(by Fr. Greg Shaffer, Chaplain, GWCatholics, George Washington University Newman Center)
Nineteen of us from GW just returned from a 10 day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, including seventeen students.
It was AWESOME! For almost all of us, it was our first time. God completely blessed our trip, and made each day greater than the one before it. The first half of our time was spent at the Sea of Galilee which was gorgeous. This is where Jesus was! He performed miracles there, walked on water there, and handed over his authority to Peter there (“feed my sheep”). The views in the morning and evening were especially breath-taking. So many of us fell in love with the Sea of Galilee. It was so beautiful and peaceful, and lended easily to prayer. Think I’ve found my retirement spot! One morning, I posted on Facebook that I went for a run and touched the Sea of Galilee. Incredible!
The second half of our pilgrimage was in Jerusalem. This was much more chaotic, busy, and touristy. But, the holy sites there were so powerful and overwhelming. We visited the Church of the Annunciation and the students got that that’s where it all started…the Word became flesh. The Mass at the Church of Agony at the Garden of Gethsemane was particularly powerful because that’s where Christ first shed His blood that we offer at every Mass. And, then, we had Mass in the tomb! I celebrated Mass on a marble slab where Christ’s body laid for 3 days and then was resurrected…! That was the most emotional Mass I have ever celebrated.
The theme of the pilgrimage was one word: HERE. At each of these places, the prayers in the priest’s book (missal) said HERE. “The Word became flesh HERE”. “Christ was born HERE”. “Christ rose from the dead HERE”. No other missals in the world say that. We were there and celebrated Mass where these major events of our salvation happened!
If you ever get a chance to go the Israel, please do. First, it was very safe. At no time was our safety at risk. Second, it was life-changing. 19 of us went; there were 19 conversions. We are all different people now. We spanned the spectrum of faith; some were full of faith, some were doubters going into the trip. We are all believers now, having had a special encounter with Christ in the Holy Land.
Towards the end of our time there, we visited the Upper Room. This is a significant site for us for a number of reasons: it was there that Christ celebrated the Last Supper, instituted the Eucharist and Priesthood, and where today’s feast of Pentecost occurred. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles as tongues of fire (why the sanctuary and priest are donned with red today). The Apostles had been afraid to even go outside after Jesus ascended “for fear of the Jews”. I talked to our students about this on the trip. It was actually on the feast of the Ascension that I quoted the Gospel: “they worshiped but doubted”.
Think about what that means. The Apostles were taught by Jesus for three years, got to know him well as a friend, witnessed His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. After all that, they doubted and were afraid. They were at all of the holy sites we were…and they were with Jesus! I pointed this out to the students, and asked them what changed for the Apostles. It was the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit filled them with faith, not fear. He filled them with courage, wisdom and zeal to go out and proclaim Jesus. They did that, and on the first day of going out, three thousand people were baptized. It was the start of the Catholic Church. The Spirit spoke through the Apostles that day, started the Church, and has been guiding the Church ever since.
As I told the students, pray to the Holy Spirit. If you are doubting or are afraid or feel that God is a million miles away, ask the Spirit to help you know Christ’s presence. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful”. Fill our hearts with your love. Fill our hearts with your truth, your peace, your joy. Help us to be filled with faith, not fear. Help us to go out and proclaim Jesus as the Apostles did.
Pentecost was the first Confirmation. It was for our own sake that you and I were baptized; it was for the sake of others that we were confirmed. The purpose of Pentecost was to send the Apostles out; the purpose of our Confirmation was to go out on the mission of the Church. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to go out and proclaim Jesus with your lives.