Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Let me start by apologizing for the map.  I am working on a better presentation, but let me start with this one.

Some of you are aware that my spouse and I go to the Holy Land more often than most people.  At this point we have just returned from the Holy Land and I have been asked to talk about it for those who have never been and have no thought of ever being able to make it.
So, here goes, bad map and all.

We leave from Los Angeles airport (LAX) and fly for 14 hours straight until we touch ground again in Tel Aviv-Yafo.  This map shows the option of heading south to Jerusalem before turning north to Nazareth.  We prefer to go north first because that is where Jesus grew up and recruited his favored disciples.  It is also where He spent at least 80% of His life.  Then we head down the road that is on the western shoulder of the Jordan River until we get to Jericho.  From Nazareth to Jericho is a nearly 2 hour bus ride.  We spend sometime in Jericho (one of my favorite places) before heading up the hill to Jerusalem.  It is 16 miles and about 3,000 feet of elevation.  Jericho is 850 feet below sea level.  Jerusalem is at 2,500 feet above sea level.  Both cities are at about 31 degrees north of the equator.  For reference San Diego where we live is at about sea level and sits at about the same latitude (32 degrees north).

These are among the material things that strike anyone going to the Holy Land.
There are three categories of observation that the pilgrim to the Holy Land lives:
* Material - visual, touchable
* Traditional - landmarked up to several centuries ago
* Faith - Seen, accepted and believed, whether material or traditional
--Material - The locations named in the Bible...Nazareth, Cana, Nain, Capharnaum, Magdala, The Sea of Galilee, Samaria, Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, The Dead Sea and of course, the Jordan River.  Just seeing those signs is enough to get your heart racing.  You come to the immediate experience that this is real in more ways than one.  The one thing that always gets me is the sight of the remaining portions of the Synagogue in Capharnaum where Jesus and His earliest disciples worshiped.  It's real.

Other material realities and one that is very powerful is the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the home of many traditional sites.  This is true because of the fact that Jerusalem was completely levelled by the Romans in 70 AD.  There are material remnants that point to the material facts, but there are also many buildings that commemorate the location of the material, historical facts. These are impressive and they strike the person of faith with great spiritual power.  The Way of the Cross, Calvary, the Holy Sepuchre, the pool of Bethesda, the remains of the Temple (Wetern Wall), the place of Peter's denial of Jesus, etc.  When you are there, you believe!  You do not doubt!  You know that this is the place.  After all centuries of faithful have been placing their faith here,why not me?

Bethlehem is the sweetheart of many pilgrims.  Why?  This is a happy place.  Jesus was born here.  David was born here.  The mother of Jacob and Esau was born and died here.  St. Jerome translated the Scriptures into Latin here.  This year, we were blessed with the priviledge of celebrating our daily Mass in a cave similar to the one in which Jesus more than likely was born.  This is the first time that I ever had this priviledge.  I'll never forget it.  The likely place where Jesus was actually born is covered over by a large church, one of the oldest Christian Churches still in existence in the world.  The spot is still marked but is not attainable by the ordinary person because it is beneath the floor of the church.

This year was special for us in two other ways.
1. The mayor of Bethlehem is a Catholic woman.  Since her election she has decreed that a Christmas tree would be erected in the central square of Bethlehem and a special lighting ceremony would be held every 1st Saturday of December.  We made it a point to be there this year.  Tens of thousands were there, in the territory of the West Bank.  There were no metal detectors at the entrance points of the square.  The military security personnel were apologizing for asking us to open our bags for them.  All the surrounding businesses, eateries and sundries stores were open and thriving.  The exceptional nature of this lies in the fact that 3% of Bethlehem is Christian and only 1% is Catholic.  

2. We were able to go to Nablus a hot bed in the West Bank.  There we were able to visit Jacob's well where Jesus had his famous conversation with the Samaritan Woman.  Of course, we drank of the water.  While there we stopped the bus in front of a local bakery and befriended the baker and his crew and of course bought some munchies for ourselves (42 of us).

I finish by saying that pilgrimages are one of the oldest forms of prayer known. They are not as solemn and somber as some people imagine them to be.  Every pilgrimage has its solemn moments and its wild moments.  Sometimes they happen together.  People take thousands of photos; they buy large quantities of souvenirs, they try to entice the "natives" into conversations; they get more adventurous with food than they ever thought they were capable of doing, and of course, they pray, they feel and they believe.
A pilgrimage is a hodge-podge of feelings that is difficult to sort out quickly.  A pilgrimage to the Holy Land doesn't just last for 8 or 10 days.  It starts long before a person puts the down payment on the table to reserve the ticket.  It slowly grows and mounts in intensity and doesn't ever wane into oblivion - never.  No person goes to the Holy Land and then gets over it.  It is a life changing experience.  It gives meaning to the Jewish saying, "See God and die."
The person who goes to the Holy Land dies to whom he/she was and is never the same.  

