by John Paul Williams
I remember our first day in Jerusalem walking the streets with incense, spices and other foreign smells cascading into me. The ocean of languages and dialects swirled together with the sound of street vendors yelling, trying to sell their goods. In the middle of all of this was myself, a country boy from Paw Paw, Michigan, just trying to keep enough focus on Monsignor Trapp and away from this stimulation overload so as not to get lost.
Fast-forward 23 days later (today). I am sitting in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepluchre, simply watching people. The smells have become familiar and I try to focus on the different languages to see if I can guess where they are from. Yet while I sit there, enjoying being immersed in the great mixture of humanity, a question arises in my heart, Has Calvary changed in 2000 years? I close my eyes in prayer and begin reflecting. Here, gathered around the place where Jesus Christ was crucified and rose from the dead, are many of the same kind of people. Some have come here because it's simply just another spot to visit, a spectacle to see- just like the crucifixion was for some folks 2,000 years ago. Others just pass by, not stopping, not being affected, not caring- just like in Jesus's day where it seemed to many like just another crucifixion. Finally, there are those who approach on their knees with tears in their eyes, humbling themselves before the foot of the Cross- just like the Blessed Mother did.
As these thoughts fill my mind, the Holy Spirit provides me with a Scripture passage, John 12:32: and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. Right before my eyes I witness the saving power of Jesus. Who else but him could call such a diverse group of people to himself? It hits me that I had been like every one of the people I had thought about on this pilgrimage. At times I had just went into a Church as a spectator. Other times I simply passed through a place not allowing myself to be affected. Other times, tears filled my eyes. Yet, despite this, the Lord continues to draw me to himself as he continues to draw all to himself. From the Cross, the gaze of love penetrated each and every heart, knowing the unique way to love every individual walking into Calvary. Jesus' arms opened for a divine embrace.
I realized the past 23 days the Lord has been working on opening my heart to receive his love in a deep way. Every Church, holy sight, human interaction, and experience I had was a way for Jesus to draw me a little closer to His Most Sacred Heart. St. John Vianney once said that the love of the priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. This pilgrimage I have had not just an experience- no it has been much more than that- I've had an encounter with the Heart of Jesus.
I open my eyes, still sitting in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepluchre with people shuffling in and out. I stand up, making my way towards the Jaffa gate where the bus is waiting. I have my rosary in hand, saying repeatedly the Jesus prayer Monsignor Trapp taught us, Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me.
I would like to offer thanks to all the benefactors who made this trip possible for me and my brothers and to everyone who has been praying for me. In a particular way, I would like to thank my own mother. Thank you for teaching me to love the Lord at an early age, for encouraging my vocation to the priesthood, and for all the hours spent in prayer for me: I would not be the man I am today without you. Finally, I would like to thank all those who have given me prayer intentions, even those who I have never met, and those whom I care for greatly. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus bring love, joy and peace to you all.
Editor's Note: This concludes our series of blog posts for our time in Israel. We will be publishing one more post in about five days to share our experiences from our time in Rome. Please continue praying for our safe travels and that the Lord would continue to draw us closer to His Sacred Heart.
John Paul WilliamsJohn Paul Williams is a second-year theologian studying for the Diocese of Kalamazoo.