I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Friday, July 4, 2014

Jesus' Half Birthday - it's Christmas in June! (Wednesday, 6/25)

Wednesday, 6/25/14

Arrived at the King Solomon Hotel last night – definitely more of a tourist hotel, while the Scots Hotel (our previous one) was more of a resort. Dinner was good – best part about dessert was getting everyone to answer questions about it: “What is it? Is it good? On a scale of 1-10…? Would you get it again? Etc.”

After dinner, we went to the hotel bar and had drinks and a nice chat – it was quite a big group.

Finally got the shower to work – realized the hot water turned on the opposite way.

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Breakfast was good this morning. I think I ended up with pudding instead of yogurt, but there are worse things than that mistake, right? I also ended up with coffee on me (just a little though)… There was a woman at the espresso machine – she was making her coffee, when she turned to the young man behind her and said, “You can laugh. You can laugh.” Then, she took her coffee and threw it at the guy (full in the face). Then, she said, “I did it. I did it.” And she proceeded to walk away, muttering to herself. (Later, the hotel staff asked her to leave.) Fortunately, I was two people back, so I barely got sprayed…What a start to the morning, eh? Good thing Marisa had Tide-2-Go.

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Post-excursion reflection:

Today was a day I was very much looking forward to – we were going to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ.

Our trip began at the Church over the home of John the Baptist, which started with an open courtyard with the Benedictus written in many languages. Fr. Ken led us in praying it in English before we went inside to visit, take pictures, and pray. There was a cave down below and a Church above.

We then made a decent walk up many stairs to the Church of the Visitation. (Youssef said it was 150, but I did not count.) That was absolutely beautiful. The courtyard had a lovely (modern) statue of Mary and Elizabeth, and the Magnificat was written in 42 languages (got that figure from my guidebook!) on the wall.

There was a chapel below and another above. There were many pictures dedicated to Mary, including one for her title as “Help of Christians.” I prayed for all Salesians in a special way, especially for Sr. Teresita (whom I knew from SJV – she directed Religious Ed) – I found out that she just passed away.

I prayed also for expectant mothers, especially my friends Kelsey, Jillian, and Melissa.

It was in this town, Ain Karem, where Youssef explained what the Jerusalem cross symbolized – there are a few explanations:

1-Jerusalem as the center of the world (because Christianity was established in Jerusalem)
2-5 Catholic countries of the Crusades: Italy (center), England, Spain, France, & Germany
3-Jesus (center) with 4 wounds from cross
4-Jesus (center) with 4 Gospels

We then went to the Holocaust Museum, of which we saw only a tiny part. I did not take many pictures here. It was very moving, especially the “Hall of Remembrance” and the “Children’s Memorial.”

In the Hall of Remembrance, there were the names of the 21 main camps/ghettos on the black basalt floor. Looking back towards the entrance, there was a tomb/casket, which seemed similar to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Later I looked in the guidebook – it said it contained the cremation ashes from some of those killed during the Holocaust.) There was also an eternal flame lit by the tomb.

In the Children’s Memorial, the first interior room had reflected images of some of the children killed during the Holocaust (1.5 million children in total were killed). As we moved further inside, it got really dark and there was a room with mirrors that caused an appearance of floating candles that seemed to reach down into an abyss and up to the sky, surrounding us on all sides. It was so dark that I could barely see where to walk. While in the room, I heard names, ages, and countries of the children killed.

In Bethlehem, our first stop was at a shop to buy olive wood and stone products. I bought a few gifts for family and for my classroom. Upon leaving the store, many street vendors tried to get us to purchase things – and they just wouldn’t let up for some people! It got to the point of being very annoying – they practically came on the bus!

For lunch, we had the choice of chicken shwerma pita or falafel pita. (I chose the latter.) I sat upstairs with Marisa, Tracy, Kim, Peggy, and Kathy. (We even had a mini plate of baklava to share!) The restaurant was called “The Christmas Tree,” so we actually dined right beside one. Then, we got back on the bus to head to the Church of the Nativity.

The Church of the Nativity was under renovation, so I don’t think we got the full impact, but it was still very beautiful! It’s the oldest Church in the world, and it has survived destruction three times, most recently during the Six Day War in 1967, when an Israeli plane hit the roof with a missile that never exploded.

We went down to the grotto next – surprisingly, there was not a long line, so we got to kneel before and touch the Star of Bethlehem (where Jesus was born) without much delay. (It still felt rushed, though.) We also turned behind and descended a few steps to see the manger spot.

We had Mass in St. Jerome’s grotto, which was a rather small cave below the Church. (It was very warm, so I started to get a little claustrophobic!) Fr. Ken actually did the Eucharistic prayer with his back to us.

It was neat to hear the Midnight Mass readings here, as we are exactly 6 months away from Christmas – couldn’t have timed that any better. We sang three Christmas carols throughout Mass: “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” & “Joy to the World.” I tell you, I have never been more excited or moved to sing Christmas carols in my life!

Fr. Ken focused on the word “HERE” (maybe because it was win big, bold letters in the missal) – we are here because Jesus was here. And God is still here with us today.

The final stop on today’s journey was at the Shepherd’s Field, where, legend has it, the shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night when an angel of the Lord came to announce the birth of Jesus. It was very pretty – with three pictures on the walls of the chapel. Below was a grotto/cave – a star was carved into the ceiling, and there were various manger scenes set up too.

I had two people recommend “The Red Tent” to me today, so that needs to go on my “to read” list – it has to do with Ruth (which is related to our final stop because it’s also the site of Boaz’s (Ruth’s husband) fields).

Well, I may try to squeeze in a short nap before dinner. Then, we may do some exploring tonight…

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