Sunday, February 3, 2013

Tears welled up in my eyes — again — at Mass last Sunday. It was not always so. As a former Baptist I used to think the Catholic Mass was a sacrilege and an abomination. How could anyone worship a piece of bread? Really!

However, last Sunday I was overcome with emotion while sitting in an older Catholic church in a relatively poor area of town during a “normal” Sunday Mass. Why? Let me explain.
Dad reading
(Picture: Me on the right with the best dad in the world and brother David after going to Joy Road Baptist Church)

But first I have to take a step back in time to my delightful childhood.

The door of our Baptist church opened and the early arrivers stepped in with well-worn Bibles under their arms and colorful ties snugged up tight around the neck. Children with cute bow ties and frilly dresses were herded in and dropped off at Sunday School. Women adjusted their hats and smiled at all their friends.

It was always the same — enter the church with chattering friendliness accompanied by the organ or piano to set the mood. Everyone takes their place in the padded pews. The pastor steps up to the front and welcomes everyone, especially any visitors. They are asked to fill out the “Visitor Card” in the pews in front of them.

Then we all stand as he opens in a solemn and often wordy prayer.  A number is called out and we all grabbed our hymnal and proved we were real Christians by belting out the song, not just the first verse, but verses 1, 2 and 5.

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(Keep the humor and comments coming below. Everyone loves it when I read them on the bus!)

Of all the days on our pilgrimages, today tends to be the fun day. Camel rides, floating in the Dead Sea, visiting the Jordan River where Jesus was actually baptized and loads of fun and laughter along the way.

The day began with a tour of the Temple Model that is like walking through the city of Jerusalem in the time of Christ. It is a model built to scale. We also see the Dead Sea Scrolls while at the Israel Museum.

Group picture at the Jordan River

Everyones’ ears pop as we descend from 3,000 feet above sea level in the mountains of Jerusalem to 1,250 feet below sea level at the Jordan River near the tip of the Dead Sea. If Mount Everest is the highest place on the surface of the earth, the Jordan Valley is the lowest place on the face of the earth.

Here we renewed our baptismal vows at the authentic site where Jesus was actually baptized. The river was swollen from the recent rains but it was beautiful — a favorite site for many of the people. If you threw a stone across the river it would land in the country of Jordan. 

Lunch in Jericho is always a treat and only the second time our group goes shopping and that is only because there is a unique shop attached to our restaurant. There are a lot of biblical things to discuss in Jericho including some important events in the life of Our Lord.

Qumran, the Essenes, the Dead Sea Scrolls, monastic life, John the Baptist. All of that comes together in Qumran located in the Judean Wilderness near the northern tip of the Dead Sea, only a few miles from the location Jesus was baptized.

Floating in the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea swim, err, you really can’t say that because it is really just a float. But most of the people get right in and float around on their backs. It is a bizarre sensation.

The highlight of the day — which you can tell by the howls of laughter and squeals of delight is the camel rides. Everyone takes their turn and we get great pictures and videos.

It was a great day and tomorrow will be too. If you want to know how special and holy tomorrow will be — consider that we will pray seven Mysteries of the Rosary on site tomorrow!

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