Sermon: Epiphany 2 RCL B – “Lost and Anxious”

Mark Twain wrote, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” I think this is probably true and, as most of you know, the day after Christmas, I went traveling again, but this time I went by myself and discovered that I’m not a bad travel companion.

I went to Portugal on this trip and spent most of my time in Lisbon. However, I was able to travel to several nearby locations, including Fatima, the site of perhaps the most significant Marian apparitions.

I left Monday morning and arrived in Lisbon three flights and roughly twenty-six hours later. I want to be able to sleep on planes, especially flights that long, but that is not the case. In addition, the host of the VRBO that I would be staying in gave me a great restaurant to have lunch in when I arrived, so I passed on the last meal offered on the flight. Bottom line: when I got to Lisbon, I hadn’t slept or had anything to eat in quite some time. From there, the situation began to decline.

I had purchased an international data plan for my phone so that I would have access to Google maps and the like, yet, when I arrived, it would not connect, even after I spent half an hour on the phone with the provider. It was at this point that no sleep and no food gave me my first stupid idea: “I can do this. No problem.” 

My host told me the subway to take and what stop to get off at. How hard could that be? The only piece of information I forgot was that, at one point, I needed to switch trains. I rode that train and rode that train, and when it finally came to a stop, and everyone was getting off, a little older lady leaned down to me—and I must have been looking baffled at this point—and said, “This is the end of the line.” I said, “Thank you,” but what I thought was, “No…. kidding.” I then proceeded to make my second mistake: I got off the subway and rode the elevator to street level, the entire time thinking, “Surely I’ll be able to recognize something.” The problem: no Google maps or any map for that matter. In The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Gandalf writes a letter to Frodo and the letter includes a poem. A line from that poem reads, “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.” I got off that train, and I was one who was not only wandering but also terribly lost and—no sleep, no food—did not have the sense to figure it out, so I found a spot in the shade and just stood there, staring blankly into a city I knew nothing about.

A wristwatch used to have only one function: tell the time. After a while, they added the date, then Seiko and the others added calculators, etc., and now, we have the Apple Watch and other similar devices that have more computing power than the first rocket to the moon. This little watch can do all sorts of things, but for the most, it is tied to your phone, so if your phone has no signal, your watch isn’t going to do much. If it is connected, then you’ll be able to get notifications on your watch. 

As I stood there in the shade, staring blankly into that unknown city, my watch vibrated and dinged, and I was suddenly elated. That notification could mean only one thing: I had data services and could find my way out of this mess. However, specific functions on the watch work without data, one of which is the healthcare monitoring functions. Specifically, in this case, it was the heart rate monitor. 

I raised my wrist, hoping to have a data-related message, but what I read was this: “High Heart Rate: your heart rate rose above 120 BPM while you seemed to be inactive for ten minutes.” You know you’re a little stressed when your watch tells you to chill out.

I took a deep breath and slowly walked around until I spotted a police officer. He didn’t speak a lick of English, but we were able to mime communicate enough that I could tell him where I was trying to get; when he realized where it was, I didn’t understand what he said, but it meant, “How in blue blazes did you get all the way over here?”

I asked, “How do I get there? Can I walk?” “No,” he said, wide-eyed. He then indicated he would get me to the train station; I said, “No. Taxi.” He then gently took me by the arm and led me to the street. Standing there with me, he flagged me a cab. He had a conversation with the taxi driver and told him where I needed to go. There was more to the conversation than this, but I didn’t understand any of it other than the grin, and the eye roll exchanged between them. 

I don’t know either of these two individuals’ names, but the police officer I named Angel because, following a fifteen-minute taxi ride, I was deposited in the exact spot I needed to be. 

For the duration of the trip, when I was out and about, I had no data services, but André, my VRBO host, was brilliant and helped me learn how to get around. After a thirteen-hour nap and some tasty food the following day, I set off into that remarkable city and had a brilliant time. I got lost a few more times and occasionally missed a train stop, but I really had no problem getting around after that first day.

St. Augustine of Hippo (d.430) was one of the greatest theologians the Church has known. One of his books is the City of God. In it, he writes of the City of Man and the City of God, where “the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.” There are many other comparisons: “The earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt of God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far contempt of self.” Although there are two cities, they are intertwined, just as in the parable of the wheat and the weeds that grow in the field together. 

