for you to expect to fix any of it or for you to expect relief from each other, you and your counterpart. Only the Savior can bring you relief, and first and always, He brings you relief by walking with you along the road, like the disciples Cleopas and Simeon on he way to Emmaus, with the comfort of knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ cut through all that entangled jungle with the huge machete of his merciful love and sharp Word of life, making a path in which we can find some footing moment by moment.

That is why our Opus Dei brothers and sisters and fathers and all those firmly committed to walking in the steps of Jesus focus so much on the little things that keep us in constant communion with the Lord Jesus in the company of Mother Mary and Saint Joseph and in the dynamic heart of the divine vitality of the Holy Trinity. It's a real bugger that we can't fix any of it ourselves... our original sin infected spirit keeps wanting to pridefully fix things and people, but we can't even fix ourselves, let alone others, and it's just as well. In fact it is an act of divine providence that we can't save ourselves, because if we could, we would crash in a rapid spiral of focusing in on our own self and become inextricably isolated. No, it's much better that we need a Savior every moment of every day, because our desperate need continually drives us into the arms of Christ and into the heart of the Holy Trinity....

The dispensation of the Divine Mercy is to leave the darnel grow among the wheat; so that the weeds provoke us to reach out to God all the more for breath and life and sun and light and hope and love and faith.... It's on the taught string of the sharp arrow against the bow that the bow sings... it's in the friction of flesh on flesh, heart on heart, bone on bone, spirit on spirit that a married couple make divine music together, allowing the Holy Trinity to restore them, their children, and all those who accept the blessing, to Christ....

Only in Christ do we truly breath fire and light and living water as children of the Most High, only in the tension of the dance can the music lift up our spirits and draw others into the eternal dance of the Holy Trinity....

So, my dear Reader, do I think you and your counterpart, your soul mate, your other half, your dear friend are headed for separate ways, for isolation, for divorce? Of course not... but I do think that chances are - when you are intensively under fire on all sides - that in the heat of such battle how you feel, both of you, is a warning of divine providence to allow the Holy Spirit to wash you anew with living water and blow away all the dust and cobwebs of the worldly ways of those who are lost that threaten to engulf us.

As Satan discovered when he tempted Jesus, He has already been vanquished... he can scream and scheme and threaten and send minions and stir up the lost people and raise up armies against us, but we are already victors in Jesus who has already won the definitive victory. All that remains is for us to endure the struggle as Jesus extends his victory into all the dark corners of our lives and the lives of all the tormented lost souls in this world....

The only difference between us and them is that the Lord is giving us the blessed grace of Kingdom eyes to see what's really going on, to know the score, to discern the path, and to walk in it....

Peace to you both and your children if you have any, and be docile to the graces the Holy Spirit is giving you these troubled days to lean on the Lord and to touch his tender mercies in each other... If you are merely friends, don't forget the grace of friendship, of seeking first the good of the other. If you are married, then don't forget the grace of Marriage, of the blessed union of two souls bent on the other's well being, pleasure, joy, and consolation....
“Were not our hearts burning within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us

Come Holy Spirit…. Viens Esprit Saint…. 

      L’abbé / Fr. Gilles     


My purpose in these posts is to help spread the contributions of a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

In the Footsteps of St Paul

My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


Thursday, October 10th, 2013

I began this pilgrimage with flu symptoms as my fellow pilgrims who had walked together "In the footsteps of Jesus" left and I remained behind in the Ritz Hotel in Jerusalem. As another pilgrim had done, I asked for a doctor at the Reception and within an hour received a "house call" from a young doctor. He was very friendly and competent, courteous and kind, and gave me a thorough examination, concluding I certainly did not have pneumonia but rather a viral infection. The medication I had bought the night before but not yet used was precisely what he would have given me, but he advised I take a little less than prescribed and added a cough syrup, which I went out and got. Encouraged and reassured, I packed my bags, worked on the previous blog entry and email for a while and then called for a cab and transferred to the Olive Tree Hotel to rejoin my new company of pilgrims, all 14 of them, including a brother priest.

In the days ahead, I will enter into my pilgrimage journal for this journey "In the footsteps of St Paul"....

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Day 01 - October 6, Sunday

The pilgrims traveled from various points of origin, mostly from Montreal or other places in Canada, while I finished my previous pilgrimage and saw our group off....
Saturday, October 12th, 2013

I felt a little anxious about my flu like symptoms and went out to get some medicine relying on the pharmacist's advice, but decided not to use it yet and instead in the morning ask the hotel to call a doctor for me.

Day 02 - October 7, Monday

While I was still at the Ritz Hotel, I asked the Receptionist to call a doctor for me and she quickly informed me he would come to my room within the hour. As I waited, I made up my baggage and less than an hour after the call the doctor came, and after a thorough examination, I was reassured I didn't have pneumonia but only a viral infection. I went out and got the syrop he had prescribed, and armed with that, I showered, changed, finished packing, and surrendered my room - there were no extra charges.

I went to one of the two computers at our disposal and worked for over an hour on my pilgrimage journal, and then went down with my luggage and asked for a taxi and went over to the Olive Tree Hotel.

Our group arrived, with a few staggered arrivals; while I came in around noon. I settled in, got some Internet time in the business center, made contact with one of the pilgrims to find out when was our supper and information meeting, and put in a few more hours on my pilgrimage journal.... It was good to go to supper and connect with my new fellow pilgrims, and especially to see Fr Paul and his sister Linda.

We were all delighted with our hotel rooms, the hotel food, and the high class settings of the hotel itself. After supper, I resumed writing on my previous pilgrimage journal, was frustrated to find that I could not begin a French version because the hotel pc's were language locked with only English and Hebrew. I watched some religious TV on the dedicated channel while I put some order in my things and prepared for the next day and went to bed.

Day 03 - October 8, Tuesday

Our first full day we began with a long walk down the steeply inclined road down the Mount of Olives, passing by an Orthodox Church on the right and the Jewish Cemetery on the left. For my part, and the other pilgrims felt the same way, it was touching to see the efforts and courage of our pilgrims walking with canes.We had a very long walk down a very steep road all the way down the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane. In Jesus' day, there was probably a long winding zigzag foot path or road going in and out among the olive trees from top to bottom of the mountain, but today it is a fairly straight steep road going up and down the middle of the mountain.

I think those first few days our Guide Foteh needed to become acclimated to our group and particular situations and needs. Personally, after the energetic pilgrimage I had just finished, I was glad - as I had been for our older Italian pilgrim in the previous group who was slow and steady - for our pilgrims who were slower than the others, because they allowed me a more leisurely pace and opportunity to walk with and chat with them and others.

At last we came to the Garden of Gethsemane - Garden of the Oil Press - where we were welcomed to celebrate Holy Mass in a crypt or grotto Chapel in the Franciscan Convent right on the Garden. It was a sacred moment to find ourselves sitting here, where Jesus spent so much time with his Apostles and especially his Agony after the Last Supper.... Fr Paul was inspired by the place and stirred up our love and devotion for the Lord.... It was good for me to be here again after only 3 days and just 'absorb' the atmosphere as it were, to look around and be inspired by the mosaics and other works of art in and around the altar and the chapel.

From Mass we explored the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of All Nations in the southern half of the Garden (we had also celebrated the Liturgy in the southern half - on our Pilgrimage In the Footsteps of Jesus we had celebrated the Liturgy outside in the corner of the northern half of the Garden) which is named after All Nations because of the contribution of many national churches to the decoration and maintenance of the church. One of our pilgrims returned to the bus while the rest of us went on.

We crossed the street and walked up into the Old City and made our way to the Church of St Anne marking the area where it is believed Mary was born and where we also saw the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus had healed the man crippled for 38 years, who had been unable to bring himself in time into the water whenever it was stirred by the Angel of the Lord and be healed. We visited the Church of St Anne on the site of which Mary is believed to have been born. We explored the church and its underground chapels and prayed and sang together in the acoustically perfect Crusader church.

From there we began to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross. Many were surprised to find themselves walking amid so many local shops - the Way is actually one long market or mall oriental style - and we stopped along the way to read out the station and stop for a moment of reflection and prayer. Foteh asked me to lead the reflection and prayer at each station, and for a while I felt put out to have to do something unprepared and with so little text in the typical leaflet sold in Jerusalem for the Way of the Cross. In the end, I accepted to assume my poverty in the face of the burden and allow the Lord to make it fruitful....

We had a longer visit and explanation from our Guide Foteh after the second station when we stopped at the Lithostratos kept by the Sisters of Sion. Here we saw ancient cisterns for the collection of rain water and pavement stones believed to have been taken from The Pavement - Gabatha - where Jesus was brought in to stand before Pontius Pilate. The structure we saw was erected over the previously open air cisterns and the stones likely moved from the former Pavement. Games played by Roman soldiers to pass the time have been etched into some of those stones, evidence that the Pavement had been under Roman authority. Then we continued to walk the Way of the Cross.