I pray that these few words have meant something to you all.

Peace and joy to you.  May you all have a very happy Leap Year.
And don't forget, there's no crying at my funeral.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


I have been thinking a lot about the work that I have done during my life.  It has been an interesting period.  I say period because it has taken me across several weeks of introspection.  Not just because of the jobs I performed, not just because of the energy I expended in doing them but most especially the attitude that gave a soul to the process, the product and to the pay check that came as a result.
The work that I was asked to do around home was the process that taught me that it is not the money that is the most important reward for work.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I did learn that lesson by making the puerile mistake of asking for "pay" after a particularly hard session behind the home lawn mower.  I made the request just before supper on that fateful night.  My father looked me in the eye and simply said: "It's going to be on the table in five minutes.  Eat well."  I never again made the same mistake for anything that I did for the family.
As time went on, that event served as fertile ground for the growing understanding of the community benefits that work brings into being.  Not just around the house, everywhere.
I worked on the tobacco farms.
I dug ditches for an entrepreneur auto repairman's sewage sloughs.
I carried lumber for a construction company.
I worked in a printing company in a semi-technical department and got to be very good at it.
I worked as an indoor painter.
I worked as a switchoard operator for a telephone answering service.
I worked at a water filtration plant where I shoveled sand every day for two months.
I drove airport shuttle vans.
I drive non-emergency medical patient transport vans to transport people to and from dialysis.
I worked as an apartment manager.
I delivered newspapers.
I washed floors.  I had a regular clientele for about two years.
I taught theology classes - still do as a matter of fact.
I was a human resources director.
I work as a language translator.
I work as a pilgrimage travel organizer.
Everything I ever did in any field and for any person or company, I did as a result of a direct personal agreement for the person or company who was going to benefit from the fruit of my labor.  I never allowed myself to be separated from my employer, individual or company, by an agent.  The lesson that my father taught me stayed with me and grew and blossomed into the conviction that by my good efforts both I and the company would succeed and in spirit, if not necessarily in bodily presence, we would both profit by our relationship.
Yes, I worked for people, individuals and companies who did not share my understanding of life.  I would leave and go somewhere else.  I believe that work is a community process aimed in the same direction.  Just like a flock of geese.
I am convinced that many of the economic and social problems that we have are caused by the adversarial nature of our work relationships.  I have lived with that conviction for a very long time.
I pray that someday we will be able to overcome this "we vs them" relationship.  We have to find a better way to achieve the common good that we all say that we seek.  if it doesn't happen before my funeral, don't cry over the failure and surely don't cry for my departure.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


What does that make me?
I have just returned from a religious trip "pilgrimage" to Israel, also known as the Holy Land.  This time, while we were there we heard a little used invitation:
Come often, bring your Catholic friends so that we can come  to know who we are.
At this time of the year it was a deep thought presented to us who were there to visit Bethlehem as well as the rest of the territory.  We thought that were there to come to know more about who we are.  After all, we were visiting Jesus in His home town and we certainly did not have any influence on His understanding of Himself.  But then, I've been thinking, the people of Bethlehem, our hosts, what were they learning about themselves?  We had not yet heard the invitation stated above.  So, now I think, what are these tens of thousands of people from the four corners of the earth, including the Bethlehemites, learning about one another, including their own identity? 
I ask myself, what are the Muslims learning?  What are the Orthodox, the Catholics, the Protestants and others learning about themselves?  What are the Politicians, the Clergy, the Police, the Soldiers, the Students and the Teachers learning?

Belle and I were there, among them, along with 40 other pilgrims.  We were in close quarters, almost body to body, smiling at one another, helping young lovers glide through the pack, making sure that young children did not get separated from nervous parents, speaking in soft, conversational tones while trying to decipher the language coming at us from the brilliantly lit stage by the side of the huge creche.

We all learned something this peaceful night.  The home town of so many of God's important relatives, including His own Son, taught us all a lesson: When Jesus celebrates His birthday, everybody gets along, everybody smiles, everybody gets soaked with memories of loving peace that will never be forgotten.
Belle and I send this to all of you in that spirit. 