Augustine says that it is in this intertwined city that we live, and it is a place where, for the most part, “the strongest oppress the others because all follow after their own interests and lusts.” It is a city where it is easy to become lost, bouncing from one thing to another, never settled, anxious, and not truly knowing where you are going.

It was in such a city, such a time, that Jesus was born and lived. People wandered in the city, lost with no means of finding their way. Anxious, with no knowledge of how to calm their hearts and their souls. But then, like my angel in Lisbon, along came John the Baptist, who took them by the arm and directed them to the one… the only one, who could bring peace to their souls and get them to where they needed to be: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” So, coming to Jesus, they asked, “Rabbi—teacher—where are you staying?” “Where are you staying? We are lost. How do we get there?” And Jesus responds, “Come and see.” Jesus says, “Come with me, and I will show you the way through this city. I will show you the path that leads to God, for not only can I show you the way, but I Am The Way.” 

If you are anxious and lost in the city, there are many here who can help show you to the one who is the Way. If you know of someone who is lost, be a John the Baptist to them, be an Angel to them, and point them to the Lamb of God, who will give them safe passage through this City of Man to the Eternal City, the City of Our God.

While in Portugal, I had the opportunity to visit Fatima, the site of the great Marian Apparition. During one of the apparitions, the Virgin Mary gave the children a prayer she asked to be prayed at the end of each decade of the Rosary. It is brief but addresses our most profound need while we walk the streets of this City of Man. Let us pray: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.”

Travel: Lisbon (Day Nine)

It was going to be a lot of walking and train time if it turned out to be closed again, but I made my way back to Belém because I wanted to have a proper visit to St. Jerónimos Monastery. I was not disappointed.

As is the case with most of my train rides, I missed my stop. [insert eyeroll] Most trains have either a scrolling sign or announce the stops; I’m guessing the one on my train was out of service. I told myself when I got on, ‘It’s the third stop. Get off there.’ But it did not look right, so I remained on the train and… yep. It was the right stop. Got off at the next made my way to the other side of the track to catch the returning train. After ten minutes of waiting and no sign, I stepped off the platform and said, “Taxi!” Four minutes and 6€ later I was deposited at the front door of the monastery. It was worth it.

By the time I arrived, most of the other tourists were at supper. I didn’t have it to myself, but when you can capture a photo like this…

There are two self-guided tours: one through the church and another through the cloisters. I began with the church.

Construction began in 1502 and was one of the reasons why the church in Batalha was not completed: there is only so much stone and so many stonecutters. The king decided that after 129 years of construction at Batalha, they had had enough time to complete.

None of the churches are brightly lit, but this was by far the darkest, between fewer windows and electrical lights.

The last entry into the monastery side is 5:30 p.m., and I timed it perfectly.

St. Jerome is most often pictured with a lion. This painting greets you at the top of the stairs leading to the second story, and the proud lion sits at the corner of the inner courtyard.

The Golden Legend says…

One day toward evening, when he was seated with the brethren to hear the sacred lessons read, a lion suddenly limped into the monastery. The other monks fled at the sight of the beast, but Jerome greeted him as a guest. The lion showed him his wounded foot, and Jerome called the brothers and ordered them to wash the animal’s feet and to dress the wound carefully. When they set about doing this, they found that the paw had been scratched and torn by thorns. They did what was necessary, and the lion recovered, lost all his wildness, and lived among the monks like a house pet.

I posted the legend elsewhere, and someone commented that the legend of the lion is based on Jerome’s temper which he had a difficult time containing. It is easy to see that in the story as well: his life of prayer, cloistered with the other monks, tamed his temper and his soul.

Today is my last day in Portugal and I’ve no plan. I still haven’t ridden one of the trolleys, but with such long flights coming up tomorrow, I’m not too interested in spending the day sitting. Maybe I’ll just walk out the door and see where my feet take me.

I forgot to make a New Year’s resolution. I think it will be to travel at every opportunity I can.

Travel: Portugal (Day Seven)

Today, I spent a good bit of my time simply roaming the streets, watching people, and enjoying vacation time without rushing about. It was good, but I did have one place on my list that I was not going to miss: the ruins of the Convent of Santa Maria do Carmo (founded in 1389).

Most churches are well preserved, even if they have been struck by earthquakes/fire; however, some have reached a stage where nothing more can be done except stabilize the remaining structure and save whatever else is possible. Carmo is such a place.

