The Household of Faith
After moving to the Holy Land in the summer of 2008, I lived for a while in the traditional Arab village of my husband in the heart of the Israeli countryside far from the major cities. This rural town of approximately 25,000 has more than ten mosques as all the residents who live there are Muslims. As there were no churches in the town, in order to attend Holy Mass I would have to drive more than sixty miles by car every Sunday along the Mediterranean coastal highway to the great port city of Haifa where the closest church was located. It became my custom that first year living in Israel to attend Holy Mass in Haifa at the magnificent Stella Maris Church which sits atop Mount Carmel. This shrine church is built over the cave of the Prophet Elijah. It was such a blessing to see not only Christians, but Muslims and Jews come to this shrine church as all three religions hold Elijah as one of their revered holy prophets. While devout Catholics adored the Lord during the Holy Mass which was being said in the sanctuary built over the cave, Jews and Muslims would enter in the midst of the sacred celebration and quietly walk down the aisle between the worshipping Christians and enter the cave below the High Altar while Jesus would be sacramentally Present and they would light candles and say their prayers to God. This holy shrine indeed was a “house of prayer for all nations.”
Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.(Isaiah 56:7)
Back in America, there were innumerable churches within a close distance to my home and I was immensely blessed to be able to go to Holy Mass every day without driving those sixty miles to get to the closet church. I was able to receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion daily. I was fully immersed in a vibrant Christian community life where I would join with my brothers and sisters of the Faith in fellowship, in prayer in several small groups, and where I served the Lord by visiting the sick and elderly in the area nursing homes as an assistant to a priest in his ministry. Every day my body and soul was nourished by hearing the Word of God proclaimed, receiving Our Lord sacramentally in Holy Communion and sharing the Holy Spirit in communal prayer with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
Indeed, I felt loved by my husband’s Arab family and most assuredly, I was touched by the kindness of many of the town’s residents and absolutely, I rejoiced to be able to attend Holy Mass at the Stella Maris Church every Sunday, yet, during the remaining six days of the week I felt deeply the pangs of intense loneliness for fellowship with the members of my “Household of Faith.”
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
After about nine months living in the village, as usual I went up to Haifa to the Stella Maris for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In those most intimate moments just after having received Holy Communion I poured my aching heart out to my sweet Jesus in prayer telling him of my intense loneliness and feelings of isolation and how I longed to have fellowship with the Body of Christ, not just for one hour on Sundays. I said to Him, “I know You are always with me, but I miss my brothers and sisters! I am so lonely! Please help me find my family here as I am a stranger in an alien land.”
The Mass ended a few moments later and I got up to leave the church. When I turned around there was a woman looking directly at me whose face radiated joy and her beaming smile reached from one side to the other. Her bright eyes and glowing face captivated me. She wanted to say something, but I motioned to her to follow me out of the church as I did not want to disturb anyone who remained in prayer. When we were outside of the great shrine church, she greeted me with all the love and warmth of a long lost sister.
Hearing an accent, I asked her where she was from. She responded, “I am Mexican, but I have come from Jerusalem to find the one the Lord is calling.” When I heard her words, my heart leapt for joy as I realized my beloved Jesus had so compassionately and without delay responded to my heart’s cry and answered my prayer of just moments before when I poured out my soul to Him during Holy Communion. My sister in the Lord had come that particular Sunday by the leading of the Holy Spirit all the way to Haifa from Jerusalem where she had been living for nearly 18 years in the community of Catholic ladies of the Prelature of Opus Dei. As she herself said to me by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, “I came to find the one the Lord is calling.”
From that very day and for the rest of my years living in Israel I enjoyed close Christian fellowship, and a deep Catholic community life in the Household of Faith with my new family of Opus Dei in Jerusalem and throughout all of the Holy Land.
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29)
During our time of living in Israel, my family decided to take a trip to Rome during Easter holy week 2010. As we were driving from the airport into Rome, our jovial taxi driver enjoyed sharing with us his love for his city by telling us many facts about Rome. Of everything he told us, one fact stuck in my memory. “Rome has more than 1000 churches.” The day we arrived in Rome was Holy Thursday. I desired very much to attend the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper. The taxi driver dropped us off at our lovely hotel overlooking the Borghese Gardens. After checking in we made our way down into the center of Rome and began to enjoy our first afternoon’s adventures. We walked through the Borghese Gardens to the Spanish Steps, and then onto the Via del Corso, to the Piazza del Populo, and many other squares and streets until we arrived at the Pantheon. At this point the afternoon was getting late and I was becoming anxious about attending Mass.
I had thought we would go back to the hotel at some point where I could ask the Concierge for information about the times of Masses at particular churches nearby. But we never returned to the hotel that afternoon as my husband and children had every desire to stay in the center to continue sight-seeing and ultimately to find a good outdoor café on one of the squares to sit down for a long leisurely meal and watch the people walk by. I wanted to tell them how anxious I was becoming about not knowing when and where I would be able to attend Holy Mass on this most sacred of evenings, but as my husband doesn’t share my faith, I was alone in my inner turmoil. I felt awkward to ask him to make special arrangements for me. I could not fathom the idea of missing the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper while here I was in Rome during Holy Week just because I did not know where to go and at what time the great Mass would begin! And it seemed even more absurd when I recalled the taxi drivers’ comment about Rome having more than 1000 churches! The distressing thought that this might actually turn out to be the case caused me to suffer so very much within myself.
I lifted my heart to the Lord in my distress right there outside the great Pantheon. Jesus could feel my agony of heart and suffering of mind and He knew how much I desired to be with Him this night during the Holy Mass – to be with Him in spirit, in the Room of the Last Supper and in spirit, to walk with Him afterwards to the Garden of Gethsemane and in spirit, to stay awake with Him there and keep Him company during His Agony. I trusted Jesus would help me somehow, although I could not imagine what He would do.
The Lord’s Supper
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you anew in the kingdom of my Father.” Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:26-30)
The Agony in the Garden
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open. He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again. Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. Look, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:36-46)
No sooner had I lifted my heart to the Lord in my distress than my husband said, completely out of the blue, and pointing to the left side of the great Pantheon, “ There’s a church over there which Claudio showed me the last time I came to Rome. There’s a saint in glass in there. You should go in and see it. I can’t remember which saint he said it was.”
I was stunned. My husband had just pointed out a church to me and suggested that I go inside! The fact that he told me to go into a church was quite enough to make me very happy. We approached the Church of Santa Maria Sopre Minerva and the big doors were wide open and I could see that many people were moving around inside. As soon as we stepped inside a well groomed young man in a black suit spoke in English to us asking, “Are you here for the Mass?” I was awestruck. I quickly asked him if the Mass of the Lord’s Supper was being celebrated there at this time. The polite young man acknowledged that Holy Mass would begin in five minutes! He handed me a missal and invited me to join them. I was overjoyed! My husband asked how long the Mass would last and after the young man answered him, he graciously permitted me to stay for the two hour celebration and told me that he would come back for me after the Mass had ended.
I found a seat in the middle of the huge church which was filled to capacity with the faithful. Observing around me I could see from a distance that under the high altar there was the glass sarcophagus which held the incorrupt body of St Catherine of Sienna. Looking around I also noticed that I was nearly the only female in the entire church. The church was filled with men. I wondered who they all were. I assumed they must be a pilgrim group visiting Rome during Holy Week. Mass began and my heart flew upwards into the Heart of Jesus. I was so grateful to Jesus for answering my heart’s desire to be able to be with Him at the Holy Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper in Rome and I was in a state of immense joy and awe-struck wonder over the way He had brought events to pass. How great is the Lord and what love and compassion He has for His children!
As the Mass progressed I felt so peaceful and joyful and safe, as if I was in my own home, like being with a dear family. Even though I was practically the only woman amongst a thousand men, I felt I was amongst all my brothers, the dearest of brothers. I was with my own family. God our Father was present, Jesus our Brother was with us, Mary our Mother too, and all our brother and sister saints in Heaven were also present with us there during the solemn celebration of the Eucharist, and all the members of the Body of Christ on earth were also united with us in this spiritual Household of Faith. Something else also felt so familiar to me and I could not put my finger on it. Then, when the general intercessions were made, St Jose Maria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei was named, and then I realized that all these men from all over the world were of the family of Opus Dei!
The Lord had sent the Mexican holy lady of Opus Dei to find me in Haifa in order to end my isolation and loneliness during my first year in Israel and to bring me into fellowship with these sisters in Jerusalem. Then when I was yet again a stranger in a foreign city our Good Shepherd led me right into the midst of my Opus Dei family in Rome! Remember there are more than 1000 churches in Rome! Only Our Great God can do such marvels!
Remember also that God our Father is calling you into His Family of Love through His Son Jesus Christ, Our Lord who came to earth to save us from our sins and by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead Jesus opened for us the door to Eternal Life. Jesus is our older Brother and the Head of God’s Household of Faith. He invites you to trust in Him, follow Him and He will lead you to the Heavenly Home of His Father and ours, and to all our brothers and sisters of the Household of Faith who have gone before us.