Pilgrimages

Steve explains how St. Joseph is a role model for Catholic men with William Hemsworth on September 14, 2020.

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A painful price is paid when one reaches his hand into a swarm of bees to swipe some of their honey. Stingers fly and welts flare. I know. I raised hives of bees as a boy and once I was stung 35 times in one day. And that was with protective equipment!

Wild honey is not collected from wild bees without burning pain and suffering. Today there is protective equipment and methods to harvest honey, but in times past it took a man willing to experience bitter pain today for the sweet rewards later.

There seems to be a principle built into the real world that is expressed with maxims such as “good things take time,” and “no pain no gain.” A paycheck is preceded by forty hours of work. Muscles appear after weeks of sweat equity and exercise.

Shortcuts seldom pay off and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Achievement takes effort and rewards are given to those who work hard.

Suffering is shunned by most people. Pain is avoided. We usually chose the path of least resistance. It seems most people are hard-wired for pleasure, relaxation and personal gratification. Following these baser impulses rarely reap the rewards human beings aspire to.

The number forty is used symbolically in the Bible over and over again. Jewish and Christian tradition has known this from the beginning. Forty is the number of testing, suffering, fasting, repentance and self-denial.

It often precedes new beginnings and new stages of salvation and restoration. Noah’s flood lasted forty days, Israel wandered in the wilderness forty years, Jonah gave Ninevah forty days to repent, Elijah fasted forty days and nights—as did Jesus in the wilderness.

John the Baptist wandered in the Judean Wilderness east of Jerusalem. He wore rustic clothing and suffered the pain of harvesting his own wild honey. He ate his wild honey with locusts, another word for a grasshopper.

Such hopping insects were declared “clean” foods for the Jews (Lev 11:22). I once jokingly told a group of pilgrims I “loved living the Bible in the Holy Land” and if they found a grasshopper I would eat it like John the Baptist had done. They went on a mission and found a 4” wiggly grasshopper. I had no choice but to imitate the Baptist. (See me eat it here.)

In the summer months, the wilderness of Judea hovers around 120?. John looked and acted a lot like Elijah the prophet and it was from this exact location that Elijah was assumed body and soul into heaven.

No wonder the Pharisees questioned if John was the Elijah who was to come. He was baptizing repentant Jews about thirty miles down from the mountains of Jerusalem and about three miles from the ancient community of Qumran.

John undoubtedly associated with these devout Essenes who had moved to the hot wilderness to seek God and become the Children of Light. The wilderness, like the number forty, is usually associated with seeking God and a sincere holiness brought about by self-denial and isolation.

Christian tradition from the earliest times understood the spiritual benefits of established periods of fasting, repentance, prayer and self-denial. This practice of self-abandonment to the wilderness for forty days was incorporated into the liturgical year. It was called Lent. The word originates from an old English word meaning “spring” and was used because Lent, the time of fasting and prayer was practiced in the spring of the year in preparation for Easter.

 John the Baptist wandered in the wilderness to mortify the flesh and earthly desires, focusing his mind and heart on things above. He was seeking holiness and spirituality. Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the same wilderness to be tempted by the Devil and prepared for his ministry.

The Church wants us to share in this deeper life of God. Lent is a time set aside so that we can join John in the wilderness—setting aside the distractions of daily life and earthly pursuits, turning to God and prayer.

Of course, it is not as easy for most of us since we have families, work schedules, diapers to change, houses to clean and on and on. The Lord and the Church understand this completely. But even the daily service of a family, the quality labor provided on the job and extra love shown to others can be an act of penance and self-giving.

We can all fit in time for confession, a bit more prayer and spiritual readings, deny ourselves a few extravagances or pleasures and seek to get closer to God. It is never easy—it wasn’t for John, Jesus or others who wandered for forty days looking for a deeper walk with God and a richer human experience.

We buy honey in the store and few of us like John are willing to reach into a hive and grab the honey at great cost. But like John we can impose a bit of self-denial upon ourselves, entering into penance, prayer, repentance and self-denial—though it often feels like reaching for the honey. The minimal pain of Lent can bring about the sweetness of holiness.

These places in the desert still exist. We can walk through the ruins of Qumran, see the mist over the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab in Jordan and stand on the shore of the River Jordan at the place Jesus met John. We can walk with Jesus in the with his forty days of temptation when he stepped out of the wilderness. No prayer or sacrifice, no self-denial or charitable act will go unnoticed by God. The sweetness of the Spirit will certainly be our reward.

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Who Are the Poor I’m Supposed to Care For?

by Steve Ray on September 6, 2020

As we leave our rented apartment in Rome and walk towards St. Peter’s Square I notice a ragged, filthy woman sitting on a piece of cardboard with a baby laying lethargically in her arms. She looks up with mournful eyes and pathetically mumbles something as she reaches out hoping I’ll put coins in her hand.

A few feet beyond her is a man stooped over his cane so painful-appearing that he is barely able to lift his eyes to make contact with mine. A paper cup is stationed on the sidewalk in front of him; he also reaches out a filthy hand plaintively begging for money.

We stop by a sidewalk café for a quick coffee before entering the Square. We are approached by children with tinny-sounding accordions. They boldly step up playing and singing. When they have finished a few moments of this “performance” they walk among the tables with blank faces and their hands out.

This weekend at Mass we were exhorted by Our Lord Jesus to feed the poor, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty and other sorts of charitable action to help the poor. But who are the poor Jesus is referring to?

Are the people I passed on the street the poor I should help? Are they the one’s that Jesus refers to? Is the man sitting on the corner nursing the last few drops from his whiskey bottle the one I’m supposed to give a drink to? Many people asked these questions today and struggle with the commands to help the poor and the thirsty. They ask the question who are the poor and the thirsty and hungry?

Most of the beggars we encounter in major cities around the world are what we call Romani, or more commonly known as gypsies. I don’t know all of them, of course, but we see everywhere children who do not go to school but are used as beggars and thieves to supply cash for their camp. My heart weeps for these kids as I see a young boy sitting in an underground walkway by himself all day without friends or family looking up to strangers who walk by ignoring him. It rips my guts out.

I’ve often said to my wife, “I’d like to rescue that boy and take him home and raise them properly.” But if I did this, I’d be arrested for kidnapping. I picture my grandchildren and I have a sense of loathing, pity and despair. What can I do when they are part of a family and a clan that treats their children this way and think it is normal. If I give him money it only propagates his abuse. A kind word or bit of food is about all I can do with a clear conscience.

I remember walking through Mumbai India. In advance, I had packed a bunch of sandwiches in a bag to hand out as I walked through the poor parts of the city. I would spot destitute people sitting on the sidewalk, or children climbing into dumpsters for their breakfast. I handed out the sandwiches with joy but was stopped by a young Indian boy about 10 years old. He was very bold and said, “You are doing a very bad thing.” I asked, “Why?” he said, “People need to take responsibility for their lives. If you give them things they will never learn to be responsible for themselves.”

Very wise words for a 10-year-old. It’s not that I believe that everyone is able to look out for themselves–there are many who are in desperate need of our help and unable to help themselves, but his point was well taken. I told him his father must be a wise man.

I’ve watched a crippled man leaning on a cane whimpering in pain until 5:00 PM when his “shift ended”. He looked at his watch, he stood up straight and walked back home. He was there again the next day exploiting the sympathies of naïve, kindly-hearted people.

We’ve had two young girls with babies in their arms standing very close to us on a bus full of smiles. We spoke kind words and paid attention to the babies only to find out a few moments later that our fannypacks, purses, and everything else had been unzipped. The babies are often drugged to make them look lethargic and pathetic. They are used as zombie props in the art of theft. Often the girls are not even their mothers. They can be referred to as “rent-a-babies.”

Once my wife caught a boy with his hand in her pocket. Many of these people beg for a living and when they don’t make enough begging they steal. My wife lost her wallet this way a while ago and tourists often find their passports, credit cards and cash have disappeared. This is why we repeatedly warn our pilgrims to watch out for pickpockets everywhere we go.