“The Great Lisbon Earthquake” struck on November 1, 1755, at 9:40 a.m. In Lisbon, it is estimated that 30,000-40,000 people were killed in the quake and tsunami that followed. 85% of the city was destroyed. The royal library—some 70,000 volumes—was lost. Countless works of art were buried under tons of rubble or consumed by the fires that followed and have not been seen since. A loss on many levels, then… you pick up the pieces.

Since the earthquake and through the years, the church has stood as a minder of the tragedy the city experineced, and has also become a museum for treasures that were recovered. And lets face it, every museum should have a couple of mummies sitting around.

Afterward, I stopped for a while in Rossio Square, and after the influencers moved aside to let the rest of us in, I was able to capture a few images of the fountain.

I finally came across one of the funiculars. This is the Elevado da Glória, and it climbs a hill that is a 17.7% slope. You don’t want to walk it!

And, of course, I had to stop and eat: Pinóquio. My timing was perfect. When I arrived, there were several tables free, but for the next hour, there was a line of at least 20 individuals waiting to get in (I did not know that it was a popular place when I arrived. I was just hungry.)

I enjoyed the Prawn Cocktail, Seafood Pasta (lobster—I don’t think there was much, clams, shrimp, and pasta in a thin broth. Very good! This was served with 1/2 bottle of Maria Joaquina red wine and some sparkling water. I finished up with a very yummy café and Creme Catalão—think creme brulé on crack. It was a delicious meal.

Every inch is used for floor space and more tables, so you are essentially having your meal with the people sitting next to you. In this case, I was sitting next to two young Russian men. Well, they were speaking Russian, so I’m assuming here, and for whatever reason, I got it in my pointy little head that these were some of the fortunate young Russian men who were able to escape and avoid military service in Ukraine. I didn’t ask.

Following such decadence, I decided it was time to stop for prayer, so on the way back to the apartment, I stopped once again at St. Dominic’s (the church that was gutted by fire) and prayed a rosary.

Like Rome, being in these places where the saints have prayed for centuries is a truly remarkable feeling.

After doing a bit of complicated math, I discovered tonight was the night that I once again needed to do laundry. It is not that I’m out of clean clothes, but you have to figure in drying time, and I wasn’t up for hair-drying my clothes again or packing a bunch of wet clothes home, so here I am.

Tomorrow… tomorrow is a very full day. I’m finally headed to Fatima, and there are three other stops on the tour. The weather is perfect. It’ll be a remarkable trip.

If, while in Portugal, you need to tell someone to “Get lost!” You say to them, “Vai pentear Macacos!” “Go comb monkeys!” That may work in a sermon someday.

Travel: Portugal (you have to eat)

I had no plans on getting out today and I didn’t get very far, maybe about 60 steps to a delightful restaurant: Tandoor – A Taste of Punjab.

I enjoyed a bright yellowed Garnele Korma. I looked that up before I went because I know that sometimes Indian food can get more than a little spicy. The korma is a mild dish; despite the look of the picture, it was lightly curried, and the shrimp were perfectly cooked. It was served over a very long grain white rice. The Cobra beer was also a first. I can recommend it and I’m not a big beer person.

I’m having a great time trying new foods while I am here.

Travel: Portugal (wet clothes)

My dear travel adventure readers –

I left you last night anticipating the outcome of my adventures in laundry. I must report a slight failure in this endeavor. It turns out that hanging clothes on a rack in an apartment that dips to the high 50s at night and in a damp climate is not conducive to the drying of clothes. (My Dear Mr. Watson, Is this why we’ve seen peoples’ clothes hanging out for several days? Sherlock, your mind never ceases to amaze me!) So, this morning, I woke up to cold, wet clothes, which left me with a number of options 1) go out in the shirt I slept in and hear my grandmother’s voice all day, “You look like you slept in that shirt.” 2) go out in a wet shirt and hear my grandmother’s voice all day, “You’ll catch your death of cold running around in that wet shirt!” Or 3) find a way to dry the shirt. Option number 3) was the clear winner, but how?

I first hauled out the trusty space heater and had plans to lay the shirt across it and was, in fact, doing so (Sherlock was screaming in the back of my head the entire time) when I read the small print on top of said heater, “NĀO COBRIR.” I’m not sure if that is Portuguese or not, but Google Translate kicked that back as “Not Cover.” Plan B…

Rooting through a bathroom cabinet, I found an industrial hairdryer, so for the last fifteen minutes—had you been looking for me—you would have found me in the bathroom with a hairdryer in one hand and an espresso in the other, patiently drying my clothes. I, at first, felt somewhat guilty about using the electricity in such a way. Still, seeing as I’ve had no use whatsoever for a hairdryer in the last fifteen years… yeah, my carbon footprint in the hairdryer department remains small.

