Monday, January 17, 2011

Holy Land

Happy New Year! 2010 went by fast, and I imagine this year will go by even faster yet. God willing, in October of this year I'll be ordained a transitional deacon. As I reflect back on last year I am grateful for the many people who have been praying for me. Being a long way from home can leave a guy feeling a little cut off, but prayer is something that can bridge the gap. Be assured of my prayers for all of you as well. During Christmas vacation I made a pilgrimage to Israel with 35 others from the North American College. It very was a rich experience from which I will draw fruit for many years to come. We began the pilgrimage in Galilee. Jesus called his 12 disciples along the shores of the sea of Galilee. Most of them were fishermen. St. Matthew was a tax collector. He spent a lot of time in the town of Capernaum: he cured the sick and cast out demons. He gave the bread of life discourse in the synagogue [Jn 6]. Rising up from the sea of Galilee are rolling hills, upon which he would have given the sermon on the mount. In short, the majority of the public ministry of Jesus Christ, Son of God took place in this little corner of the world.

Photos: Above: Shore of the sea of Galilee. Below: Synagogue in Capernaum. The ruins that you see are from a 4th C. synagogue, but it is built upon the foundations of the synagogue that was there in the time of Jesus.

From Galilee took a day trip to Nazareth: Where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the Mother of God and where Jesus grew up in the home of Mary and Joseph. My favorite thing in Nazareth was the cave of the annunciation. Under the altar there is inscribed "VERBUM CARO HIC FACTUM EST" "Here the Word was made flesh".

After 6 days in Galilee we went down to Jerusalem along the Jordan River. We passed through Jericho- the oldest city in the world. The Israelites destroyed it by walking around it 7 times and blowing horns. Jesus passed through it several times; it was in Jericho that Zaccheus climbed the sycamore tree. Further down the river we stopped in Qumran, the ruins of a pre-Christian Jewish community where the Dead sea scrolls were found in 1947. Then we took a dip in the dead sea itself. I really enjoyed it for two reasons: 1) You don't have to swim to stay up. You can just lay back and float. 2) You can't swim outside at Christmastime North Dakota.

Finally, we arrived in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a bustling, multifaceted city. It is of great significance for three world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It was important for the Israelites of the Old Testament: it was in the promised land, it was there that Solomon built the temple, it was there that worship of God was to happen. For Christians, Jerusalem is where the paschal mystery happened: Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose again to forgive us our sins and open the gates of heaven to us. Muslims believe that Mohamed was miraculously transported to Jerusalem and then up to heaven, making a link between Mecca and Jerusalem. This mix of people makes for some tense relations, especially between the Jews the the Muslims.

In Jerusalem we first visited the garden of Gethsemane. It is where Jesus went to pray the night before his passion and death. In the courtyard of the Church there are some ancient olive trees. The trunks must be about 3 feet thick, whether they were there when Christ was I don't know, but you get something of the picture of what it would have been like when he was there. Now the hill is mostly covered with Jewish tombs. I don't remember exactly the reason, but it is important for them to be close to the temple mount. At the top of the hill is a small chapel called Dominus Flevit, The Lord Wept. That is where Christ wept over Jerusalem. Lk 19:41 "If this day you only know what makes for peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes."

From there we descended the hill, crossed the Kidron valley and neared the city walls. Just outside of the wall is the church of St. Peter Gallicantu, literaly, St. Peter where the cock crowed. Here was the house of the high priest Anas, [Lk 22:54, Jn 18:19] where Jesus was questioned by him. It was here also that Peter denied him three times.

Next, we did the stations of the cross the Via Dolorosa. I don't think anybody knows the exact way that Jesus walked, but we do know where he started and where he ended. We started at the Church of the flagellation, where Jesus was scourged at the pillar. It is within the area that was Herod's Antonia fortress, the place where Jesus would have been condemned to death. From there we made our way through the streets. The stations are marked along the streets, and each one has a chapel there- where Jesus met his mother, Veronica wiped his face, Simon of Cyrene helps to carry the cross, etc.. We said stations 10-14 inside the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher because they happened there: Jesus is stripped of his garments, nailed to the cross, dies on the cross, is taken down from the cross, and is laid in the tomb. Above: Calvary, where Christ died for our redemption. Below: The empty tomb!

I am very grateful to have been able to go the the land where Jesus lived here on earth. It kind of blows my mind that he was there; not so much that it is the place he chose, but rather the reality that he really did become man and live among us. When you really think about it, it is a great mystery for God to become man.

I posted some more pictures here