by Kevin wojciechowski
Today my brothers and I had the opportunity to pray at the Church of the Pater Noster (Our Father). The property is believed to be the site where Our Lord taught his disciples The Lord's Prayer/Our Father. As I reflected today on each word of this beautiful prayer, I realized how well the words of the prayer serve as a template for describing the kinds of graces I've received on this pilgrimage thus far. Here's what I mean:
-Our Father: Much preaching we hear and commentaries we read focus on the word Father in this prayer, and rightly so! It's such a privilege to be able to call God Father in virtue of our baptism into Christ. Yet we cannot gloss over the significance of the word Our. As one roams the grounds of the Church of the Pater Noster, one notices that the walls are covered in over 100 large plaques. These plaques display the words of the Lord's Prayer in over 100 languages. This made me reflect on the fact that men and women for the past 2,000 years from around the world have addressed this prayer, in their native tongue, to the same Father you and I pray to. If we are all addressing the same Father when we pray Our Father, then you and I are brothers and sisters in Christ. This is something I've learned before in a Catechism class, but it really clicked today.
-Who art in Heaven: If our resurrected Lord had decided to stay in Israel in the flesh, my brother seminarians and I would probably have to wait in line for weeks or even months just to get within sight of him. Instead, he ascended into Heaven so that he can be intimately close to each and every one of us at any time and any place where we pray and/or share in the sacraments. As I visit these holy sites and see where Our Lord was in the past, I'm reminded that this life is one big pilgrimage to our Heavenly homeland. I can still encounter Our Lord in prayer and in the sacraments now, but I have to keep in mind these are just foretastes of a greater fulfillment to come.
-Hallowed by thy name: On one of our bus rides along the border of North-East Israel, we could see the country of Syria on the horizon. A few brother seminarians who looked into a pair of binoculars said the city they saw was in ruins. We later found out that city had been attacked by ISIS in their attempt to wipe out all traces of Christianity. We all took a moment to thank God that we can freely utter the most holy name of Jesus without fear of persecution or death and we prayed for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world who don't enjoy that same privilege.
-Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven: This pilgrimage has stretched all of us seminarians in one way or another. One way we've all been challenged is being at the mercy of someone else's (our director, Monsignor Trapp's) schedule. He put a lot of time and effort into making sure we could see a wide set of holy sites and we're all incredibly grateful for his leadership. Even so, some of us feel frustrated when we have to spend a long chunk of time in a place we don't particular connect with and are rushed through a spot we'd love to stay at for an hour. This pilgrimage has given us a chance to practice abandoning ourselves more fully to God's providence- abandoning our own wills and desires so that God's plan can reign in our lives.
Give us this day our daily bread: Each day of our pilgrimage, we've had the chance to nourish our souls with the Eucharist (our daily bread). Our Lord has been made present body and blood, soul and divinity in such places as the site of his Nativity in Bethlehem and a few yards away from the spot of his crucifixion on Golgotha. Heaven and earth embraced as we celebrated Mass on the Mount of Beatitudes, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the Church of the Annunciation where Our Lord became flesh in Mary's womb. Such once-in-a-lifetime opportunities have given myself and my brother seminarians a greater appreciation for both the Mass itself and the vocation of priesthood which we are all discerning.
-And forgive us our trespasses: Last week we went to the spot on the Jordan River where John the Baptist exhorted those to be baptized, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! As I prayed with the passage on Jesus' baptism, I went to confession with one of the priests here and then walked into the sanctifying waters of the Jordan River. It was a moment filled with overwhelming thanksgiving for Our Lord's mercy and the sacraments of baptism and confession.
-As we forgive those who trespass against us: There's a saying around here that goes something like: In the Holy Land, the Land is Holy but the people are not! Though we are walking in the footsteps of our Most Holy God, this Land is not reserved for the most perfect, patient, charitable, angelic tourists and pilgrims (if it were, we wouldn't be able to get in either!). We've dealt with folks squeezing past us in order to cut in front of us, we've looked up and found dozens of folks taking selfies up near the altar of a church we're trying to pray in, and (if you can imagine) sometimes we brothers get on each other's nerves after an eight-mile trek in 90 degree heat! Yet in being patient with our brothers and sisters and forgiving them for the ways in which they inconvenience us, we come to appreciate how patient our merciful Lord is with us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: Temptations do not magically disappear as soon as you arrive at Tel-Aviv's International Airport. Believe me when I say you can even face temptations when you're kneeling in front of the spot where Christ died on the Cross and poured out his blood to reconcile you to the Father! This realization served as a reminder to me that this life requires our participation in spiritual warfare to our last breath. Yet seeing the empty tomb of Our Lord reminds me that the hope of eternal life is something worth fighting for.
Kevin wojciechowskiKevin Wojciechowski is a second-year theologian studying for the Diocese of Saginaw.