Nous venons de rentrer d'un «pèlerinage» en Israël, aussi connu comme la Terre Sainte. Cette fois, alors que nous étions là, nous avons entendu une petite invitation avec une expression surprenante:
« Venez souvent, amenez vos amis catholiques afin que nous puissions arriver à connaitre qui nous sommes. »
À cette époque de l'année, c’était la une pensée profonde qu’on nous a présentée juste un jour avant notre visite à Bethléem.   Pour la plupart, nous pensions que nous étions venus non pour apprendre aux Palestiniens à se connaitre, mais que nous puissions arriver à mieux nous connaitre.   Après tout, nous visitions Jésus dans sa ville natale et nous n’étions certainement pas de l’avis que nous puissions avoir aucune influence sur sa compréhension de lui-même. Mais alors, j’ai pensé, la population de Bethléem, nos hôtes, que faisaient-ils (Oh-la-la-  ca c'est une betise et demi!) font-ils pour apprendre plus à propos d’eux-mêmes? Nous n’avions pas encore entendu le défi de l'invitation indiqué ci-dessus. Donc, maintenant, je réfléchi, je repense, qu’est-ce vont ces dizaines de milliers de personnes qui viennent des quatre coins de la terre, y compris les Bethléemites, apprendre les uns des autres, y compris de leur propre identité?
Je me demande, qu’est-ce que les musulmans apprennent?  Les orthodoxes ?  Les catholiques ?  Les protestants et les autres ?  Qu’est-ce qu’ils apprennent sur eux-mêmes? Et les politiciens ? Les clercs ?  La police ?  Les soldats ?  Les étudiants et les enseignants ?   Apprennent-ils quelque chose de personnel a leur propre propos?
Belle et moi étions là, parmi eux, ainsi que 40 autres pèlerins. Nous étions à l'étroit, presque corps à corps, souriant les uns aux autres, aidant les jeunes amants à se glisser entre les corps rassembles, coude à coude, hanche a hanche,  faisant le possible pour que les jeunes enfants ne soient pas séparés de leurs parents nerveux, parlant dans des tons de conversation doux tout en essayant de déchiffrer le langage provenant à nous de la scène brillamment éclairé au côté de l'immense crèche.
Nous avons tous appris quelque chose le long de cette nuit paisible. La ville natale de tant de la parente importante du Fils de Dieu nous a enseigné à tous une leçon: Quand Jésus célèbre son anniversaire, tout le monde s’accorde, tout le monde sourit, tout le monde est trempé avec des souvenirs d'amour et de paix qui ne seront jamais oublié.

Belle et moi ensemble nous vous envoyons nos meilleurs souhaits de paix et de joie dans cet esprit.

Acabamos de regresar de un viaje de "peregrinación" religioso en Israel, también conocida como la Tierra Santa. Esta vez, mientras estábamos allí nos escuchamos una pequeña invitación profunda:
“Ven a menudo, trae a tus amigos católicos para que podamos llegar a saber quiénes somos.”
En esta época del año era una profunda reflexión que se nos presentó antes de ir para visitar Belén, así como el resto del territorio. Pensamos que estábamos allí para llegar a saber más acerca de lo que somos. Después de todo, estábamos visitando a Jesús en su ciudad natal y no teníamos ninguna idea de causar influencia sobre la comprensión de los Palestinos de sí mismo. Pero entonces, he estado pensando, el pueblo de Belén, nuestros anfitriones, ¿qué estaban aprendiendo acerca de sí mismos? Todavía no habíamos escuchado la invitación se ha dicho. Así que, ahora que lo pienso, ¿cuáles son esas decenas de miles de personas de todos los rincones de la tierra, entre ellos los de Belén, aprendiendo unos de otros, incluyendo su propia identidad?
Yo me pregunto, ¿qué están aprendiendo los musulmanes? ¿ Los ortodoxos, los católicos, los protestantes y los demás, que aprenden sobre sí mismos? ¿ Los políticos, el clero, la policía, los soldados, los estudiantes y los profesores que aprenden?
Belle y yo estuvimos allí, entre ellos, junto con otros 40 peregrinos. Estábamos en lugares cerrados, casi cuerpo a cuerpo, sonriendo a unos y a otros, ayudando a los jóvenes amantes deslizarse a través del paquete, asegurándose de que los niños pequeños no se separen de los padres nerviosos, hablando en tonos suaves, de conversación al intentar descifrar el lenguaje que viene a nosotros desde el escenario brillantemente iluminado por el lado de la enorme creche.
Todos aprendimos algo esta noche tranquila. La ciudad natal de muchos de los familiares importantes de Jesus,  nos enseñó a todos una lección: Cuando Jesús celebra su cumpleaños, todo el mundo se lleva bien, todo el mundo sonríe, todo el mundo se empapa con recuerdos de amante de la paz que nunca será olvidado.

Belle y yo les enviamos esto a todos ustedes en ese espíritu.