For the record, there was one other point when my grandmother spoke inside my head; it was when I set the hairdryer down in the wet sink (please remember that I’ve been lacking in the hairdryer do’s/don’ts for several years). My grandmother said, “Who are you? Thomas Merton!” I don’t actually know whether my grandmother knew who Thomas Merton was nor the suspicious circumstances of his untimely death, but I got the point and quickly removed the hairdryer from the sink.

My dear friends, I am caffeinated, have dry clothes, am eating a tasty breakfast, drinking one more espresso, and am about to head out on today’s grand adventure. I’ll be back unless I run into that bear…. hmmmm…. maybe the hairdryer in the sink was today’s bear? Sneaky bear.

Today’s adventure…

Travel: Portugal (Day Four)

Things I want to remember: my dream from last night.

I started early today in search of a church, but they were all closed (I started too early, or they pray later in the day in Lisbon), so I made my way to the ferry that crosses the River Tagus to Cacilhas. It took less than ten minutes to cross.

Initially, I thought I would walk up to the Santuário de Cristo Rei, but when I could not spot it, I opted for a taxi. That was a smart move. It is much further than it looks. When you come out from behind the buildings that line the streets, the statue suddenly looms in front of you.

My first reaction was, “Wow!” My first thought was, ‘I hope there’s an elevator! (There is, except for the last four flights.)

I spent an hour wandering around the grounds, looking up, and seeing the various other works of art, then went for a café and a pastel de nata—a small custard pie—before heading to the top.

It took about an hour in line, but I enjoyed the bronze art (The Ten Commandments on either side of the door) and the main doors (St. John the Baptist holding the lamb, which I had to touch on my way in.) Eu sou a porta is printed above the door—“I am the Door.” Several other pieces of art adorned the walls on the inside, and one, in particular, caught my eye when I realized it was Pope John Paul II.

Up we went in the elevator, the short climb, and… the first thing you’ll notice is the wind! It blows quite strong at the top. Then, you look up. From the ground, the statue appears large, and standing on the platform at the base is not disappointing. The platform is 269 feet, and the figure of Christ is an additional 92 feet.

Images painted on the ceramic tiles at the base of the statue…

And the view…

Just below the statue, a few flights down, is a gift shop and the Chapel of those who trusted in the Heart of Jesus. I stopped for a few minutes to pray before taking the elevator back down.

Pope Benedict XVI offered a Perpetual Plenary Indulgence to all who visited, and I can use all the help I can get!

The Pilgrim’s Prayer:

After another taxi and ferry ride, I was back on the north side of the river. A bit of research last night told me that if I walked a few blocks north, I would come to the Rua Nova do Carvalho (The Pink Street!) Voila! Found it. (This is a complete 180° turn from the Cristo Rei, as this area of town was formally the red light district.) The street will definitely put a smile on your face, as will all the silly, wannabe social influencers (?) posing for pictures.

It was close to 3 p.m., and I had not eaten since an early breakfast, which led to a minor mistake: eating at a restaurant on The Pink Street. I won’t name them (if you don’t have something nice to say…), but don’t make the mistake. So many people are going through that it is impossible to maintain good quality, although, at the end of the meal, the waiter provided me with a glass of a 10-year-old port wine that made me forget about the rest of the meal.

As I was making my way back to the apartment, I saw everyone facing me and taking pictures, so I turned, and there was one of the iconic Lisbon buildings: Elevador de Santa Justa. Too many things I read said, ‘Don’t waste your time or money riding the elevator to the top,’ but it was still fun to see.

I’m back at the apartment, and this evening’s festivities are a bit more domestic: laundry.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. During the day, I plan to take a train to Belém, about 30 minutes west, and tomorrow night—if I’m up for the crowds—fireworks on the river. Keep you posted.

Travel: Portugal (Day Three)

Yes, I posted earlier today but decided I needed at least one early night because who knows what New Year’s weekend will bring in this city. Let’s begin with the lights. Disclaimer: I have not found them all but I will continue to look.

I was standing next to the Christmas tree at a few minutes to six and thought it would surely come on at six. It did, and everyone in the square cheered. You had to smile.

