A Journey of Faith

 

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The Guadalupe Pilgrims

This past Sunday’s first reading told us how, after eating eating and drinking, Elijah was strengthened for his forty day journey to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:4-8). It was a good reading for me because Sunday was the last full day of our journey to Mexico City to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You may remember that, three years ago, Ken and I participated in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, There, we met a group of pilgrims who have increasingly become more family than friends. We try to get together several times a year, and often, our get-togethers revolve around our Catholic faith. This past weekend, many of our pilgrim family spent five days journeying to the religious sites and churches in Mexico City, praying, celebrating Mass, and enjoying the short time we had together.

 

 

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Friends from our local parish we invited to join us.

Reflecting on that short time, and the way we spent it, I’ve come to realize that this past weekend is a small representation of my life in general. We journeyed a long way, some getting caught in flight delays or heavy traffic, causing us to take a different route (who knew traffic was that bad in Mexico City?). Some came prepared with extra luggage for the many things they would accumulate on the way. Some of us were unprepared for the great temperature variations throughout the day and ran out of clothes. Some traveled alone, and a few were strangers, invited by friends to come along. 

 

How indicative of our spiritual lives here on earth! Though life is short, we travel a long way in our quest to reach salvation. We meet roadblocks, delays, and detours along the way. We aren’t always as good and faithful as we should be, but we carry on, hoping to find the right path. We try to be prepared for whatever life brings us, carrying that extra baggage as needed, often feeling the need to unload some of it along the way. Often, we are unprepared, though, and have to make due with what we have or find a way to meet our needs. We want a way to predict what lies ahead, to see the coming rain and avoid it, but alas, all we know is that there is a sunset at the end of the day and the glorious rising of a new sun in the morning. Sometimes, we travel this journey alone, depending upon God, but realizing we can rely on the love and care of those sent by God to walk the journey with us. Often, we are strangers amidst our fellow travelers, seeking friendship and a spiritual connection. In the end, we are all on a pilgrimage, searching for something to make our lives more meaningful. 

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Juan Diego’s tilma, as vibrant and it was in 1531, undeteriorated by time and circumstances.

Juan Diego traveled each day to and from his home and work. On December 12, 1531, he took a detour, expecting to avoid seeing the Virgin who had been appearing to him, but she was there, waiting along his path, and told him that she would grant him a sign for the bishop (you can read the whole story here). Climbing to the top of Tepyac Hill, Juan Diego found Castilian roses, flowers only found in Spain and not native to Mexico, certainly not in December. Thinking this was the sign, Juan Diego gathered the roses in his poncho, his tilma, and hurriedly took them to the Bishop. Upon opening his tilma to reveal the roses, an image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma. For almost 500 years, the tilma hung, first in the chapel built by Juan Diego and then in the church built by the Bishop. There was no glass protecting it, no frame, no special scientific or technological preservations of any kind, yet the tilma remained completely intact, unfaded, undeteriorated, and unharmed. Upon being moved to a newer basilica, it was placed in a glass frame. A 1921 bombing attempt to destroy the precious cloth resulted in destruction of the altar and melting of the bronze crucifix (some believe this was a sign that Jesus was protecting his mother), yet the glass covering the tilma was not even shaken, no cracks or breaks, no melting of the frame.

Juan Deigo learned that we never know what or whom we will encounter on our travels. Even detours cannot change the course that the Lord has set for us. Along the way, we meet many strangers, some become friends, some become family; all play a part in our journey. At times we feel vulnerable, unprotected, unable to stop the stumbling blocks and even bombs placed before us. However, I have learned that to have true friends of faith on whom I can rely, to whom I can talk, with whom I can pray, helps me keep the course, finish the race, and keep my faith.

IMG_7022.JPGOur journey here on earth is short, very short. We should not waste a moment of it. Despite the detours, we must continue on. Having a faithful group of friends and family will strengthen us along the way. As St. Paul said to Timothy, I hope to one day say to my dear friends across the nation and into Canada,

“But you must keep steady all the time; put up with suffering; do the work of preaching the gospel; fulfil the service asked of you.
As for me, my life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to depart.
I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith
all there is to come for me now is the crown of uprightness which the Lord, the upright judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his appearing.
Make every effort to come and see me as soon as you can.”

2 Timothy 4:5-9

The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available in stores and online.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

Strangers in a Strange Land

Smithsonian Mag - The Search for Jesus
Our Group of Pilgrims
It was early when we gathered, strangers in a strange land, having flown through the night and disembarked bleary-eyed, yet ready for adventure. A few people spoke; many smiled and nodded in acknowledgement. We shared a purpose, the same excitement and expectations, but were strangers nonetheless. With suitcases in hand, we boarded our assigned buses, most of us now having met three or four others. What would this week bring? How would we get along? How would this land of Moses change us?

It changed us in ways none of us could quite guess as of yet. We met our guides and watched eagerly as they pointed to landmarks on the landscape. Galilee is green. Did you know that? It is fertile and pleasant, even in the month of February. A cautious camaraderie formed during the first lunch, each person feeling out the others. Thank Heaven for Facebook, the genius of modern communication that allowed us to identify our fellow travelers and make small talk.