We interrupted the Way to have lunch at a local place and Foteh recounted how he grew up in this Christian Quarter between the 8th and 9th stations or so and knew many of the shopkeepers and local people. After lunch we were rejoined by our other pilgrim and came to the Holy Sepulcher which houses the ninth to the thirteenth stations - Jesus is stripped - Jesus is nailed to the Cross - Jesus is crucified and dies on the Cross - Jesus is taken down from the Cross - Jesus is laid in the tomb - the fourteenth station, if there was to be one, is the empty tomb: Jesus is risen from the dead.

It is initially a little taxing for the imagination to see here what was once Golgotha which was mostly taken away by Empress St Helen for the erection of this church. Up in the mezzanine on the right side as we enter on the south side (the original entrance in the Byzantine era church was from the east) underneath the middle Greek Orthodox Chapel Altar lies the top of Golgotha and the hole in which Jesus' Cross would have been placed. Some part of the side of Golgotha can be seen from the floor below on the far left of this mezzanine behind glass.

The same is true for the Holy Sepulcher itself, the Lord's tomb. Originally, Helen had the stone and earth around the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea - which had been excavated into a hill - she had it removed with only enough stone left to enclose the space of the tomb. When the Syrians invaded and destroyed every Christian structure except the Church of the Nativity (because they recognized the mosaics of the Wise Men as Syrians) they also destroyed the Tomb. Later, the Byzantines and Crusaders erected the current tomb on the site of the Lord's tomb in order to mark the spot for ongoing veneration and built a circular chapel with a cupola around it. The original erected by St Helen was open to the sky to manifest the direct line of sight to heaven for the Lord's Resurrection.

Although I had been here only 3 days earlier, I allowed myself to be carried by the place, letting grace carry my thoughts within to the Lord while also attending to the other pilgrims and sharing with some of them, in particular about the modern sculptures to the east side of the tomb depicting Mary Magdalene approaching Jesus and He saying to her "Don't hold onto me as I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father...." It was good to just sit and contemplate.... As previously, I did not line up to enter into the tomb, having done that in 2000.

After this our Guide led us as we resumed our walk towards the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall. It meant something to us to enter into and stand in a remnant of the Roman colonnade which would have been lined on both sides with shops, not unlike today, but with a much wider road, one of the two main roads put in by the Romans in the second century. It gave us a glimpse anyway of what street level must have been in Jesus' day.

As we approached the Western Wall, we were passing a woman begging. She was cleanly dressed and sat to the side with a tired, mournful expression on her face and very expressive, almost piercing blue eyes. As we were walking by her, I was aware of feeling cut, pierced to the heart by her hauntingly beautiful and expressive eyes; as though the Spirit revealed to me that she was true and embarrassed to be begging. I came back and gave her something, and was surprised at her spontaneous and abrupt change of demeanor and expression to gracious gratitude in response to my small offering.

Shortly thereafter we "ran a gauntlet" of Jews begging for some children's aid organization. I had doubts about them but gave something... here were two very different sets of beggars, two very different effects on me... were they both legitimate, I wonder? It is no wonder the Lord tells us not to judge others, since we are not qualified to do so, but only He. 

It was a much anticipated revelation for most of our pilgrims to see and finally touch the Western Wall, once called the Wailing Wall or Wall of Lamentation. Initially, we waited for one of our pilgrims to join us who out of need to avoid the long walk was being brought near by our bus driver Youssef. While we waited, a number of us made use of the public WC - Water Closet - and took in the atmosphere.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters used to wail and lament the destruction of the Second Temple and their homeland. Since the restoration of a Jewish Homeland in 1948 and the successful war of 1967, Jews are more hopeful now and no longer lament as they once did, but rather express prayers of hope. For this reason, they prefer to call it now the Western Wall because it faces the East where the Holy of Holies once stood....

Three days earlier I had also been here but had missed seeing something; so this time I went into the study rooms on the left of the Wall where copies of the Torah and other sacred scrolls and books are kept for students of the law and worshipers. Inside I found what I had been told about, large slabs of glass on the floor near the wall against which these buildings had been built, and which revealed down below the original ground level from Jesus' day, a full seven large building blocks deep, some 7 to 9 meters... quite a sight. At the Wall outside and again here I prayed for God's peace to all his people everywhere and especially here in the Middle East.

Back at the hotel at the end of the day I discovered from Emma that her luggage had not yet arrived. I asked what had been done about it and she told me, but I found the situation unacceptable; so I offered to go to the Reception with her. I could see that they were not able to do much so I asked if they could call Canada for us and in the end we had to make the call from our rooms. I invited Emma to my room and there made a call to Pedja at STI in Vancouver. We reached him and she talked to him and he assured her he would investigate her missing bag and follow it up.