I discovered more lights as I wandered the streets, but I haven’t yet found the street lined with jellyfish. I will keep searching. (Now that I think of it, I haven’t come across the pink street either! that will definitely be an intentional search because I don’t think you’re allowed to come to Lisbon without seeing it.) Some additional lights, and they are spectacular.

The restaurant I was having supper at did not open until 6:30 p.m., so I wandered about for a bit and came across a church (no pictures because…) that I did not expect. I went inside, and there was a service of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament underway. It was the time leading up to the prayers, and I had the opportunity to sit in peace with a dozen or so worshippers. I would have stayed, but the stupid cough kicked in, and I did not want to disturb folks. I will return at another time because the church was lovely (as was the service!) and I would like to spend more time there.

Supper: now, all you people who can’t stand my canned mackerel… don’t freak out! because it was so very good! It began with fresh oysters on the half-shell, followed by…

It was soooo amazing—octopus (when in Portugal). I’ve had octopus sushi style, which is definitely “chewy,” but this was so tender—served over pureed sweet potatoes, with an olive oil, tomato, onion, and other lovely goodness sauce. Had it with some sparking water and a nice red wine. Desert was ridiculous: Baixmar Floating Island—this was two scoops of a dense merangue ‘floating’ in a heavy vanilla creme. Lord, help us all. Had it with a nice flamed brandy and followed that up with an exceptional heavy port wine. People. People. People. When in Lisbon, please go to BaixaMar Lisboa for dinner. The service and the food were exceptional and you don’t have to order the octopus (although you should!)


Remember how Florence and Rome were about not forgetting to look up? Lisbon is about not forgetting to look down. Every sidewalk is made of tiles…

Someone was making hundreds of bubbles, and the children were delighted. Some strange old guy taking pictures was also.

Everyone loves a giant Panda.

And at the beginning of the evening was sunset, looking out across the river toward Cristo Rei and the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge.

I’ll be taking the ferry across the river tomorrow to visit the Cristo Rei.

Bênçãos para todos vocês.

Travel: Portugal (Day Two)

I did not make my evening post yesterday, but this being a vacation and all… yeah.

Day two was remarkable. I was able to get out and begin to discover the city and the food. When I left the apartment, I was on a mission that brought me here…

The Arco da Rua Augusta located on the banks of the Tagus River. The far shore was enshrouded in fog, so you get the artistic shot of the day.

From here, I followed the river banks and then turned into the city toward Se Cathedral of Lisbon, which—from the outside—resembles more of a castle than a church.

Over the years—it was built in the 12th century!!—it has suffered damage from several earthquakes, but each time, the people of Lisbon work to restore its beauty. So far, the churches in Lisbon are far more austere than those of Florence and Rome. In their architecture and appointments, they indicate strength. They are definitely places the crusaders would have felt at home. Inside is quite the same, with many side chapels adorned and beautiful statues. I plan to attend church here on Sunday.

Dear Altar Guild – Wondering if you could hook a brother up (just don’t tell the Bishop!) This is the dressing chamber of the Patriarch.

Finally, the view from outside on the ledge below the rose window.

The tour of the cathedral is said to take 40 minutes… well, after spending two and a half hours poking around every corner, I was hungry. I wandered the streets near the cathedral and found Restaurante Ruca, which instead of being filled with tourists, was filled with locals. Began with a creamy seafood soup, followed by baked cod, new potatoes, and cabbage. I had the meal with sparkling water, a nice glass of port wine, and finished with an expresso.

After lunch, it was time for another church: Igreja Sao Domingos, Church of St. Dominic. Work on the church began in 1241 and was completed in 1748. It is a church of great history and great tragedy. Between various earthquakes and a massive fire in 1959, it is a miracle that it is still standing. It is beautiful, just the same.

I was a few “Hail Marys” away from finishing my Rosary when I had a coughing spell and had to leave. It is distant, but you can still smell the smoke from the fire, and there is still evidence of those flames. Touch the door, and your hand will come away black.

From here, I made my way back to the apartment and had plans for a light supper and then back out to experience the lights, but then I met a Sikh. In this case, Sandeep (I believe I have his name correct) is the Sikh I met at the Deep Ink Zone Tattoo only a few steps from my apartment. I asked if I could set up an appointment and was told, “How about tonight?” For eight hours, my Sikh friend never lost focus. It was 4 a.m. when I finished up, so I will be out seeing the lights tonight.

%d bloggers like this: