Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sometimes You Float and Sometimes You Actually Float

The mornings are coming faster and faster as the Pilgrimage days go by and while sleep is as precious as salt once was we are grateful for every hour. Did you know salt was the way Roman soldiers were paid and eventually that became known as Salary? The experiences in the Holy Land are as plentiful as the date palms dotting the Jerusalem landscape. Each morning we are greeted by the brilliant sun cutting its rays through the “black out” curtains that, try as you might, you just can’t get quite tight enough together. Our morning starts off like all of the others, an early rise, rally the lads, and get to breakfast. These last 15 hours, the boys experienced their first Jewish Sabbath. Yesterday they learned that you can’t take pictures after 4:30PM. Eamon, Seamus and Dad wore their first Yarmulke’s at the Wailing Wall at the start of the Sabbath. We finished our “official tour” last night and hooked onto some folks in our group that ran the “Jerusalem Wall”, an historic 4 mile fortress wall separating Old City. We passed each of the famous gates including the Jaffa Gate, Damascus Gate, Golden Gate, Herod’s Gate etc. You couldn’t help but feel that kings and rebels, religious and secular walked, galloped and ran these paths for 1000’s of years. The detour into the area of the Western Wall, aka the Wailing Wall was a special moment. You hear so much about it but seeing the Jewish people pouring through the security gates, sad in its own way, to make it for prayer was a significant experience and I felt fortunate to have the 2 oldest boys by my side. We returned sweaty, tired and grateful for the clear thinking of the founders of America who built the cornerstone “Freedom to practice your religion.” We also learned what a Sabbath elevator is and how it works. As Eamon said “Don’t take the Sabbath elevator if you are in a hurry!” You see, it stops at every floor going up and every floor going down. Feel free to google if you’d like to know more about it.
The journey has been remarkable. It is hard to pin just one highlight. Every day we sit at the dinner table grateful to be back to the hotel, always a bit tired, and yet busting at the seams waiting to chronicle our favorite experiences as we share our meal. The solemn entry in to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher will be one of those stories passed from this generation to the next as will the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross. I can see myself with Eamon or Seamus or Pearse’s son/daughter on my knee, God willing, telling them the story of the Passion and explaining the narrow crowded streets, the uneven pavements, the cramped Upper Room of the Last Supper and the institution of the 3 sacraments in one night, the hill to the house of Caiaphas and a cistern where Jesus was surely held after arrest before the start to Good Friday. Their dad will look over and we will both know “we walked those steps in the hills and on the streets together in October 2009” and we’ll each recall how fortunate we were to do it together. They will tell their grandchildren and so the allegory will begin and for that I am most grateful.
As we made our way down from Masada towards the Dead Sea, the kids, all in the back of the bus, were revving up like high performance race car engines. The only thing between them and the Dead Sea swim was lunch and the look on Seamus’ face said it all, “we won’t like most of the food so let’s just skip it.” Much to his and all of team Glavin’s surprise, one of the lunch choices was chicken fingers and fries. Is it possible that Pearse prayed for that a few days ago? What God would turn down an 8 year old praying for French fries? After all, you can only eat so many pita bread peanut butter sandwiches. After a quick stop in the gift shop where mom bought Dead Sea mineral stuff to make her look 10 years younger, we headed to see the cave that housed the first discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. “Just old paper stuff” was Pearse’s observation followed by the simple request “Can we go swimming now?”
Down the hill we go, to the lowest place on the face of the earth. There were road signs marking the “Depth below sea level” like a gauge on a scuba tank. Cars pulled over next to the signs and wherever a car pulls over a salesman appears with any of 100 different products to sell to you. Shepherds flute anyone there only 5 for 10 dollar? Please don’t buy them for my kids, please please please
As we arrive at the Dead Sea we get our instructions and then it’s off to the changing rooms. A Glavin Boys first, changing in a room smaller than a bedroom with men from all 4 corners of the globe: young old, handicapped and “ripped” and at the end of the day we’re all the same when in our birthday suits. Down to the sea we go. It’s not Cape May. You don’t run and then dive into the water. The Dead Sea has almost 10x the salt of the Mediterranean. You sit down in the water lay on your back, hope you don’t have any cuts, and paddle your way out into the sea. All of the salt makes you buoyant. The kids were giggling like newborns and almost every sentence punctuated with “this is sooo cool” The mineral rich mud on the sea floor, the same stuff that makes you 10 years younger is “free” here. The kids got their first “Spa treatment” and didn’t even know it. It is only 15 minutes or so but a memory for a lifetime.
This week has been marked by many firsts for me and for the family and while we prayed at Mass in Jericho I felt like I was still floating, actually I was!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Remember Your First Communion?

