Well, we have planned, prepared and eaten the Thanksgiving dinner, now the Advent Season is upon us. Are you spending as much time with spiritual preparation as you are with festive details? The first week of our liturgical calendar is really a “new year” event. This season is the beginning of a journey filled with hope and joy! Scripture reminds us that Jesus wants us to be thankful people; praising God for all that He has given us. It is not enough to be grateful; we must share the good news.
My husband, Dick, and I made a pilgrimage to Italy from Oct. 28 to Nov. 8. We had just celebrated the history of faith with “Feast of Booths” in Vincennes, honoring French Missionaries who traveled to America to share the faith in a new world of hope and religious freedom. Observing the 280-year-old history in our community took on a different perspective as we traveled to Europe for the first time, where old takes on a new meaning.
Father Jason Gries, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, Daylight, led 15 pilgrims through Venice, Padua, Bologna, Florence, Assisi, and Rome. The trip began to materialize in 2010 when Father Jason was pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Vincennes and St. Philip Neri Church in Bicknell. Elaine Pepmeier from St. Philip Neri Parish helped organize the trip.
It was great to reconnect with friends on a spiritual journey of this magnitude. It was interesting to be out of the country during a national election, but that is another article. It was amazing to walk in the footsteps of the many holy men and women who kept the faith alive, especially during All Saints Day.
We celebrated holy Mass everyday in a different cathedral with the tomb and relics of saintly people; an unbelievable opportunity for a baptized Christian, who aspires to be holy. We walked and walked and ate a lot of pasta. But what made this trip so special was our tour guide, Patritzia, from Pentecost Tours, who welcomed us to her country with information and invited us into her home with love.
Patritzia planned a trip for us to the countryside of Rome where her father lived on an eight-acre olive grove and vineyard. Antonino is a retired optometrist and he shared his wine cellar and hospitality with great Italian warmth. He had a beautiful shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes amid his olive trees. We did not speak the same language, but our devotion to the Catholic faith was a common bond.
After sharing some good wine and a wealth of knowledge from his large library of old books, we were bused to an olive oil factory for an experience that OSHA would have probably frowned upon. We walked through the process of squeezing the oil from the olives into a mash that would later be baked into bricks. The people of the local factory, owned for generations by the same family, were very hospitable. They toasted bread drizzled with fresh olive oil and sea salt over a wood-burning grill and served us more wine. The neighbors, who were there waiting for their oil to be processed, and the factory workers, all took a break to join us for the feast.
As I looked out over the countryside of green hills with the olive groves, grape arbors and sheep traveling in herds, I felt very close to heaven, and it was not the wine creating the moment. The day ended with a six-course meal prepared at Patritzia’s home by her daughter, Valentina. Hebrews 13:2 reads: do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. If this is true, we must have looked like chubby cherubs when we left her beautiful home that night after enjoying all the Italian cuisine.
There is good news! Wherever you may go in this world, the Catholic Church is there to greet you. We walked in Saint Mark Square in , Venice, the homes of Sts. Francis and Clare in Assisi, the Scavi tour with the bones of St. Peter, the Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and the Holy Stairs in Rome. We had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI and celebrated Eucharist in many churches.
Each of these experiences reminded me of one thing; by our Baptism, we are all called to holiness. We do not need to look far to find opportunity for God’s grace. So, as you begin this Advent season, please remember to enjoy the wonder of God’s omnipotence with something very simple: quiet time with him. Silence fosters awe before the almighty, and that is really all that he asks of us. It can be the beginning of a journey filled with hope and joy! Amen!