The Lord is always among us wherever we are
I am writing this month's Thought for the Weekend from Jerusalem, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. For Catholic Christians, an integral part of a pilgrimage to the most holy places on Earth, is the 'Via Dolorosa' - the Sorrowful Way - a prayerful journey, through the narrow streets of the Holy City, retracing our Lord's agonising walk to Calvary.
We call this devotion, 'the Stations of the Cross' - 14 pictorial representations of Jesus' sufferings - which we can normally meditate upon in the tranquil settings of our parish churches.
On the streets of Jerusalem, however, there is no peace and quiet. There are jostling crowds. It is a challenge to pray in such a busy setting. Nevertheless, it was in the midst of chaos that the Lord Jesus was dragged through the streets to Calvary.
A reminder that all is far from well in the City of Peace - and a reminder of our Belfast in times past - was the disruption caused by the discovery of a suspect package near the Wailing Wall. Thankfully, it was a hoax and we proceeded onwards, peacefully and safely, on our pilgrim path that day.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, whose footsteps we are retracing, has walked in front of us through trauma, terror and threat. Jesus has marched through death and trampled it underfoot, releasing us from its grip. Often, in our human lives, we are surrounded, on every side, by terrifying clamour and real danger. Jesus shepherds us to safety. In his own self, He has destroyed death and removed its power over human beings.
Now, following the risen Lord and clinging to him, the faithful pass peacefully through the doors that the Lord's cross has broken down. We walk with him along the way to the gates of that city in which is found eternal life and joy.
Now, the way that leads on high is made safe. Now, our risen saviour goes ahead of us; and we walk with him towards the new heavens and the new earth - the place where righteousness and peace will be, forever, at home.
It has been a tremendous experience to see the landscapes, rivers, mountains, hills, lakes and seas, upon which his eyes rested, when he was here during his earthly life. It has been very special to pray and celebrate mass in the various places associated with his earthly life and ministry.
However, as we all return home, we are well aware that the Lord Jesus is not confined to any place or period in time. He, through whom all things were made, to whom belongs all time and all the ages, is entirely present to us at home.
Ballymurphy, Andersonstown, the Shankill Road, Ballymena, Downpatrick, Newry - all the places where we live - are the Holy Land too. They are the holy ground of our daily lives where the Lord Jesus is present among us with his grace, mercy and love.