An Unexpected Blessing: My trip to Jordan

 
A week ago, Diana von Glahn of The Faithful Traveler contacted me. She wanted to know if I was interested in traveling to Jordan with other members of the press. She would pass my contact information along to key organizers of a Jordan Religious Press Tour if I was interested.

Are you kidding me? Of course I said yes.

Within one week, I had filled out the application and received word that I was chosen to go to Jordan and visit key sites from April 9 to April 19. Next month.

And I had been lamenting that I would have to wait until August for the Catholic Press Association pilgrimage to Poland before I would be making my next trip! But God has a way of filling our cup to overflowing and taking us places we never dreamed we would be able to go. Abraham learned that late in life. So did Moses. And now, at fifty, I am feeling the call to go … to meet my Lord in many places.

So, April is Jordan–Eastern Holy Land.

August, Poland–Sts. Faustina, John Paul II, & Maximilian Kolbe

November, Israel & Bethlehem–Holy Land.

December, Mexico–Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Have I mentioned lately that I love pilgrimages, and travel writing about places of faith is right up there at the top of my “favorite things” list? I can stay up until two in the morning writing while on pilgrimage (which I do almost every night) and still get up for a six o’clock wake-up and a day of prayer at holy places. That’s grace. At home, I need a solid eight-hour night.

Well, the official itinerary arrived just a few days after I submitted the application. I eagerly read through each day’s events.

By day four, I had to stop reading. I was overwhelmed by the gift that was unfolding before my eyes:

Bethany Beyond the Jordan: considered to be the actual site of the Baptism of Jesus
Bethany Beyond the Jordan: considered to be the actual site of the Baptism of Jesus

Leave Amman behind to travel south toward the wilderness on the eastern banks of the River Jordan known as Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. According to the Bible, it was here that the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire, and where John the Baptist came centuries later preaching and baptizing in the spirit of Elijah“.

Pope John Paul II overlooking Mount Nebo (photo courtesy the Wall Street Journey)
Pope John Paul II overlooking Mount Nebo (photo courtesy the Wall Street Journal)

Then, drive a short distance to Mount Nebo, where the Bible says Moses climbed after his long Exodus journey to see the land he would never enter, and where he was buried nearby by God himself.”

I slipped out of my chair and knelt beside my office desk. My heart was full, and prayers of gratitude seemed the only appropriate response.

I have been working out to meet the physical demands of making pilgrimages. I have increased the incline of the treadmill when I work out, setting the incline as steep as I can handle because the itinerary says we will have the opportunity to climb Mount Nebo, if we feel we can handle the hike up the mountain.

I’m going to do it. So it is time to get into even better shape.

Through words, I will take you back to those moments in salvation history.

I’m going to Jordan.

You come, too.

 

Denise Bossert:

Denise is a convert to the Catholic Church. She is the daughteDenise Bossertr of a Protestant minister. In 2005, she converted to Catholicism after reading books by Carmelite saints. Her syndicated column called Catholic by Grace has been published in 63 diocesan newspapers. She has also written for Catholic magazines and appeared on EWTN’s Journey Home and Women of Grace. She is a Catholic travel writer and pilgrimage leader with Select International Tours and Cruises. Her first book is entitled Gifts of the Visitation and explores the Blessed Mother’s journey from Nazareth to Ein Kerem where she remained with St. Elizabeth for three months prior to the birth of St. John the Baptist. Website: denisebossert.com

Denise Bossert, Catholic columnist & author

(636)352-8705

www.denisebossert.com
www.amazon.com/author/denisebossert.com
www.facebook.com/denise.bossert

Pricked by a thorn on the Mount of Beatitudes

 
By Denise Bossert

I was on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, organized by Select International Tours. Another pilgrim, Terry, was sitting beside her husband at the outdoor Mass we attended on the Mount of Beatitudes. She leaned into Chris’ side and felt the joy of praying the Mass with him, the enormity of hearing the words of the divine liturgy on this mountain where Jesus Christ proclaimed the Sermon on the Mount.

Then, Terry suddenly reached up and swiped at the back of her neck as though she had been stung…….it was no bee.

When I looked behind her, I had to smile. The branch she had just swept away was from the Zizyphus Spina Christi plant, a tree believed to have been used to make the Crown of Thorns that was placed on Our Lord’s Sacred Head before the crucifixion.