Day 04 - October 9, Wednesday

As on most mornings we got an early start and, after having a quick look around the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, we went to the Catholic Chapel - very beautiful - and Fr Paul and I were led to the Sacristy where we vested and the attendant led us to a lower Grotto Chapel near the actual Nativity Grotto and there we set up and celebrated the Holy Mass. It was inspiring to be so close to the spot where Mary gave birth to Jesus and we sang a few Christmas anthems.

Then we went back out and visited as we were led to the waiting line for the Nativity Grotto. After a while as I chatted with the others, I told Linda about our 2000 pilgrimage and the visit to the "Milk Grotto Chapel" and the ministry of the Franciscans to women with 'maternity problems'. As she manifested her interest on behalf of others, I decided to go there for the group while they continued to wait in line, since the line wasn't moving at all.

It took me a little over a half hour to go and return. I went on memory only and left the Nativity Church, went back to the street, turned left and left again to come back along the perimeter of the Nativity Church and continued up that lane until, sure enough, there on my right right where I expected it to be but a little further than I remembered, the Milk Grotto Chapel, which thank goodness was open. The first sight of it didn't seem familiar and I found the complex much bigger than I remembered. Thankfully I ran into a Franciscan, Father Lawrence I think, and he took me to his office and was quite enthusiastic about the healing ministry around the white cave dust and the prayer to Our Lady.

He related there came in every two days or so a testimony of healing grace through the intercession of Our Lady of the Milk... infertile women conceiving and giving birth naturally, healings of women from any number of death dealing illnesses, and other healings....

I shared the envelopes of white chalk cave powder with the prayers with Linda for the group and St Brendan Parish and rejoined the group. They were still waiting in line so I went to see Foteh what it was about. Some Armenians had come and were celebrating the Divine Liturgy, which can take hours, since it is their chapel after all; so I waited by sitting on a bench where I had interesting chat with some Japanese.

After a while I tole Foteh I would go revisit the Catholic Chapel and wait outside, which I did, taking some photos, praying, and then sitting outside, where I had a fruit....

From there we went to the Shepherds' Fields where I had been 12 days earlier and I stayed, sat, and chatted with Fr Paul and we went into the Shepherds' Chapel and prayed while the group explored the ruins of an Orthodox monastery adjacent. When  they joined us and walked around the Chapel, we invited them t o observe the 3 frescoes in order and then we had a moment of silence and prayed and sang an anthem. The acoustics were perfect.

We had lunch in Qumran and went on to the Dead Sea where I finally decided to go back into that salt water for a wade and float and shower... and walk in the sun covered in drying mud and after the first shower... after the second and change into clothes I had a pomegranate juice... then back to the bus and our hotel I did some work on my blog journal... At the boutique down near the hotel entrance I shopped for some gifts....

Day 05 - October 10, Thursday

That was the end of our stay in Jerusalem. We were all sorry to leave the Olive Tree Hotel behind... it was quite lovely, even luxurious... and we went to Jericho where we went to the Good Shepherd Parish Church for Mass. I had been there twice in the past 11 days already; so this was my third visit and Brother Anthony, a Franciscan, recognized me. He was from New Jersey and very kind and friendly. He set us up to celebrate (for me the third time) in the upstairs hall in the primary school, which had air conditioning, and Fr Paul invited Brother Anthony to tell us about the work of the Franciscans in the Holy Land, which he did with enthusiasm.

After Mass we went to the site of the archaeological dig of an ancient city, perhaps the oldest in the world where we first saw a film about the city and the archaeology around it, and then went walking the site in the blazing sun. The oldest city among the ruins was dated some 8,000 years BC, so around 10,000 years old. There is apparently somewhere else a city of the same period and perhaps a little older. They date them as cities in accord with their walls. No wall, no city, but only settlements.

Upon emerging from the visit we saw 'Elisha's Spring' where the prophet made sweet at the request of the locals their water which had turned bitter or salty. We had lunch in the restaurant there and then our Guide and Driver took us to see 'Zacchaeus' Tree' in the heart of Jericho, a tree of some 300 years or so, but since Sycamores life up to 500 years, it is quite possible that this tree is an offshoot of an offshoot of an original tree from Jesus' day, and perhaps the very one that the tax collector climbed in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus as He went by....