Today we leave for Jerusalem but there is an amazing morning planned for Team Glavin before we depart the land of Galilee. Pearse is excited and you know it’s going to be a special day because he even had to take a shower. When we asked him “When was the last time you took a shower?” Pearse said with a small shrug of his little shoulders, “I don’t know, Istanbul?” That was somewhere between 5-8 days ago and sometimes, as we all know, the simple things just slip by with barely a ripple.
As we sat for breakfast everyone was asking “Are you ready?” or would say something along the lines of “This is a great day, Pearse.” There are so many things that bond us but the Sacraments are amazing in their ability to conjure the deepest of memories. As you read this I am sure that you recall Communion, don’t you? It doesn’t matter if you were in Ireland, shared it with a sister, or looked at the picture of 7 brothers and sisters in one frame all of your life, you remember First Communion. Today, Pearse joins his fellow brothers and sisters from around the world, as he takes his first taste of the Remembrance of the Last Supper.

We are in Capernaum, the ancient city where Jesus preached. It is strikingly serene as you can see the Jewish Synagogue where He preached the words “Eat my Flesh and Drink my Blood”. Could you pick a better place to receive this most wonderful Sacrament? The Priests are busy prepping to begin the Mass. Our group moves to the small, 3 rowed open air amphitheatre with the Altar placed in the center. It is simple, as it should be in this environ, with ancient stones placed on each side of a large slab of rock. Behind the altar is the Sea of Galilee, rippling as the sun warms the surface water, and every so often a streak of light bounces of the water. Pearse is fidgety, as any 8 year boy would be in this solitary moment of adulation from so many both young and old. I suspect he is grateful when the Mass begins because it means that it will “happen soon” and equally important in his mind “it will be over soon.”

Pearse sits between his mother and me. I hold his hand and wrist and I can feel his little heart pumping in anticipation. He is happy that his dad gets to do the readings and Responsorial Psalm and later admits that it made him feel better, more like home. He is jarred out of his comfort when Father Nagle says, after the Gospel,”Pearse come up here, I want to ask you a few questions?” He looked at his mom wantonly, as if to say “You’re not going to let this happen are you?” Fr. Nagle “Pearse come down it will be fun, no problem and the questions are easy?” Pearse shoots me the “Yeah, I’ve heard that before” look. In a matter of moments Pearse was “off the hook” and when asked by Father “Now that wasn’t too bad was it?” Pearse smiled ear to ear and said “Nope” to a round of chuckles from our Legatus friends.

The “moment” came only a few minutes later. Pearse knew his responsibilities well. As he walked down the few sets of stone steps, memories raced by in my head. He is on his way to the Altar after 8+ years, carried in my arms, hoisted on my shoulder til he could walk, hundreds of trips, shoulders guided, prepping him for this very moment. He stands and waits for the 2 priests to circle the Altar, Father Nagle on one side with the Eucharist and Fr. McCormick on the other with the Chalice. The Sea of Galilee glistening and the silence of admiration by all in attendance as they hear Fr. Nagle say to Pearse, for the very first time, “The Body of Christ” and his response “Amen.” He repeats “Amen” to the statement “The Blood of Christ.” It is one of life’s pure moments witnessed by his family in Capernaum. Eamon asked Pearse on the way to the bus “What did you think of the wine/blood?” Pearse replied “Not like the stuff mommy drinks that’s for sure” Pearse strutted to the bus, headed for Jerusalem, a spring in his step and a swagger that suggested “Yeah I’m the man today!”

Mass at the Site of the Preaching of the Beatitudes

It is a brilliant day in Israel. The temperature is hot, I considered writing that it was a “dry heat” but I am so close to the Holy Sites that lying seems quite risky. It is just plain old HOT. The boys are moving in and out of the group like seasoned veterans. The older couples simply love the energy that children bring to the day. I am the proud dad as I receive many compliments on their maturity and courtesy.

The Holy Land is filled with people and I am grateful for the tremendous experience that our guides provide. We maneuver like a sports car from place to place as if we’d been given the race map and it’s everyone else’s first time on the course. We started the day on the Mountain where the Beatitudes were preached and looked out to the Sea of Galilee. It is a simple message like the landscape on which it was preached but a difficult one to live.

The next stop on the odyssey is Caesarea Philippi. You walk from the bus knowing that this is the site where Peter was told “you are the rock and upon you I will build my church.” It was also the site of the temple and sacrificing altar for the god Pan. Pan was the pagan god of Sheep. Hmmm and Peter the first Pope is the Shepherd of the Church, coincidence I think not. The walk up to the cave, the grotto and the markings of the Greek and Roman yester-year is surreal. The boys climb all over the crags and hoist themselves into the former pagan grotto’s and collect a few rocks, other than the ones in their shoes. They are happy and glad to be out of the bus and enjoying the things that boys enjoy.