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Ken and I renewing our vows
Each day brought new things to see and places to go. Our first major site was the Church of the Annunciation, and we all left with high hopes and renewed zeal for the coming days.  “How can it get any better than this?” We thought when Father Darryl reminded us that “the Word was made flesh, here.”  But it did. That afternoon, we visited Cana where many of us renewed our wedding vows. While there was not a dry eye in the church, there were many laughs accompanied by food and dance at the “reception” that evening.

 

 

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The Sea of Galilee
In Mark 4: 35-41, the winds whipped across the Sea of Galilee. For us, they were calm when day two ushered in a boat ride for the one-hundred pilgrims who were talking, praying, and taking pictures with traveling companions. A moment of raw emotion took me by surprise when a fellow pilgrim stopped me to tell me that, in my smile, she had seen the face of her dear friend, who had recently passed. That is a moment I will never forget. A connection was made, and, I hope, perhaps a healing had begun. Later that day, we walked through the Valley of the Doves, literally following the footsteps of Jesus. It was unforgettable.

 

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The holy place of Peter’s Primacy
Ken was moved to tears at the Church of the Transfiguration, and we continued on our journey toward Jerusalem, stopping at Jericho for lunch. The sound of the call to prayer filled the Muslim dominated town as we ate and talked, each person learning more about our new friends. A visit to the seashore to recall the Lord’s command to Peter to shepherd His flock, left us all hearing the question, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

 

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The star marking the spot of Jesus’ birth
The next morning found us in Bethlehem where the true purpose of our trip began to
settle in. Though under construction, the Church of the Nativity loomed large and glorious before us. Kneeling before the place, where once laid a newborn King, was humbling for all of us. In Shepherd’s Field, we imagined what it must have been like when the light of a mystical star shone overhead, beckoning the shepherds from the cave to be greeted by a heavenly host of angels.

 

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Garden of Gethsemane
On Friday, we stood in the chapel at Pater Noster and held hands as we prayed the words the Lord prayed on the ground where the Apostles first learned the prayer. To describe my emotions would be inadequate as mere words cannot express what that felt like. It was as if the Lord stood in our midst. But the best was yet to come as that day gave way to one emotional moment after another. Walking the Palm Sunday path, we found ourselves descending the Mount of Olives and entering the Garden of Gethsemane. Our guide shared with us his personal belief that Jesus’ prayer that this cup be passed was not a moment of weakness and fear of the coming pain of crucifixion, but of the coming pain of the kiss, the betrayal by one He loved. Never again will I think of that Biblical scene without recalling that thought.

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Strangers no more
From there, we entered the Upper Room, the approximation of where the Lord and His disciples shared the Last Supper. It was during Mass on this hallowed ground that I watched, during the handshake of peace, as each person in the room hugged, kissed, and greeted each other by name, all pretenses gone. No more strangers. At that moment, we all felt it. We were among true friends.

 

 

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The tomb of Christ
The culmination of the trip took place at sunrise on Saturday morning. As the glow of the candles danced on the marble, and the Franciscan Monks sang the High Mass, Father Darryl celebrated the most unforgettable Mass of my life. To stand before the tomb of the risen Lord and partake in His meal of everlasting life, while doves sat in the church’s recesses above our heads, was too surreal to imagine. I tried to sing, tried to utter the prayers I had been hearing and saying all of my life, but the conflicting combination of sadness and joy were overwhelming. To lay my head on the Lord’s tomb, and then to kneel at Calvary, was almost too much to take in all at once. As Jesus did, we wept.

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Along the Via Delarosa
I will never forget the Via Delarosa, the walk through the streets of Jerusalem while praying the Stations of the Cross. As tourists and other pilgrims watched our group, and those used to such events went on with their daily lives, we traced the steps of our Lord from Pilate’s Praetorian to Calvary. The day was filed with more emotion than I’m sure any of us knew we were capable of.  Before heading to the airport on Sunday, Ken and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to walk back down to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher once again. This time, we were alone, no crowd of one-hundred, whispering and waiting their turn to spend just a few seconds at the empty tomb. With just ten people in front of us, we waited in line until it was time to say our final prayers at the site of the Resurrection. We savored the moment, knowing that this might be the one and only time in our lives that we would be able to visit this land of holiness and turmoil.

 

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A group of friends at our farewell dinner
When we finished our last dinner together, later that evening, the tears began to flow. Our lives had been changed forever. We were now fishers of men, charged with the task of returning to our homes and loved ones and sharing with them all that we had seen and heard. Unlike the first time we gathered at the airport, this time there was laughter, a final toast, sharing of memories, and plans to see each other again. No longer strangers in a strange land, I believe we all felt as if we had come home, and in doing so, met the family we never knew we had.

 

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her next book, Whispering Vines, is due out in the summer of 2016.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books:

Crabbing With Granddad (2013)

A Place to Call Home (2014)

Picture Me (2015)