Personally, I cannot give money to such folks because to do so propagates their lifestyle, supports their continued child abuse, thievery and despicable lifestyle. We cannot support and condone such conduct. How do I know the real poor and those that are just making a dishonest living, some of them quite a good living?

Two things I try to do besides pray for folks that I see in need. First, if I see a person who is obviously in distress, missing a leg, blind, or some other obvious disadvantage I will pull money out and share with them along with a kind word.

Second, I look for the Missionaries of Charity in their simple white habits striped with blue. It does not have to be their specific order but these I know and have confidence in.

We know where they are housed in Rome. It is an inconspicuous door with a simple doorbell to the right. I push the doorbell, then push it again and sooner or later one of these beautiful sisters will open the door. They all have the same gracious smiles and kindly faces as their founder, Mother Teresa. My wife and I return her smile and hand them a generous donation. We ask them to use it for the poor and to assist in their ministry. I don’t know who really needs the money, but they do.

Once in Mumbai India we were invited to visit one of their compounds. The Missionaries of Charity took us on a tour—room after room of disadvantaged, mentally handicapped, diseased and dying (out of respect we took no pictures except of the sisters you see here). One room contained about 100 cribs in neat rows, each with a child unable to care for themselves. Many had diseases, mental handicaps, twisted bodies. Janet and I were in tears having never seen anything like this in our lives. What touched us most was the sisters and volunteers working among these castaways treating them with great love and affection. They bathed them, fed them, changed their diapers, caressed them.

However, not everyone that comes to their compound are admitted. They are selective who gets admitted to their care.

One little volunteer, a lady no more than 5 feet tall, said proudly, “I come here every day. I love serving Our Lord Jesus this way!” Looking around Janet and I were repulsed by the pain, disease, twisted bodies, staring eyes, gangrene, foul smells and seeming hopelessness. We were moved tears as we watched the sisters love these disadvantaged people as though they were loving Jesus himself. We hugged them all and with choked voices said, “Sisters, you make us proud to be Catholic. I couldn’t do what you do for even 10 minutes. You make us very proud!”

In Jesus’s time there was no Social Security, unemployment benefits, welfare or other social supports for the underprivileged. Churches had not begun charitable work and few cared for anything but themselves. In ancient Rome life was cheap and cities were full of slaves and the destitute. A drink or offering of food to a slave laboring under the hot sun was a true act of charity because no one paid any mind to the slaves. Jesus stopped to heal and care for the blind, the lame, the hungry of his time.

In the time of Jesus, a woman without a husband or son could be left destitute. Unwanted infants were tossed under bridges only to be eaten by the wild dogs. It is no coincidence that Scripture often uses the care of widows and orphans as a sign of one’s spirituality.

Many were unjustly imprisoned and the truly poor were cast aside. Were some poor because they were lazy or because they made poor choices? Of course. The book of Proverbs in the Bible is full of exhortations for hard work and to eschew laziness and sloth. It is the same today.

But often others are made poor by choices of their parents or others around them. At the same time in America it is hard to think of someone as poor who has cable television, a cell phone and many other benefits and amenities of our modern welfare society–especially since I’ve seen so much from around the world. Our society has a good number of people who know how to “milk the system”, get what is undeserved and avoid the effort and work to care for themselves. For them St. Paul writes, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat.” (2 Thess 3:10)

There are still people who truly need our assistance and we should see them as Jesus himself. I am not one for condoning irresponsibility, laziness or habitual bad choices. But, we also want to help those who are truly in need as Jesus requires of us. Now that we are Catholics we make sure our donations are given to legitimate Catholic charities. We also make sure to help our own when they are in need.

When we are in Jerusalem we take up donations and give money to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and needy Christians. We know that such gifts will be given to the truly needy among our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. There are too many charities that use the money improperly and not all of it gets to those who need it. Unhappily there are many of these, even in the Holy Land. So, beware.

Discernment is important, charity is essential, obedience to Our Lord is crucial and caring for the unfortunate and disadvantaged is not an option. When we were Protestants we used to believe in “faith alone” but that mantra is hard to chant when hearing the gospel which says heaven and hell will be the result of our choices—whether we care for others or whether we ignore them.

