02 May 2010

Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

At last, this unbelievable school year is coming to an end. With summer within my sights and finals breathing down my neck, I figured it was time for one last Capitol Catholic visit before going home to California. I decided to visit the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, one of the many Catholic institutions in the vicinity of The Catholic University of America. My good friend Dan decided to get up early and come with me.

The monastery is run by Franciscan friars, the group put in charge of caring for many of the important sites in the Holy Land. The church is surrounded by several acres of beautiful gardens filled with shrines and replicas of holy sites throughout the world. It is definitely an area designated for prayer and meditation; I counted dozens of shrines throughout the gardens and in the church itself. The stone columns, open courtyards, and peaceful atmosphere made me feel as though I had walked into Rivendell, the home of the elves in the Lord of the Rings movies.

The church itself is a shrine-style church, similar in design to the National Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. The other shrines I’ve visited have domes towards the front of the church, and a shrine behind the altar. In this church, however, the dome is above the center of the church, and a metallic shrine covering the altar is right below it. This arrangement brings focus to the center of the space, especially because pews are arranged so as to surround the altar on four sides. Dan and I sat in one of the side sections, and it was interesting to see the Mass from a different angle: it was sort of like watching a play from backstage.

There were two interesting outfits that gave the church an old-world feel. The first was that worn by the ushers, a white military suit with a red belt over the shoulder and waist. As it turns out, these men were members of the Order of the Knights of Mt. St. Sepulchre, dedicated to assisting the friars who run the monastery. Also of note were the plain brown robes of the Franciscan friars, who dedicate themselves to humility and service to others. Father Jacob’s homily touched on these themes. He talked about a “blueprint” for our lives that we were to follow. He said that in order to truly be Christians, we must love one another as God loves us. When we look at others, he said, imagine that God is holding a soul out to you, and saying “take care of this until I’m ready to call it home.”

That will be my last D.C. church visit until next September. I’ll have a reflection on my first year of Capitol Catholic in the next few days. This has been a tremendous experience, and I’m not even halfway done!

Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America


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