By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Friday, December 6, 2013

So That the World May Know

A message among the ancient
olive trees of Gethsemane
Today our itinerary of conviction followed a pathway of love, namely, the love of Jesus for his Heavenly Father. From the Gospel of St John we learn that Jesus is the Son who dwells eternally in the bosom of the Father (1:18) and from that place came to earth and was obedient "so that the world may know that I love the Father" (14:31). His purpose in making known his love for the Father was to enable us to share in it by the gift of the Holy Spirit! (Cf. Romans 8:14-17) So it was that, as we re-traced today the steps of Our Lord during his final days in Jerusalem, we reflected upon this wondrous love and his will to draw us into its embrace.

80 Languages are represented
at the Pater Noster church,
including Cree
First we visited what is called the Pater Noster church, built at the top of the Mount of Olives over a cave where Jesus would have spent time with his disciples and identified by tradition as the place where he taught the Our Father to them. The possessive pronoun is revealing. Jesus has come so that the one he called his Father would also be ours in virtue of our union with him in the Holy Spirit.

Walking down the Palm Sunday Road
From there we followed the Palm Sunday road, the steep downward path taken by Jesus from the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley en route to the ancient city of Jerusalem, singing our Hosannas all the way (and not failing to jump out of the way of cars as they careened hurtled past us!!). We stopped at the Church of Dominus Flevit ("The Lord wept") to remember the tears shed by Jesus over the failure of his people to recognize the time of their visitation from God (cf. Luke 19:41-44). There we prayed in repentance for the times our own recognition is lacking, and lifted up to God's mercy any who have yet to know Jesus and encounter in him God's love and peace. Before leaving this site with its stunning view of the Old City of Jerusalem, our guide pointed out to us the various places in the city associated with the events of Our Lord's passion.

Inside the Church of All Nations
(Basilica of the Agony)
At the foot of the Mount is the Garden of Gethsemane. There, in the Basilica of the Agony (also called the Church of All Nations in honour of the many countries who funded its construction), we celebrated Mass at the altar built next to the stone on which Jesus prostrated himself and, with earnest and anguished prayer, entrusted himself entirely into the hands of his Father as he faced his destiny (Cf. Mark 14: 32-42). Here we reflected on the meaning of Abba, the name used uniquely by Jesus to address his Father. So complete was his trust in the love of his Father that he surrendered completely to his will. He did not flee from his destiny but rose from that rock to begin his passion. Offering the Eucharist at this place was an occasion for us to bring our burdens through Christ to the Father with trust in his love and surrender to his purpose.

Pilgrims reflect in the Upper Room,
the site of the Last Supper
After Mass we ascended the other side of the Kidron Valley to the top of Mount Zion. There we visited the Upper Room, the place of the Last Supper and the venue of Pentecost. We read Saint Matthew's account of the Last Supper and paused to thank The Lord Jesus for his abiding presence with us in the mystery of the Eucharist, celebrated on our altars by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Fresco at Church of the Dormition
depicts the Assumption of Mary
Among the most beautiful of the churches we visited today was the next one on our itinerary: Dormition Abbey. This is built over the site where tradition tells us Mary's earthly journey came to an end and from where she was assumed body and soul into heaven. She, the mother of the Lord and our mother, is also the first and perfect disciple, the Church's greatest treasure and sure sign of hope. In the grotto beneath the Church there is a touching icon portraying Jesus, the Risen Lord in heaven, receiving his mother and wrapping her tenderly in bands of cloth as she had done for him at his birth. We honoured her with song and sought her intercession in prayer, and then proceeded to the church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu.

Inside the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
The word Gallicantu is based on the Latin noun for "cock-crow". Here, the site of the house of the High Priest Caiaphas at the time of Jesus, the denial of Jesus by Peter occurred and was signalled by the cry of the rooster. Excavations beneath the church here have uncovered an ancient dungeon, where prisoners of the high priest would have been kept. This is where Jesus would have been held in the middle of the night, following his arrest and condemnation by the Sanhedrin and prior to being sent to Pontius Pilate for trial and judgement. We were able to descend to this same place. Calling to mind the total darkness and utter isolation experienced by Jesus in those terrible hours, we read aloud Psalm 88 and heard in it the cry uttered from the depths of his heart to his Father in heaven. As we left we prayed for all those who today feel lost, alone, and captive to forces more powerful than they.

This wondrous pathway of love continues tomorrow when we walk the Via Crucis.

The Garden of Gethsemane

A message for modern pilgrims
at the Church of All Nations

A view of the old city from  Dominus Flevit

The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu

Pilgrims pray at the rock where
Jesus prayed before his Passion

Singing 'Immaculate Mary' in
Benedictine Church of the Dormition

A joyful ride for this pilgrim