Friday, November 9, 2018

Walking with Anne Shirley and Jesus

Prince Edward Island, home of Anne of Green Gables
It always amazes me when a good book transports you to faraway lands and lets you experience things from your wildest dreams.  I have always been an avid reader, but there are a few books/series of books that really capture my attention and imagination.  One such series is the Anne of Green Gables Collection.  When I was a little girl, I was captivated by the CBC video series that played on local television.  My older sister, Marie, is also a huge Anne fan and was most likely the one who originally got me hooked.  We would repetitively watch the Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea VHS tapes throughout each year.  What does this have to do with books you say?  Well it wasn’t until about seven years ago that I met my real-life Diana Barry, and she introduced me to the book series, which is incredibly better than the movies, as is usually the case.

Many years before this introduction, I had the pleasure of going with my sisters
to Prince Edward Island, home of the author and setting of the book series.  I remember the almost tangible presence of this beloved, yet fictitious character that I felt there.  It was while touring the author’s childhood home that you would hear, “Which one was Anne’s bedroom?”, or “Look, there is the tree outside the window that Anne always talked about.” “I wonder which direction the Lake of Shining Waters, the White Way of Delight and the Violet Vale are from here?”  I found myself repetitively debating with myself that she wasn’t real, or was she?

Group photo in Emmaus, March 2018
Why am I sharing all of this with you?  Well, in March of this year I was blessed to visit the setting of the greatest collection of books ever written, the Holy Bible.  Yes, due to the incredible generosity of a friend and with the accompaniment of my Spiritual Director, Fr. Ed Riley, IGS, my good friend Joanie, my sister Celeste and 47 other pilgrims, I was blessed to go on a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Now I found myself in the setting of so many stories I had heard over the years. And again, as in Prince Edward Island, I began to understand far more completely all that I had ever read about the Holy Land. Now I was able to see the setting first hand.  I was blown away by all that I learned, and can honestly say I am still unpacking the blessings of that trip.

While there are differing opinions over the exact locations of certain events, it was undeniable that these were the towns in which our Lord was born, walked, grew, lived, died and rose.  The beauty of our pilgrimage took us in a chronological journey through Scriptures from Bethlehem to Nazareth and through to Jerusalem.  I can’t possibly capture this entire Pilgrimage in one blog post, but I will do my best to highlight the most powerful moments I experienced along the journey.  No longer were these just stories that I heard at every Mass about things that had happened in a land far away. They were right there in front of me to be experienced.

The journey began in Bethlehem, the town we know to be the birthplace of
Night in modern Bethlehem
Jesus.  I am sure the Bethlehem of Jesus’ time was much different from modern day Bethlehem.  There are now hotels with dozens of floors, and paved roads with buses in caravan, but even so there were glimpses into what it must have been like in those days long ago.  For instance, the fields of the shepherds are pretty much untouched, and you can visualize what it would have been like travelling on a donkey over that rough terrain at the end of a pregnancy.  One of my favorite places in Bethlehem was the Chapel of Shepherd’s Field where we sang a Christmas Carol within the domed chapel, enjoying the beautiful acoustics while giving praise to our Lord.  I appreciated the way the designer placed glass circles over the entire roof to symbolize the stars in the night sky when Jesus was born.  This reminded me of the Bottle houses in Prince Edward Island.
Valley of the Good Samaritan

We then went on to Nazareth and saw where Mary and Joseph grew up, where
their love began and where the Word first
became flesh at the Annunciation.  I was intrigued by this space where they lived their everyday normal lives.  One of my favorite movies of all time is The Nativity Story and I could easily adapt the setting to this space.  I could see dinner being made, carpentry being taught, and could almost feel the love and hear the laughter of those precious everyday moments.  It was amazing to me that the reason so many people settled in Nazareth was because the mountains were made of chalk and easily carved into.  Here would be the setting of the majority of Jesus’ earthly life.
Renewing vows in the wedding church at Cana

Modern fishermen on
the Sea of Galilee
We also visited the locations of the Wedding Feast at Cana, where I was in awe of the size of the stone jars that the servants filled with water at Jesus' command. He turned a great deal of water into wine!  I was struck for the first time not only with the magnitude of fault I normally place on the Apostles for not following easily when He was right there, but also the magnitude of how He changed everything they understood to be important.  How blessed I am to have the years of Church history to fall back on to support His claims!  And yet I too fall short of what He is calling me to.  We visited the location of the sycamore tree of Zacchaeus, the Spring of Elisha that still flows today in the oldest city in the world, the home of Martha and Mary, the spot of the temptation in the desert, and the river Jordan.  At each space I felt the lives I had heard time and again in stories take breath and come alive in a way they never had before for me.

Finally, our journey took us to Jerusalem.  We were blessed to walk down the hill of Palm Sunday-- I am so grateful it wasn’t up instead.  We saw the Tomb of David, the Garden of Gethsemane, and finally we made our Way of the Cross. We marveled to pass the Roman marble courtyard of Pilate’s home where Jesus would have walked, the same marble from 2000 years ago still there.  I was in awe of the close proximity of the shops to the Way, and how difficult it was to navigate through the streets. I was thankful that I wasn’t facing an angry, jeering crowd while carrying a cross.  Finally, we arrived at the Holy Sepulchre, and I have to say this is where God answered my greatest of prayers, far above my expectations.
Celebrating Mass where Jesus walked
Before we left on this pilgrimage, I heard that the Holy Sepulchre was closed to the public and was a bit disappointed but still put in my prayers to get to see this holy place. As we arrived, the tour guide informed us that not only would we see it, but we were to celebrate a Mass there!  Next there was confusion and uncertainty as to whether we would be able to get into the chapel where our Mass was to be.  Another prayer request was sent-- and there was a back door we were allowed to pass through.  The third prayer request came when I heard that the steps to where the Cross holding Jesus once stood were closed. Suddenly the way to the steps opened up for just our group to ascend.  God kept reminding me not to get too fixated on my prayer requests; every time I prayed for something at arm’s reach, He provided me with something far above my ability to dream!

I, along with Father Ed, decided to try bringing
Renewing baptismal vows
in the River Jordan
those back home along with us on the pilgrimage. Those who were not able to physically attend could participate spiritually, through a blog that I tried to post to every day.  This blog was so rewarding to me because it afforded me the opportunity to unpack the gloriousness of what a relationship with Jesus looks like, each day.  I had the chance to see where Jesus-- whom I talk to, adore, receive, and try to imitate-- chose to live His earthly life and set down the roots of the great Vine of which we are all now a part.  There is no doubt that there are times where being connected to the Catholic Church is a struggle, especially in times of scandal like we have been recently experiencing. But I find courage in Scripture and in these stories of real life people and real life places that have come so alive to me since the pilgrimage. Then (as now) mistakes were made, sometimes heinous and seemingly unforgivable, but we have a Savior Who came for just that reason.  I pray that God continues to allow us to walk where He walked, and see every situation and person through His eyes of Love.

Christine Dufresne has been a Pauline Cooperator for four years. Originally from New Bedford, MA, she served at a mission in Kentucky for 16 months before settling in Waltham, MA. In addition to being a foster parent, she has been working with children in various ways for the past 20 years, helping with the children's program on retreats and with the Holy Family Institute group in Boston, and is currently a nanny for several families. She serves as a Eucharistic minister in her home parish of St. Mary’s in Waltham and visits the hospital monthly to bring Scripture and Communion to patients in the eating disorders and behavioral management wards.  Most recently she has graduated with her Associated Degree and has gone on to pursue her Bachelor's and Master's in the Human Services/Social Work fields.

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