June 2006

Wednesday, June 28, 2006
”Jesus loved the Temple; Paul loved the Temple.”  I said these simple words two years ago at the Western Wall while filming our documentary on Paul. I was almost mobbed for speaking the name of “Jesus.”

The bus dropped us off at the Dung Gate near the ancient City of David and I led my pilgrims through the metal detectors into the courtyard between the Jewish Quarter above the Western Wall to the right. Janet led the women to their sector to pray while I led the men to the men’s section. Those without hats picked up cardboard yarmulkes to place on their heads. A head covering is there to remind us that we are in the presence of God.

I took pictures while these good men folded their prayers into small paper squares and squeezed them into the cracks of the wall while the Orthodox Jews bobbed and prayed at the wall. Everyone enjoyed the experience and I hope they had a real sense of the holiness of this place where the Temple stood and where Jesus was teaching the Doctors of the Jewish Law – remember the Fifth Joyful Mystery?

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Mary was a real girl. She was not a goddess, nor an angel – she was a simple Jewish girl, actually a tough little Jewish girl who was born in Jerusalem in the very shadow of the temple. She was not only a tough little Jewish girl but also the Immaculate Conception.

The bus dropped us off at St. Stephen’s Gate (I love that gate :-) and we walked up the steep incline past the back entrance to the Muslim shrine of the Dome of the Rock and up to the large door on the right leading into the Church of St. Ann and the Pools of Bethesda. St. Ann’s Church is build over the Grotto where Mary was born.

We had Mass there and Tony McNoskey sang the Ave Maria in this church with acoustics made for a voice like his. (Once the priest in charge told me if you do not sing, you have not prayed.) I gave a talk on the Immaculate Conception in the cave where it all took place.

After this beautiful celebration we drove to a restaurant between Jerusalem and Bethlehem for a buffet lunch. What a spread! After lunch we went to Mount Zion which is outside the Zion Gate and outside the ancient walls.

We visited four sites here: first, the Church of the Dormitian where Mary fell asleep or died. This is a gorgeous church – one of my favorites in all of Israel – with an apse mosaic portraying each of the primary Old Testament prophets holding in their hand a symbol of how they prophesied about the coming Messiah. For example, Micah holds in his hand a miniature of the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

Below is the ivory statue of Mary reclined as in sleep with the holy women of the Old Testament remembered above her in mosaics: Eve, Miriam, Jael, Judith, Ruth, and Esther. Also we saw one of my favorite mosaics of Mary laboring in prayer with the apostles to give birth to the Church on the 50th day, Pentecost. There is so much to see in this church that it is impossible to even begin here.

And which site "saw" the institution of three of our seven Sacraments?

We climbed up the stairs to the Upper Room where I gave an extended talk about the institution of the priesthood, the Eucharist,and  the Sacrament of Reconciliation; also the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and Peter’s escape from prison (Acts 12).

Below the Upper Room we prayed at the Tomb of David before walking down to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu – the place where the cock crowed. Here we read Psalm 88 in the pit where Jesus spent Holy Thursday after being tried and beaten by the High Priest. We talked about Peter and the charcoal fire – why a charcoal fire? After this everyone walked on the same steps Jesus ascended when he was taken to trial. These steps will never forget the REAL footprints of God!

Everyone had three hours free to explore the Old City of Jerusalem, to shop, to nap or to pray. Then came dinner and a free evening. Another glorious day.

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Safety in Israel

by Steve Ray on June 30, 2006

So what else is new? An event in Israel makes news in the US and CNN makes it sound like all of Israel is dangerous with kidnapping and bombs going off on every street corner.

First, it has nothing to do with us or our pilgrims. Second, Gaza is a long way from us and does not effect us. Third, the kidnapped and murdered were Israeli soldiers, not citizens and certainly not tourists.

I could go on but suffice it to say, the pilgrims never knew anything happened and have always commented on how safe it is here, how friendly everyone is, and how they have never been afraid or sensed anything unsettling. It is safe and beatiful with a record number of tourists, so . . .

 . . . don't worry about us. We are far safer here than than in many large downtown US cities. What a beautiful land!

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Why were Shepherds 1st to Learn of the Birth?

by Steve Ray on June 29, 2006

Tuesday, June 27, Bethlehem and Ein Kerem
”O little town of Bethlehem
, how still we see thee lie, Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.”

Everyone knows that song! But imagine what it is like to drive thought this ancient land looking down on terraced hillsides and seeing caves in the mountainsides. As you wind through the narrow Palestinian streets you see your fellow Christians mingling with the Muslims, walking along the road with their children – shopping, working, and trying to survive.

Then you get off the bus, walk up the road, push your way through rude vendors to finally see . . .

. . . the oldest church in the world, and the smallest church door in the world. You’d think this door was crafted especially for dwarfs. It is pocked with bullet dings and not more than 4 feet high. It is appropriate though that you bow as you enter the Church of the Nativity. The door was reduced in size to keep Muslims from riding their horses and camels into the incredibly holy place.

It cooled down a bit but not much. Jerusalem and Bethlehem rise high above the Jordan Valley to the east and the plain to the west that runs down to the Mediterranean. So Jerusalem and Bethlehem are always a bit cooler – or should I say “less hot” – than other areas in Israel.

Before breakfast, many pilgrims entered the Old City and prayed or attended Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, only ten minutes from our hotel, the Notre Dame Center. That is why I always bring pilgrims here — it is so close to the most holy place in the world.

We drove through it today. Through what? I will tell you. There is a lot of talk about the wall that Israel is building as a protection against terrorist bombers infiltrating into Israel. Nothing can stir the passions and start arguments here more than mention of that wall. There are many opinions and I feel sorry for the innocent Palestinians inconvenienced and humiliated by the wall, but I can't help but think the wall was really built by Arafat and his policy of suicide bombers. The innocent Palestinians and especially the Christians suffer because of the radical Muslims who want to use bombs and terror as a means of retaliation. This wall would have been extremely difficult to build — especially because of world opinion — if the bombs had not become a way of life. Anyway, we drove through the wall as we left Israel proper and entered the West Bank to visit Bethlehem.

Is it safe here, especially in Bethlehem? Almost everyone admitted that family and friends told them they were crazy for coming here – “You’ll get blown up!” – but all of them would chuckle at such silliness now that they have traversed Israel and the West Bank from the north to the bustling city of Jerusalem. No one has at any time felt threatened or uneasy. The people in Bethlehem and gentle and kind people and I always hate to say good-bye.

In all the Holy Land there is no where quite like Bethlehem with is caves, terraced mountainside growing olives and grapes and much more. Sheep and shepherds, Muslims and Christians, churches and mosques.

We started the day at the Nissan Store because our local guide wanted to change the schedule a bit and introduce us all to the largest olive wood factory in Bethlehem. Everyone was able to buy quality products and many bought Christmas presents, gifts for their priests and families and to help support the local Christians. We always take our groups to ethical and legitimate shops since there are a lot of scams and cheap products being pushed as the real thing.

We all went in the caves of Shepherds Field where the angels announced the birth of the savior to the shepherds watching their flocks in these caves. Why did the angels announce his birth first to the shepherds? Because Jesus is the Lamb of God and shepherds are always first to hear about the birth of a lamb.

The Church of the Nativity – the oldest church in the world – was our next stop and everyone seemed moved after we dodged all the hawkers and vendors and then stooped low to enter the small door. It was reduced in size to keep Muslims from riding their horses and camels into the church long ago. We each prayed and touched the actual place in the grotto (cave) beneath the church. Very moving!

We then visited St. Catherine’s Church adjacent to the grotto and visited the place where the angel met Joseph to warn him in a dream and then the first tomb of St. Jerome. By the way, Bethlehem is where he translated the Hebrew Bible into the Latin Vulgate. We had a great lunch inside Bethlehem before avoiding the main checkpoint and exiting the city through Beit Jala.

Next we visited Ein Kerem, the birthplace of John the Baptist and the home of Elizabeth. Remember the 2nd Joyful Mystery of the Rosary? Yes, this is where Mary walked (all the way from Nazareth!!!) to visit her relative.