The significance of that moment on the Mount of Beatitudes and the grace of being pricked by the thorns of that plant in the middle of Mass still resonate with me. Yes, it was a grace: it is a grace to share in His Passion, just as it is a grace to share in His Resurrection and triumph over death and sorrow, and little pricks of pain from countless things that trouble us.

The Mount of Beatitudes is an essential part of any visit to the Holy Land
The Mount of Beatitudes is an essential part of any visit to the Holy Land. The Sermon on the Mount comes alive here, where it was preached over 2,000 years ago.

A little thorn on an obscure branch on a hill where the gospel was proclaimed and is still proclaimed today.  This tree was most likely the one from which the Crown of Thorns was made  The Zizyphus Spina Christi bush was most likely the one from which the Crown of Thorns was made. It grows wild here on the Mount of Beatitudes and elsewhere.  The thorns were not big, like those we imagine or see in Hollywood depictions of that day. They were little. So sharp. Like needles, but so small that one has to look closely to see them. The first time I visited the Holy Land and walked along that Mount of Beatitudes, I paused to snap a little branch from one tree as we descended the mountain and approached the Sea of Galilee below.

The thorns pierced me three times, drawing blood. It was painful, but I had to laugh at the irony of it. Such a little thing, this thorn.

Such little things to cause such pain. And there was a little joy in knowing I was sharing in a very small way in the pain my Lord had experienced. I treasured that little thorn. It is now between the pages of my Bible – resting in the crevice of a page that tells about the Passion and a crown of many thorns.

As we approach Lent, I am thinking again about the Mount of Beatitudes and the Zizyphus Spina Christi plant.

I am thinking about our thorns, the countless sufferings we embrace and consider a share in His great suffering.

I think of Our Lord, who walked down that same mountain, passed thorny plants such as these, and yet had His eyes on the path that led all the way to the Cross of Mount Calvary.

Oh, my Jesus. Let me take up your suffering and wear it with you.

Let me see each prick as a grace.

And let me say what you said.

Thy will. Only Thy will.

Denise Bossert:

Denise is a convert to the Catholic Church. She is the daughteDenise Bossertr of a Protestant minister. In 2005, she converted to Catholicism after reading books by Carmelite saints. Her syndicated column called Catholic by Grace has been published in 63 diocesan newspapers. She has also written for Catholic magazines and appeared on EWTN’s Journey Home and Women of Grace. She is a Catholic travel writer and pilgrimage leader with Select International Tours and Cruises. Her first book is entitled Gifts of the Visitation and explores the Blessed Mother’s journey from Nazareth to Ein Kerem where she remained with St. Elizabeth for three months prior to the birth of St. John the Baptist. Website: denisebossert.com

Denise Bossert, Catholic columnist & author

+1 (636) 352-8705

www.denisebossert.com
www.amazon.com/author/denisebossert.com

 

God Trekking and the Pilgrim Journey, by Denise Bossert

Post by Denise Bossert

Like Simeon and the Magi, the Church has always known the simple truth: we are on a quest to encounter the Lord. This truth turns Magi into pilgrims. It sends Simeon and Anna into the Temple. It turned St. Helena and St. Francis of Assisi into Holy Land trailblazers. The Church takes up the call to be a pilgrim people who go to the places where Mary and Jesus have been.

This faith quest goes back even further. To a man called from Ur of the Chaldeans. To Ruth who followed Naomi out of Moab. To the Israelites called back from exile. We see it as the page turns from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The Blessed Virgin Mary is inspired to visit Elizabeth and leave behind a disbelieving Nazareth. The Holy Family is directed to flee into Egypt, away from Herod’s rule and the murder of the Holy Innocents.

While it is part of Church tradition, and reaches back into the depths of salvation history, pilgrimage is not a strong part of the American Catholic schema. We go on retreats. We do parish missions. But pilgrimage is also necessary for the Catholic soul.

Bill Howard, former editor for The Colorado Catholic Herald, believes in making pilgrimages. “A pilgrimage reminds us how universal the Church is and challenges us to see the Lord working through different traditions and practices than our own. A pilgrimage gives you a much greater appreciation for the beautiful history and teachings of the Catholic Church.”

