I do not say this lightly: An experience happened during my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land which I place as among the top experiences so far during my time as a priest.
By way of context, I was blessed and tremendously grateful to have been asked to be the chaplain of a large pilgrimage to the Holy Land with SiriusXM’s own Lino Rulli and Gus Lloyd. Over 90 pilgrims joined us as we toured the land of Emmanuel, where Jesus walked and continues to walk. We spent time at Caesaria Maritima, the Sea of Galilee (including a boat ride on the Sea), Nazareth, Capernaum, Mount Tabor, Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, the Upper Room, and other places. In each place the Bible came alive in new ways.
However one aspect of the pilgrimage struck me repeatedly. As I was blessed to be able to celebrate the Mass in different locations, I could not help but notice one important feature about the liturgical books for each site. Typically a votive Mass was offered in these places that called to mind the Scripture story that took place there.
Site of the Annunciation. The Word became flesh, HERE.
In these places, the prayers and Scriptures were modified such that they emphasized the location. For example, at the place of The Annunciation, the texts referred to the Word becoming flesh, HERE. The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor referred to the glory of the Lord being made visible on THIS mountain. The Last Supper was celebrated HERE in the Upper Room. Every time one of these words would arise in the liturgy, they were presented in bold and all capitals so that we would not forget where we were and what had happened there. That led to a few emotional moments during the Masses as it hit me what had happened and Who had been present at that place.
But then, as I mentioned at the top, came one of the most moving events in my time as a priest.
The tomb was emptied. HERE.
I celebrated Mass at the site of the Holy Sepulcher, at The. Tomb. It was HERE that sin was defeated. All of history was changed forever, HERE. It was HERE that death lost and eternal life won. It was HERE that hope was poured out and love triumphed.
It is HERE that Jesus rose from the dead.
I don’t know how I held it together as I presided at that Mass. I could only imagine that it was a good amount of grace. It will take me a while to process what happened to me in that place, as HERE I reverenced the stone of the tomb at the beginning and the end of Mass, and Jesus became present once again in the Eucharist in the place where he rose in triumph.
All I know is that something changed in me. Somehow the Resurrection (which I believe and hold onto to the core of my being) became more real to me. Hope became more firm. Because of the Love that triumphed HERE, in that Tomb, I have, as the liturgy for funerals says, “a sure and certain hope” that my ultimate resting place is not in a tomb but in the Father’s house. And if I stay close to Jesus, who was and is victorious HERE, then his victory is also mine. It’s ours.
Again, this is not anything that I didn’t know before. And the same Jesus is every bit as present in my own land as he is in Jerusalem. But there was something about the tangible reality of that now empty piece of stone that affected me deeply. Perhaps St. Paul says it the best:
Death has been swallowed up in victory,
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Cor. 15.54b,55,57)
HERE is the place of victory. Not just in a cold stone 10,000 km away, but HERE, offered to you and me.
Lino, Mountain, Rob, and some weird guy. (Photo credit: M. Grammer)
I recently arrived home in Watson, Saskatchewan after having experienced some of the more fun and inspiring 10 days that I’ve had so far as a priest. I was in Italy as chaplain for the latest Catholic Guy pilgrimage with Lino Rulli & Rob Keighron. (Lino broadcasts a wildly entertaining show on SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel, ch. 129 Monday-Friday from 3-5pm MDT/5-7pm EDT. Head to catholicguy.com for more information & podcasts of parts of the show! I even made a few appearances last week… and managed to talk about Star Trek within about 3 minutes of my introduction. *cue eye roll from my family*)
The pilgrimage was named Everything and the Kitchen Sink, and it certainly lived up to its billing. During the pilgrimage we experienced a whirlwind: many churches in Rome, the Scavi tour to the bones of St. Peter, the Vatican Museum, the Colosseum, the Eucharistic miracle in Orvietto, the many sites of Florence including the Duomo and Michelangelo’s statute of David, a high speed train ride to Turin to see the Shroud of Turin, and winding up the pilgrimage in the city of Milan. After most of our fellow pilgrims left for home, I joined Lino, Rob, The Girlfriend Fiancée (congratulations!!!), and a couple of their friends back in Rome for a day before leaving for home.
One word keeps leaping to my mind regarding these past days: gratitude.
