One cold, rainy, gusty February morning, a “cheroot”, call it a jitney cab, took me the five mile trip from Jerusalem to about a mile from Bethlehem. The cost, two shekels, about 75 cents back then. A “cheroot” picks up people along the road.
After an exhausting hike up a steep road, dodging heavy traffic, I arrived at the Church of the Nativity for my 9:30am Mass in its Grotto. Most scholars agree that Mary gave birth to the Messiah close to this location. My celebration of Mass, one of the Christmas Day Masses, lifted my spirits and helped me forget the cold, penetrating dampness.
After Mass, I gave an offering for a handful of slim, wax tapers to light at the Grotto, reached by descending a flight of stone steps. A man, next to me, a complete stranger, asked me where to obtain the candles. I offered him half of what I had. He took the seven tapers and said, “How much?” I shook my head, indicating, “no charge” and gave no further thought to the incident.
That night, to my surprise, this “stranger” sat across the table from me in our Franciscan Hospice in Jerusalem. In the following days, Dennis Creffield, the stranger’s name, joined our little group, as I offered Mass at the Holy Places in and around the Holy City. None of us knew each other a few days before this.
Dennis turned out to be a top flight artist from London, England. Distraught with life, he had come to the Holy Land to find some peace of heart. On my departure day, he gave me a copy of his latest book entitled, “English Cathedrals”, I suppose, in thanks for the little tapers I gave him in Bethlehem. The book was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain and contains his charcoal drawings of all 23 medieval Cathedrals in England.
As we invest in the welfare of others, even complete strangers, we never know what the outcome will be. Jesus, on the back of a donkey, rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He was investing Himself in each one of us, strangers, not yet born.
What will our return be to Him for His grand act of unselfishness? Will we, as Dennis did to me, surprise Christ with a total giving of ourselves to His Honor and Glory?
Fr. George Mc Kenna
“I’m going to make this Lent the best one of my life”, I have been saying to myself these days. Maybe, it’s because of the memories of my 1995 pilgrimage to Jerusalem in January of that year. Of all my trips to the Holy City that one turned out to be one of the most exciting and exhilarating, perhaps, because of my living at the First Station of the Way of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa (the Sorrowful Way.)
Frequently, during my nine day stay, I took a three block walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. In the Church, I sat and thought of Jesus sweating Blood on these very grounds, as he saw all the sins of time to come. Because of the purple glass windows, a darkness fills the interior of the Church, no matter how bright the sun might be outside. I saw in this gloom, something of the despondency and despair that comes into my spirit when I sin.
My prayers begged Christ to give me a horror of sin! I need this Season of Lent, with its prayers and sacrifices, to strengthen my spirit. Sin can easily slip into my life if I do not build up my defenses. As I look back over my life, I realize that I was the happiest during times of Lent. My extra prayers and little sacrifices, my desire to make myself a better person, brought a supreme peace into my Lenten days.
One morning, during my 1995 trip, I offered Mass in the Grotto of Betrayal, really, a cave cut out of solid rock, close to the main Church at Gethsemane. Behind the altar, a large oil painting showed Christ just after Judas had betrayed Him with a kiss. That morning, I said to myself, “How sad Jesus looks. Will I too, betray Him in the days to come? What a tragedy if I carelessly allow sin to enter my life.” I need Lent to see the beauty of the Life of Christ and grow in love for Him.
My living quarters on the Via Dolorosa were just a 100 yards from the Chapel of the Scourging. Sometimes, I sat up at night in bed and thought of the sacred place I was living in. With whips, soldiers turned the back of the Savior into a bloody welter of flesh and exposed bones, all this, in atonement for the sins of the flesh. St. Paul said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Lent will help me be heroic in resisting evil which surrounds me.
Each day in Jerusalem, I looked over my second floor balcony to the Via Dolorosa below, only nine paces wide, and saw Christ starting His journey of three blocks to Calvary, holding on to His heavy Cross. From this experience in Jerusalem, I will never be quite the same again.
Fr. George Mc Kenna