I was tired. I didn’t sleep on the plane from Newark to Israel. I didn’t sleep the first night in Jerusalem. At about 3:30 a.m., I wondered what would happen if I took one of those “emergency” Advil PMs. I’d oversleep on my first day in Jerusalem!
Seven years ago, I had been here, around the same time of year. And one of the things I most treasured was walking to the New Gate to the Old City and praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre early in the morning. Last time, during my first day on my own, I got yelled at by a Franciscan priest guarding Christ’s tomb there. I tried to pray there too early, evidently. But this time, the Coptic priest behind the tomb was more than welcoming. Perhaps persecution tenderizes the heart in the everyday.
The Copts were there again my first morning and after. Their chants are soothing. They somehow bring you closer to heaven.
I needed that melodic respite after the intensity of my welcome.
The first thing I did this time, that first morning, was climb the deep steps to Calvary. I encountered some pilgrims from Spain, as best I could tell, with their priest for Mass. I tagged along, trusting the priest would provide Jesus to a sister in Christ. That he did, after the mind-blowing reality of the holy sacrifice of the Mass happening at the place where Christ was crucified.
Right beside the altar there, pilgrims file in to kneel and touch a stone where it is believed Jesus’ blood may have fallen. I never know about the exact spots here — though archeologists are confident about some of them. There, the priest offered me both the body and blood of Christ, at which point I lost it. I was a waterfall of weeping. It was joyous weeping. It was grieving weeping. It was disbelieving weeping. Help my unbelief, Lord, because I am so unworthy. Help my disbelief, Lord, because I do not understand. I realized I had lost some close friends since I had last been here. I was crying out so much at once. And all at once I was embraced by the Real Presence.
Jesus is present in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in so many ways, as he is in Bethlehem and Nazareth and Galilee, among the places we stopped on this Philos Project tour. (They educate Westerners — and on this particular trip, journalists, activists and thought leaders — about the religions of the Near East, and in particular the Christians, although this trip, focusing on identity and tradition, included many varieties of Jewish Israelis, Christians and even a Druze family.) And although it is a tremendous blessing to be in the Holy Land and walk the streets there — realizing how in shape Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the apostles had to be, especially without a taxi app on their phones to get them out of too hill-ish of situations — it is not necessary. At every Mass, Jesus is present. Jesus comes to us. Especially those of us who live in urban areas, there are multiple upon multiple opportunities to get to Mass every day. Jesus is present. Jesus gives himself for us.
As I wept, one of the Spanish pilgrims turned to me and offered me tissues. I was grateful, because I knew I was an ugly-crying mess. After Mass, she gave me a hug and said, “God loves you more than you know.” I can’t argue with that. We all need to hear that.
That woman happened to look very much like a friend who does post-abortion healing work in the United States. There are no coincidences. Women — and men — need healing after a half-century of Roe, even, if not especially, after Dobbs.
Jesus speaks into so much. And you don’t have to go to the Holy Land to see this. But be assured, I was praying for you there.
Know that whatever is happening, God is real and is our strength. That tremendous reality is worth a cry of gratitude.
And a trip to Mass on a day other than Sunday.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.
Services Marketplace – Listings, Bookings & Reviews