When preparing for our pilgrimage, we prepared for many things. Having Jerusalem buried under a snow storm was not one of them. We are close to six inches and counting. No tour companies are operating and all the restaurants, shops and businesses are closed. You can see the few Israeli’s brave enough to be outside taking advantage of this historic snow fall by throwing snowballs and running around like children. It’s really beautiful. So we are without a guide as we will try to venture through the snow covered city on our own.
Yesterday we journeyed from Galilee to Jerusalem. We stopped at what some archaeologists call the oldest city on earth, Jericho. A city of great promise for the nation of Israel as they ended their forty years of wandering in the desert, this 8,000 year old town (that’s how old some of the fortifications are) located near the Jordan river would certainly have looked like a land of milk and honey since it is able to grow fruits and crops.
Our pilgrimage shifted gears yesterday from half-day retreat with an excursion to full day journeys. I could not do justice to every site we visit, so I will mention some in passing and focus on one in particular.
We began the day with a cold and wet boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. The boat was a 3x replica of a first century fishing vessel excavated from the sea bed. Our hosts were kind enough to raise an American flag to our national anthem on the ship as we departed.
After the boat ride, we headed to the site of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. The mountain was clouded over, which in one sense was disappointing because we couldn’t see more than 200 feet in front of us, but on the other hand, brought to life the scriptures of when a cloud surrounded the disciples during Jesus’ transfiguration. Matthew recounts;
By Father Chris Martin, Director of Vocations
If you stand on the Mount of Beatitudes and look north along the shore line, a couple of miles up you will see the remnants of a small town of great importance; Capernaum. In Hebrew the name means “town of Nahum” possibly referring to the Old Testament prophet, but one cannot be sure. What you can be sure of though, is that this is the town Jesus made his home during his public ministry. In fact, though it was well known that Jesus was from Nazareth, Capernaum is referred to as his home.
Several chapters of each of the four Gospels recount events that took place here. Multiple healing miracles including the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of the centurion’s slave took place here. But the two primary sites that one visits are the remains of the house of Peter (Peter’s mother-in-law) which became the first church in Christianity, and the remains of a fifth century synagogue built on the foundation of the original. It was here that Jesus would sit in the chair of Moses and teach.
The weather here has been beautiful. The only downside is that the there has been a consistent haze over the Sea of Galilee, which gives it a mystical appearance, but doesn’t allow us to see clearly across the water to the opposite shore. If we could, then we would be able to see from the Mount of Beatitudes our afternoon destination of Bethsaida.
Bethsaida is a five thousand year old city that sits at the northeastern tip of the Sea of Galilee, and marks the far tip of what is referred to as the “Gospel triangle” which is formed by running imaginary lines from the nearby cities of Capernaum and Chorazin. The vast majority of Jesus’ three year public ministry took place in this small area. Unfortunately, because they all eventually showed a lack of faith in Jesus, he cursed them with the words:
I think we have all experienced moments when we need to clear our minds, take a step back, refocus and gain some perspective. Some of us have a favorite spot to go and/or a favorite thing to do. Sometimes I enjoy watching a storm roll in, or when possible, to gaze out on a lake or the ocean. Jesus was no different. And at one particular moment recorded in the gospels, he did both.
By Father Chris Martin, Director of Vocations
Specifically, we went to the site known as Seven Springs ( Ma-gadan, present day Tabgha) where natural spring water flows into the Sea of Galilee, making it a prime spot for fishing. It was at this remote fisherman’s spot that Jesus called his disciples to drop their nets and follow him, here that he returned to this “deserted place” to get away from the crowds, here that he performed his first multiplication of loaves and fish miracle, here that he walked on the water to save his friends, and here that he appeared to the disciples after the Resurrection and asked Peter “Do you love me?” three times.
In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Lk 1:78-79
I have prayed these words from the Canticle of Zechariah every morning as part of the Liturgy of the Hours for the past twelve years. Seldom have they taken on such a deep, beautiful and incarnational meaning as they have today. Just six days ago I prayed them Christmas morning in St. Louis, reflecting on how Jesus came as a light in the darkness for all of humanity, traveling over the great divide between heaven and Earth, time and eternity. But this morning I prayed them greeting the new year as I watched the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee. Perched on a bench surrounding one of the eight altar sites on the Mount of Beatitudes (one altar for each beatitude), my heart was moved to think of how blessed I am to see where the Dayspring first shone His light down upon the Earth.
The new year always brings with it the hope of renewal. We make resolutions to be better people a year from now than we are today. Whether it be the new fitness regimen we ascribe ourselves to, or the book we are determined to finally read, we commit ourselves to a vision of a better self. The transitional deacons from Kenrick-Glennon seminary and I begin this new year on retreat in the the Holy Land, where Jesus began His mission to “make all things new” (Rev 21:5). We bring with us the prayer intentions of all those who are dear to us and the benefactors who have made this pilgrimage possible.