I met Bill Howard last May when we both traveled to the Holy Land with the Catholic Press Association as guests of the Israel Ministry of Tourism (IMOT). “I loved the Israel Ministry trip,” he says, which he describes as a fast-paced overview of the Holy Land and an intense media immersion surrounding the Holy Father’s visit. “One had to work to make private pilgrimage moments.” Bill encountered one of those sacred moments on the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee is a favorite pilgrimage site. The faithful gaze at the shoreline where Christ walked. They look across the water and think of a night when another boat was so tossed about by storms that even seasoned fishermen were terrified. They replay the Lord’s words and remember how even the wind and the waves obeyed his command. Our Lord calls to them.

Bill Howard believes in pilgrimage, whether it is deliberately seeking out moments while on a trip to Uganda or to the Holy Land or while on a cross-country trek that includes a side visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help near Green Bay, Wisconsin. “There is a great purification in the journey to a sacred place.”

My second visit to the Holy Land was thoroughly a pilgrimage. We began our day with prayer and had daily Mass in places like the Basilica of the Annunciation (Nazareth) and the Church of the Visitation (Ein Kerem). One night in Bethlehem, we participated in a program called Sharing the Bread, in which pilgrims meet in the homes of Palestinian Christians. Thirty years ago, the Christian population in Bethlehem was ninety percent. Now, they make up just two percent of the population.  Why do they stay? They stay because this is the birthplace of their Lord Jesus. It is an inheritance on a spiritual level, and even if things are difficult, they will stay. And we will have holy sites to visit on pilgrimage because of their faithfulness.

Select International Tours and Cruises, a premier pilgrimage company, created the Select to Give Foundation. The shared-meal program is part of that foundation. The meal was the full expression of pilgrimage, which is about people, lodging, and culture, and how these things have a divine synergy. They expand our hearts and help us to see Christ beyond our parish, beyond our diocese, beyond our country.

Each year, a group from the Holy Land sells olive wood carvings at my parish. Even then, I never specifically thought about Palestinian Christians. To be honest, until the trip with the IMOT, I didn’t even realize Bethlehem was in Palestinian territory. In May, I met Palestinian Christians, and I found their stories to be compelling. They became real to me. I let them into my heart. Pilgrimages lead to conversion, to metanoia. A change of heart and mind. Now, I have faces with names, people with homes and stories that will remain with me always.

When I converted, nobody could keep me quiet about this gift of our Catholic faith. A similar thing has happened to me when it comes to pilgrimage. Some say that going on a pilgrimage is dangerous. And then they look at me strangely because I don’t strike them as the kind of person who courts danger. I’m not into extreme sports. I don’t have a death wish. I’m from their parish, their archdiocese, their state. They had me pegged as the reclusive writer.

I feel safe the entire time I’m on pilgrimage. Yes, even in the Holy Land, I felt safe every moment. We are a pilgrimage people. It is who we are. It is in our DNA. Just one pilgrimage makes a person remember that.

As Catholic journalists and bloggers, we need to be trailblazers like St. Helena and St. Francis of Assisi. We can open the doors on this aspect of Catholic life that is under-utilized in our culture.

As writers, we can introduce them to these amazing pilgrimage destinations. As photojournalists, we can capture the beauty and grandeur of the people and the places that Jesus and His Blessed Mother chose to visit.

Let’s remind the faithful that we are a pilgrimage people. And then, let’s lead the way. People who make one pilgrimage want to make another one and another one. I’m planning pilgrimages to Mexico and the Holy Land in 2015 and plan to join pilgrimages to Knock and Lourdes as soon as I am able to fit them into my schedule.

Denise Bossert:

Denise is a convert to the Catholic Church. She is the daughter of a Protestant minister. In 2005, she converted to Catholicism after reading books by Carmelite saints. Her syndicated column called Catholic by Grace has been published in 63 diocesan newspapers. She has also written for Catholic magazines and appeared on EWTN’s Journey Home and Women of Grace. She is a Catholic travel writer and pilgrimage leader with Select International Tours and Cruises. Her first book is entitled Gifts of the Visitation and explores the Blessed Mother’s journey from Nazareth to Ein Kerem where she remained with St. Elizabeth for three months prior to the birth of St. John the Baptist. Website: denisebossert.com

Denise Bossert, Catholic columnist & author  Denise Bossert

(636)352-8705

http://www.denisebossert.com