I am immensely grateful for many things. I’m grateful to have seen so many inspiring churches and other sites during our pilgrimage. I’m grateful for having seen The Shroud of Turin, which revealed to me in an unexpected way the raw humanity of Jesus, and how much he must love you and me that he would be so vulnerable for us. I’m grateful for great food and wine and green sambuca. I’m grateful and truly humbled for having been able to celebrate Masses in so many beautiful places, as Jesus became present sacramentally right in my hands. That’s always more mind-blowing and humbling than I can possibly describe or dare to contemplate.
But as I go over these past days, my biggest feeling of gratitude to God is ultimately for the gift of having shared this time with amazing people from all walks of life. It’s incredible to me how Lino can take over three dozen people from across the United States and Canada and that we all meshed together so well. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. I’m grateful that they laughed at my cheesy anecdotes during the homilies. I’m grateful for being able to share meals, wine, laughs, walks (54+ miles, according to one person’s Fitbit!), prayer, food, sambuca, wine, laughs, awe-inspiring sights, laughs, food, wine, music, Mass, and laughs. And food. And wine.
(I still refuse to buy a selfie stick, however.)
I’m also grateful for Mountain (thecatholictraveler.com) who took his usual great care of the group. This is my second pilgrimage with him and seriously: if you want to travel and have a group you’d like to take with you, get in touch with him! He’s amazing and so very thoughtful.
And I’m so extremely grateful for Lino and Rob for having invited this rather geeky, short, hockey-playing, Rider-fanatic priest from the middle of Saskatchewan to join them on pilgrimage. God has blessed me through you more than you know. Thank you.
I’ve been in a reflective mood in the wake of this pilgrimage as I’m preparing to move from the four parishes that I love so dearly into a new parish in Saskatoon. This pilgrimage powerfully reinforced in my heart an important reality: I receive so much more from the people of God than I give back. God has blessed me in immeasurable ways through all of my parishioners during these past five years in the Watson area, and through my being with Lino, Rob, Mountain, and everyone else on this recent trip. My heart is full.
St. Paul summarizes my feelings very well:
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3.20-21)
I’m currently with most of the other priests working in the Diocese of Saskatoon on a week of study days. It’s been a great week so far! We’ve been hearing talks from the one and only Lino Rulli, host of The Catholic Guy Show on SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel. Lino has been presenting to us about communicating our hope to our parishes and the world around us, and he’s given us a ton of great, practical tips. He’s a very engaging presenter who’s been sparking lots of discussion among the priests.
I’ve listened to his show for almost a couple of years. Lino presents his faith in a real, lived way that is both wildly entertaining and inspires us to keep on trying, relying on grace. Check out his website to listen to his podcasts, which are a weekly “best of” show. And if you have Sirius or XM satellite radio, he’s on channel 129 Monday-Friday from 2-5pm CST (4-7pm Eastern).
(Oh, and before I forget: Definitely check out his fantastic new book, Sinner: The Catholic Guy’s Funny, Feeble Attempts to Be a Faithful Catholic! It’s available at Amazon.com or where ever fine books are sold, such as Universal Church Supplies.)
So, I was initially planning to blog – even just a small post – several times a week. However, between the podcast that I co-host, two upcoming funerals, and the preparations for a talk that I’m giving for the Saskatoon Lay Formation program, it’s been rather difficult to write anything for this blog.
I did have the chance to read a great new book, however! I bought Sinner by Lino Rulli on Amazon.com’s Kindle store. (Sadly, the paperback version is not shipping in Canada for a while.)
Lino is the winner of multiple Emmy awards for a television show named Generation Cross that ran in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Since 2006 he has been the host of The Catholic Guy Show on the Sirius/XM Catholic Channel. The show runs Monday-Friday from 2-5pm Saskatchewan time. Lino and the other cast members (Ryan Grant and Fr. Rob “Timmy” Keighron) talk about life, love, and healt… err… I mean, about living their faith in ways that are both informative and, as Lino would say, “wildly entertaining.” Truth is, this show is one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud shows anywhere on radio, and it also inspires people to search deeper in their faith.
Well, Lino has written a book. He writes about how his life as an ordinary, typical sinner (I can relate!) has found grace to grow and to learn at different times in his life. It is quite a funny read. However, note that some of his stories are definitely of a more mature subject matter (he’s writing about his sins and temptations after all), so it’s not necessarily something for the young kidlets. But for the rest of us, it’s a funny and inspiring book that is easily relatable. Check it out!