We had a very special treat after dinner. A friend of mine and a singer and fisherman from the Sea of Galilee agreed to meet us in the Notre Dame to put on a concert for us. He is a Messianic Jew, meaning he is Jewish by birth and has accepted Jesus as his Messiah. He is not Catholic. Messianic Jews are basically Evangelical Protestants who want to practice their faith within their Jewish identity. He has a beautiful voice and sang many worship songs in English and Hebrew and got most of us to sing along and learn a few new words in Hebrew.

I think some took off to explore the Old City a little more, but must of us crashed into bed. Again . . .

 . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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102 degrees – but doing very well

June 28, 2006

Monday, June 26: Galilee to Jerusalem Mea culpa! It has been a few days since I have updated everyone on our progress! When you are running around leading 50 people through crowded streets and holy sites in the heat all day and then having dinner – and then evening events or planning – the tendency [...]

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Too Tired to Blog

June 25, 2006

We have two days behind us since my last blog. We just returned from our indescribable dinner at Aberge Shulamit in Northern Israel. And again tonight I am too exhausted to write an extensive report. It was HOT today– about 90° and very humid but I never heard one complaint from group — only excitement [...]

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In Galilee

June 23, 2006

Technology is so amazing! What would Peter, Andrew, James, and John think if they knew I was sitting here looking out over their favorite fishing spot, right where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes using a laptop with a wireless connection, posting a blog that is read around the world. They would probably think it [...]

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They are Landing!

June 23, 2006

It is Friday morning and we're making last minute preparations and will soon be on our Mercedes bus heading from our hotel in Jerusalem to the Ben Gurion airport to pick up the pilgrims. They will soon be landing! In the meantime, they are still high above Europe and the Mediterranea Sea in a Lufthansa jet [...]

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Interview with IgnatiusInsight.com

June 22, 2006
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My Kids Love Them

June 21, 2006

Steve, We LOVED the Footprints of God videos – incredible, even our kids totally enjoyed them and remember what they saw/heard. When will the other videos be available? God bless you and your work. Natalie

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Jews & the Existence of God: From Jerusalem

June 20, 2006

As I sit looking out over the Old City of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock where Abraham offered up Isaac, I have a few thoughts I would like to share about the people here and the existence of God. Though a small fraction of the world's population, and though they've had no land [...]

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Eternal Security: Is Baptist Pastor Charles Stanley Right?

June 17, 2006

ETERNAL SECURITY (Once Saved-Always Saved): Analyzing a Sermon by Baptist Pastor, Charles Stanley By Steve Ray Hello Protestant Friend: Even though I have watched his show off and on over the months, I had no intention of watching Charles Stanley on television last night. It was just that I was tired after getting home and [...]

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We’re Leaving for Israel

June 16, 2006

On Saturday afternoon we leave for Israel to prepare for our full bus of pilgrims that arrive on June 23. We are all very excited! Janet and I LOVE to share these sites with folks for the first time. What a joy to watch their eyes get big and often well up with tears of [...]

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New Translation Approved for Mass

June 16, 2006

U.S. Bishops Approve New Mass Translation LOS ANGELES, JUNE 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. bishops approved a new English translation for the Mass that is closer to the original Latin. Prelates voted 173-29 Thursday at their semiannual meeting in favor of the new translation, which must go to offices in the Holy See for final [...]

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See What Logos Can Do

June 14, 2006

Click on the blinking video image and see what Logos Bible Software can do! It is incredible. I have been using it since 1988 but the new Version 3.0 is amazing! After watching the video explanation, you can buy it at the lowest prices at our webstore www.BibleTheology.com. We sell it for less than Logos [...]

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Oh No! Karl Keating of Catholic Answers Goes Pro-choice!

June 13, 2006

Here is Karl — speaking for himself:  Dear Friend of Catholic Answers [Karl Keating here]: It hasn't been easy. I don't change opinions willy-nilly, especially if I've held them for a long time and if they're about key issues. But I've been doing a lot of soul-searching lately and feel that the only responsible thing [...]

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Tired of Watered-down RCIA Materials?

June 13, 2006

  Then I have good news for you! Over the last 10 years Barbara Morgan and her team from Franciscan University in Steubenville Ohio have been laboring to provide vibrant, new and orthodox material for RCIA teachers and students. I cannot recommend this material more. Click on the image to visit the Association for Catechumenal [...]

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