Then we drove to Nazareth by a road I had never traveled before through farm country. I had been at the Church of the Annunciation 10 days earlier, but was glad to again take the time to walk through the church, contemplate, and pray. I stayed with Fr Paul while the others went down to 'Mary's House'.

At Cana I suggested to Fr Paul that he might like to renew the marriage vows of the two couples we had with us. Our Baptist couple declined, after all Marriage is not a sacrament in their tradition, but Dorothy and Pat were delighted. I ran ahead to the Sacristy where the Sister recognized me and gladly handed me the text Fr Paul would need and informed me there was another group scheduled to celebrate Mass within 20 minutes or so. It was providential we had the time and Fr Paul led us in a lovely prayer Liturgy and renewed Dorothy and Pat in their Marriage vows and blessed them. It was a lovely moment for the whole group as Fr Paul found a way to make it inclusive for everyone... we have a number of widows among us.... When I returned the text to the Sacristy the Sister gave me a Certificate for them and I gave her an offering on their behalf.

We went to a Cana souvenir shop where a few bought some Cana wine, and we returned to our bus and then to the Royal Plaza Hotel in Tiberias, where we settled in and I resumed working on my blog journal of my previous pilgrimage and began working on this one. 

Day 06 - October 11, Friday

As I recall this day, we began at the Mount of the Beatitudes... as our pilgrimas explored Fr Paul and I entered the Sacristy and with Foteh clarified the arrangements the Sister was offering us. She brought us outside on the porch or portico that encircled that beautiful building, and we set up a makeshift altar there on the right side as one approaches the front entrance. Fr Paul and I stood and sat with our backs to the wall and looking out towards the countryside on the west of the church. Our pilgrims stood and sat in a semicircle on the outside of the portico looking towards us and the altar and the wall.

I felt content to be there, concelebrating with Fr Paul, and just contemplating the place and the fact that Jesus had been there many times with his apostles and disciples, including the times He multiplied the loaves, and then the loaves and fishes. We used the music sheet I had requested at the hotel and sang a few verses of "Gift of Finest Wheat".

As we went to Tabgha and then to the Chapel of the Primacy of Peter, remembering I had been there 10 days earlier with memorable experiences, I tried to attend to Fr Paul and the others... yet feeling in a way redundant... so  Itried to just be and 'absorb the atmosphere' as it were and pay attention within. As we walked out along the lovely tree lined avenue, listening to the birds, a pilgrim seemed to open to me and walk with me. At first I tried to remain isolated in my solitude, but as  I realized what he was doing and opened to him in turn he shared his faith with me... we had a good connection.

Day 07 - October 12, Saturday

Today we put our packed bags outside our rooms at 7:00 am because after breakfast we were leaving the Royal Plaza Hotel in Tiberias. We drove out to Haifa where some of us got out to stretch our legs and take pictures of the World Heritage Site Ba'hai Gardens. From here we went up to a peak of Mount Carmel to the Stella Maris Church and Carmelite Convent. Here we celebrated Mass in what must have been a Carmelite oratory for women religious because there were frescoes on either side high above the eye line depicting various Carmelite women saints including St Theresa of Avila....

After Mass I lingered in a few of the oratories and chapels, taking pictures and praying, while our other pilgrims did the same and also went outside to take photos from the panoramic view point above the City of Haifa.... From here we drove to Caesarea Maritime, where we explored, saw a film of the history of the place - from the deep sea harbor built by Herod the Great through its repeated damage by earthquakes to its present public use -  and walked around.

Our Driver Youssef took us on a bus tour of Yafo - Jaffa, or Joppa as it was known in Paul's day - and on this day we had the opportunity to remember how Paul was imprisoned here and was in prison here for a year or more, and how Peter was given a vision of non-Kosher meats that the Lord told him to eat, preparing him for the outgrowth of the Church to all the pagan nations. the Lord then told in another vision the pagan Cornelius to send for Peter in Joppa and have him come to baptize him and his household.

We were then taken to a local eatery where we finally had the opportunity to enjoy some tender grilled lamb, as well as beef and chicken, with the usual Middle East salads galore, while a few of our ladies declined and walked around downtown here and enjoyed instead an ice cream....

After the satisfaction of this meal, we stood around and chatted as we awaited Youssef and our bus, delayed by the heavy Saturday traffic, and then he drove us to our Tel-Aviv Marina Hotel, where we have time to rest before supper and an early night, because our wake up call will be at 2:15 am for a 2:15 departure on our bus in view of our 7:00 am flight to Athens. be continued....


My purpose in these posts is to help spread the contributions of a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC

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