Pilgrims look up at the site of the Ascension.
A Holy Land pilgrimage with the rosary
"Why are you looking up?"
One way to do a pilgrimage in the Holy Land is to follow along on your rosary. In fact, there is a very popular EWTN series hosted by Rev. Mitch Pacwa called "The Holy Land Rosary." We visited three sites representing three mysteries of the rosary.
The Ascension of Jesus Into Heaven: The Second of The Glorious Mysteries
Our feet stood on the ground on the Mount of Olives where tradition reveals Jesus' last footprints (Luke 24:44-53). Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh led us in praying this mystery of the rosary as we pondered how the disciples might feel as Jesus took leave of them in so dramatic a fashion. We know that they expected him to return soon, but nonetheless, it must have been an awesome, frightening and mystifying experience.
Our next stop on the Mount of Olives was to the Pater Noster Church that recalls Jesus' teaching the disciples how to pray. Bishop Zubik gave us a beautiful meditation on the Lord's Prayer: "Jesus invited us into His intimacy with the Father, Jesus didn't say MY Father who art in heaven, but OUR Father, OUR Daddy." Bishop Zubik threw a zinger at us: "Ya know, God is going to forgive us as we forgive other people, so, we better be forgiving lavishly. You and I need to think about whether or not we are radically forgiving all of those who wrong us, especially in this year of mercy because every time we pray the Lord's prayer, we pray that we are forgiven to the extent that we forgive others."
Jesus' Agony in the Garden: The First Sorrowful Mystery
We transitioned into the sorrowful mysteries and prepared to descend the Mount of Olives by foot to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. Bishop Zubik led us in the first sorrowful mystery: Jesus' Agony in the Garden. We entered through the mercy door in the Church of All Nations and spent considerable time in quiet meditation. I found it fascinating that this mercy door in the front of the Church of All Nations was directly across from the Golden Gates of the City of Jerusalem through which the Messiah is to come. "Mercy" in Greek has the same root as the word oil. One way to understand Mercy is to recall the functions of oil in the ancient world. Mercy, like oil, heals us. Mercy, like oil burned in lamps, illuminates us. Mercy, like oil, nourishes us—in fact, is necessary sustenance. Once again, we pilgrims were overwhelmed by the bounty of God's mercy in allowing us to come to the Holy Land in this Year of Mercy, to come to the place where the mercy of God was fully revealed, to pray in this spot, where literally Jesus' mercy was poured out for us in profound love.
Next, it was time for lunch. Our guide Jerry arranged a Bedouin feast in a restaurant overlooking the shepherd's field. The menu included roasted lamb that had cooked overnight that literally fell off the bone. Some of our pilgrims "went native."
Mary Visits Her Kinswoman Elizabeth: The Second Joyful Mystery
Our final destination was Ein Karem, the village of John the Baptist and his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth. Here we recall the second joyful mystery of the rosary, the visit by Mary to Elizabeth. There are two churches in Ein Karem. The church in the valley is the birthplace of John the Baptist. In the courtyard of the church, large ceramic tiles with the Canticle of Zechariah displayed in every language line the walls. We pondered this prayer that has become more familiar to us as we have prayed it every morning of our journey. The second church commemorates the encounter of Mary and Elizabeth and the sons within their wombs. Ceramic tiles with Mary's Magnificat are displayed in the courtyard.
We are invited here to ponder the prayer of Mary, the Magnificat. The whole prayer is summed up in the first line. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord." Not my head, or my heart — but my soul. That spark of divine life within Mary calls the shots — focuses her attention. This is important. It is her soul and our souls — the space where God speaks to us — that is the place we need to go to find our response to God's invitation. You might call this the deepest part of our heart. This is a part of ourselves we need to pay attention to, to get in touch with and to heed!
The greatness of the Lord! Mary's prayer tells the story of God's greatness from Abraham to all eternity.
This prayer is referred to as the Magnificat because Mary is magnifying the Lord. She is making Him bigger, amplifying him to Elizabeth and to us. She chose to magnify God, not herself, not Elizabeth, not the angel, not Joseph.
What do we magnify? What do we make a big deal out of? Do we magnify our faults? Do we magnify the faults of others? Do we magnify our problems?
Mary surely had problems. How would she explain the Conception to Joseph? Her parents? The neighbors? What did it mean that she would be the mother of God? That thought alone could cause one to obsess and navel gaze. Why me? How me?
Not Mary. Once she said yes, she chose to magnify the Lord.
Could it have been that God chose Mary for that particular quality, that attribute of her personality? Was this ability to see the Divine, to perceive and illuminate the good, the beautiful, the true — what the Father was looking for in the Mother of the Son?
Even though he was God, Jesus always referred to the Father, magnifying the love of the Father through parables, magnifying the power of the Father through miracles, magnifying the Father's will through his own humble obedience, magnifying the Father in his prayer.
Let's you and I pick up a magnifying glass and looking through it see the wonders our God is doing through with and in us and all of creation! Let us see as Mary sees and as her Son sees. Let us see the goodness of God all around us and point it out to one another! Let us look for God here and now!
(Helene Paharik is associate general secretary in the General Secretariat of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. She is a frequent contributor to The Pittsburgh Catholic, the media outlet of the Pittsburgh diocese. She wrote this while accompanying Bishop David Zubik and a pilgrimage group of the Catholic Press Association in April 2016.)
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