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27 Pilgrimages To Jerusalem

Jerusalem: Cenacle Marco Plassio, Wikimedia Commons

Jerusalem: Cenacle
Marco Plassio, Wikimedia Commons

Oftentimes I went to the Holy Land and Jerusalem by myself, not as a sight seer, but as a pilgrim seeking the Face of Christ.  Jesus of Nazareth comes across as the most exciting Person ever to live.  No one can study His Life and completely exhaust all there is to know about Him.  No greater adventure can I follow than to make every effort to grow closer in friendship with Him.

I first visited the Holy Land in 1959 with three other priests.  The flight time to Jerusalem comes to 14 hours, quite exhausting.  My first and last trip, I thought to myself.  But unknown to myself, the Holy Places had captured my heart.  For the next 50 years, I would return on the average of every other year.  My residence stood at the Second Station of the Way of the Cross.

Now and then, a few friends would join with me on the long journey.  A good experience because we shared our thoughts each evening about the day’s happenings.  What drew me back again and again?  For one thing, on coming home to Chicago each time, my work as a priest took on a new joyful intensity.  I wanted fervently to tell my people about the wisdom of seeking the Face of Christ, even in our Chicago environment.

I enjoyed offering Masses in the many Holy Places in the Old City of Jerusalem, some six blocks square.  Some of my favorites: the tomb of Christ and Mount Calvary, both in the Holy Sepulcher Church, the most revered in Christendom; the Cenacle Chapel, some 50 yards away from the Last Supper site; the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In the neighborhood of Jerusalem are many places mentioned in the Gospels, like the Franciscan Church at Emmaus which marks the meeting place of Jesus and the two downcast disciples on the first Easter morning.  A favorite place of mine, because I have been downcast so many times in my life, is Bethany, where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived with their open door policy to Jesus in hospitality.  I prayed my heart would be the same.

In Ein Karem, a suburb of Jerusalem, where Mary and Elizabeth met in the Visitation, a beautiful church.  In my pilgrimages, I would take a bus to Galilee, to Nazareth 85 miles to the north, to Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee.  These sites tell of the ministry of Jesus.  Alleluia!  I am so grateful to God for giving me a love of the Holy Land.

Fr. George Mc Kenna

August 14, 2016 Posted by | Bulletins | , , , , | 7 Comments

A Season Of Great Adventure

The Grotto of Betrayal, Gethsemane,  Photo by Ori~  Via, Wikimedia

The Grotto of Betrayal, Gethsemane, Photo by Ori~ Via, Wikimedia

“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

February 21, 2015 Posted by | Bulletins | , , , , , , | 3 Comments