Dear Lord, give us wisdom and charity and the means to help and willingness to do so. Mother Theresa, pray for us!

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First Flight in Six Months

August 19, 2020

Today I had to fly from Detroit to Minneapolis Minnesota so that I could give a talk here at Legatus. I was also supposed to give a talk at the seminary but the seminarians have not returned yet. So it was my first flight in six months and I was curious to see what the […]

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Our Full 2021 Pilgrimage Schedule – Breaking free and back in the air!

August 13, 2020

We had to scrap 2020 since countries are still closed down and people are hesitant to fly, but we expect that to be over after the election 🙂 So, we have just finished putting together our very busy and exciting pilgrimage schedule for 2021. We are putting up brochures rapidly on the website as we […]

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In 2021 We’re Back in the Air!!

July 30, 2020

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” –St. Augustine ********************************************* Pope Paul VI referred to the Holy Land as the “5th Gospel” implying that a pilgrimage rounds out and compliments the Scripture for a fuller understanding. “A long procession of people…have gone in search of the ‘footprints’ […]

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Augustine’s Comment on Travel; Popes and Saints on Pilgrimages

July 30, 2020

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” –St. Augustine ********************************************* Pope Paul VI referred to the Holy Land as the “5th Gospel” implying that a pilgrimage rounds out and compliments the Scripture for a fuller understanding. “A long procession of people…have gone in search of the ‘footprints’ […]

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Fascinating 10-minute Black & White 1929 Movie of the Holy Land

June 20, 2020

This black & white movie of the Holy Land from 1929. What a different world than we know today. Interesting scenes of pilgrims arriving at about the 7:30 second mark; Nazareth around 7:50 with girl like Mary carrying a water jug on her head. They show the Garden Tomb as the place of the crucifixion […]

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Fascinating 2 1/2 Minute Movie of Jerusalem in 1928 under the British Mandate

June 10, 2020

https://www.footprintsofgodpilgrimages.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/WhatsApp-Video-2020-06-10-at-10.20.57-AM.mp4

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“Life is about the Journey, not the Destination!” Huh?!

June 10, 2020

“Life is all about the Journey, not the Destination!” (paraphrase of a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.) I saw this sign at the airport recently. Imagine! In an airport of all places! What stupidity! Grab a passenger arriving at the airport to catch a flight and shout, “Hey, take any flight you want sir, it […]

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Friend sent this cartoon about me and angels :-)

June 9, 2020
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Video of Holy Sepulchre Opening Again!

May 27, 2020

On Sunday the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem opened again. My good friend Jeries sent me some pictures and videos of the opening day. Join in the solemn yet joyful experience.

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My Interview on LifeSite News: My Conversion, the Wuhan Virus & my Take on Pope Francis

May 12, 2020

Last week I did an interview with John-Henry Westen, editor of LifeSite News. The article begins, “May 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Today I had the chance to speak with well-known Catholic apologist, author, and veteran tour guide of the Holy Land Steve Ray about a wide variety of topics, including his thoughts on Pope Francis. […]

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My Interview on LifeSite News: My Conversion, the Wuhan Virus & my Take on Pope Francis

May 12, 2020

Last week I did an interview with John-Henry Westen, editor of LifeSite News. The article begins, “May 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Today I had the chance to speak with well-known Catholic apologist, author, and veteran tour guide of the Holy Land Steve Ray about a wide variety of topics, including his thoughts on Pope Francis. […]

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My Interview on LifeSite News: My Conversion, the Wuhan Virus & my Take on Pope Francis

May 12, 2020

Last week I did an interview with John-Henry Westen, editor of LifeSite News. The article begins, “May 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Today I had the chance to speak with well-known Catholic apologist, author, and veteran tour guide of the Holy Land Steve Ray about a wide variety of topics, including his thoughts on Pope Francis. […]

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Good News from Israel! Things are getting back to normal!

May 11, 2020

This weekend I received a video from my Nazarean friend and partner Amer Shehadeh. It shows the freeways full of cars and life getting back to normal. Enjoy this 28-second clip with his commentary. We are heading back on July 29 and our bus is already almost sold out. We are very excited to see […]

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