While yesterday I offered a reflection on my experience in the Holy Land as a whole, today I’d like to share two quick stories. While I spoke of many moments of grace in many of the different holy sites, there are two particular moments that I would like to share.
The first moment took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. One evening, we gathered to have a Holy Hour with exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament, in the very spot where Christ told the disciples to, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Mt 26:36) During the Holy Hour I found myself focusing on this line, “not as I will, but as You will,” (Mt 26:39) where I came to realize that it is not just that Jesus merely accepts God’s will, but rather that he embraces it. He does not passively, or halfheartedly accept the will, but rather actively seeks and desires it. Thus for me and for all of us, when we feel that God is calling us somewhere or to do something we might not want to do at first, we would do well not only to accept such a challenge, but rather to embrace the opportunity, embrace the opportunity to know and love God even more. The moment that really sticks out from this experience came at the end of the Holy Hour when we processed out of the Church and into the Garden with the Eucharist. Then as we processed around the garden, without realizing it (we were being led by an 87-year-old Spanish Franciscan) we had formed the shape of the cross with all of our bodies as we stood there, with the deacon and Eucharist at the head of the Cross. Then we all knelt for the benediction. As we were kneeling, I thought to myself, THIS IS CHURCH, to be gathered together in community, united to the Cross, adoring our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The second moment took place a few days later. We had a free morning to go and pray in different sites in Jerusalem. I joined three of my fellow second year classmates as we set off for a few different Churches. We made our way over to San Pietro Gallicantu, which is built on the spot where Peter denied Christ three times before the cock crowed, hence Galli – cantu. In the Gospels we are told that Peter followed Christ to the house of the high priest, where he waited by a fire in the courtyard. The Church is built over the site of this courtyard and outer part of the complex of the high priest. Thus there is also a holding cell, where tradition has it that Christ was kept as he was waiting to be handed over from the Sanhedrin to the Roman authorities. This holding cell is a very small pit, which is deep underneath the Church. We made our way down into this pit, where we found two young French nuns joined by some other 20 something year old French students. They were in one corner of the pit praying among themselves as we stood on the other side. All of a sudden they began to sing a beautiful French hymn. There was not much space for the sound to escape so the sound of their voices resonated throughout this small pit. Though I could only make out a few of the French words, the somber tone of their voices let me know what it all meant. This was a hymn of the Son in distress pleading to the Father. Through these beautiful French tunes we were all more deeply united with the Son pleading to the Father in all of our times of distress, which so often pale in comparison with the pain of Christ’s Passion. I stopped praying the psalms and just closed my eyes, I didn’t want the song to end. What a beautiful moment, at the end, as they walked out, I could barely mutter, “Merci.”