The Jordan River is but a few meters away. Yesterday we renewed our wedding vows. Today we gathered and renewed our baptismal vows in the Jordan River. Are you kidding me? The boys are busy filling water bottles from the Jordan for all of our new friends. They are spry and are able to jump up and down the knee wall with ease as one after the other returns with a full bottle only to have another handed to them. I think to myself no wonder there is a water issue in Israel. The Jordan provides 70% of the water for this country and we’re taking it 12 oz at time back to the USA. Our 2 priests prepare for the reaffirmation of our Baptismal promises. They dip the green branches, just pulled from the river bank, and with a few flicks spread this water of life to all of us. WOW

The Sea of Galilee is all around us and while the day is amazing in all its history and significance, the boys want to go swimming. We exit the bus and they bolt for the elevator door. It may be the fastest they’ve moved since this morning. We meet in the lobby and are off to swim in the sea. The footing is different as there are rocks like small boulders but easily remedied with our crocs. The water temp is comfortable and a fitting end to a fantastic day. The 3 boys enjoy the swim and I chuckle at the juxtaposition of the old vs. new as I look up the beach and see the familiar golden “M” that is McDonalds. As we exit the sea the sun is being clipped by the mountains and one of the boys says “Can you believe this, swimming in the Sea of Galilee in Oct?” “No my son I can’t!”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Israel Pilgrimage and the Footprints of God

The excitement of landing in Israel is surreal. Over the next days we will travel to the Holy Sites, as the song says “Where Jesus walked.” The 3 boys know it is something special as they have learned to feel the energy of their mom and dad in certain situations like the walk across the Charles Bridge in Prague, standing at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium gate or the ride in the Metro to Red Square, Moscow. We are diligent in our efforts to help the kids understand the magnitude of these 10 days. We can only hope that as they attend Mass, and read the Old and New Testament in their futures, they will have a different and yet enlightened understanding of the people, places and things of Israel.

The airport scene is not unlike most we’ve experienced. The lads pull themselves together, exit the plane and we see Welcome to Ben Gurion Airport splashed across the lintel of the entrance door to passport control. As we pass thru customs, I look at the many different citizens of this country and the throngs of visitors and wonder 2 things; first “For how many people is this their lifelong dream?” Second, I think, in 2+ week’s Team Glavin will have visited the amazing Holy Sites of Israel and been to one of the largest Muslim cities in the world, Istanbul, Turkey. It brings new meaning to our home school theme for the year “The world is our classroom.”

Day 1 is all we hoped it would be. An early start to the day, the way dad likes it, but not so much for mom or Eamon. A quick breakfast and we board the sleek modern tour bus. We are travelling with 50 from the USA on this pilgrimage. We are Legatus (sounds like the battle cry at home in Pa, “We are PENN STATE”). It is a fantastic group of people and a true pleasure to share this experience with the catholic business group. We have been too many Legatus events over the years and know a couple things, there will be great food and more importantly, excellent content and “take away value”

We rise to the top of Mt. Tabor and see an incredible Church that was built in celebration of the Transfiguration. It is a magnificent start to our journey. Our guide Amir (sp?) is a local Nazarean and provides amazing information from a “local perspective.” Our guides Stephen and Janet Ray are accomplished “tour guides” and passionate about their vocation. It is hard to describe the feeling of being in the Holy place and knowing that this is the spot where old testament Moses and Elijah meet the New Testament’s Jesus, Peter, James and John. I look down the stone cold granite seat at my son’s Pearse, Irish translation for Peter, and Seamus, Irish for James, and share with them the logic for the choice of their names at birth. As it is said in scripture Peter, James and John they are the “beloved.”

We reload into the bus and head to Cana of Galilee. Just writing those words sparks so many feelings. The sight of the first and most famous of miracles, “Turning water in wine” is the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. We have a special ceremony with our Chaplain and all of the married couples renew their wedding vows in the Church built to commemorate this amazing history. Ann and I renew our vowels in front of the boys and I am proud to show them the commitment we made to each other 18 years ago. It is another wonderful moment for all of us.

We reload again and head to the Church dedicated to the Annunciation, “Where the word became flesh.” As we walk through the streets of Nazareth the boys and I laugh and joke reminding ourselves that Jesus walked here and played here. We can’t help but sing the song “Oh happy day” from the movie “Sister Act.” You could almost hear Mary yell “Don’t do that you’ll get hurt.” We visited the cave that was the home of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. WOW

As the bus made its way back to the hotel, the Sea of Galilee seemed like a magnet pulling us to its shores as if to say “welcome home.”