Holy Land Pilgrimage 2013

"Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." ~Ex. 3:5

On December 30th, the diaconate class departed for the first annual Holy Land Retreat and Pilgrimage. They are being led by Father Chris Martin, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Father Martin has sent the following reflections during their journey.

December 30 - 31 - Travel and begin retreat on Mt. Beatitude

"I am eagerly looking forward to the Holy Land Pilgrimage. I look forward to visiting the Church of the Annunciation and praying before the altar that powerfully says, 'The Word became flesh here...' I look forward to the way the pilgrimage will benefit my priesthood and my ability to minister to the People of God."

~ Deacon Nathan Haverland, Class of 2013

January 1 - Retreat on Mt. Beatitude

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.  
 
May God, who has begun this good work in all of us, bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). 
Holy Land WalkJanuary 2 - Retreat on Mt. Beatitude

Today we walked twenty minutes down the Mount of Beatitudes to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Specifically, we went to the site known as Seven Springs. 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.

This morning we celebrated Mass at the site of the multiplication of loaves and fish. The Gospel of Mark recounts:

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already very late. Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” He said to them in reply, “Give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?”

He asked them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out they said, “Five loaves and two fish.” So he gave orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass. The people took their places in rows by hundreds and by fifties. Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to [his] disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish. Those who ate [of the loaves] were five thousand men.  (Mark 6:34-44)

Mass on Mt BeatitudeThe beauty of the disciples is that their ministry led others not to themselves but to Jesus. And when they saw the hungry crowd, they too were concerned for them, but knew there was no natural solution to feeding so many. Jesus asks them to give what little they have, to literally give their own food to him, so that many (including themselves) can be fed.  We prayed for blessings upon our ministries, that like the disciples, people will not be satisfied with merely encountering us, but will follow us back to Jesus who called and sent us in the first place. We continue to pray, that when the odds and difficulties of ministry are stacked against us, we may lay what little resources, gifts and talents we have at the feet of Jesus. That he may take, bless, break and share that which has been given to us, so that his people may be fed.

January 3 - Retreat on Mt. Beatitude

Eremos GrottoI 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. 

Not far from the site of the multiplication of loaves and fish is a cave on the east side of the Mount of Beatitudes towards the base. It is referred to as the Eremos Grotto, and is regarded as the cave Jesus went to to spend the evening in prayer while his disciples began to cross the Sea of Galilee on the way to Bethsaida. It was his "perspective spot". Just big enough for a few people to sit in, and practically hidden unless you're looking for it. The cave would provide shelter from the elements, quiet from the crowds, and a perfect view of the sea. 

It is here that while rejuvenating himself in prayer with the Father, Jesus sees a storm come up and that his friends were in trouble. So he left this vantage spot and walked out on the water towards the boat. 

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Beth-saida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up into the hills to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were distressed in rowing, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear." Primacy of PeterAnd he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:45-52)

The Mass we celebrated today took place at the site where Jesus appeared for the third time to his apostles after the Resurrection. Here Jesus baked a breakfast for his friends, here Peter jumped out of his boat and swam towards his Lord on the sea shore, and here he experienced his threefold reconciliation with Jesus as he is asked three times "Do you love me?"  The inscription on the altar says that it is here that Jesus commends Peter on the primacy of love, and how his love for Christ would be shown in his love for the flock.  Peter would later write:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge,* not by constraint but willingly,* not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. Walk in SeaAnd when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory. 1 Pt 5:1-4. 

It was a beautiful and rich morning of prayer.

Finally, though we tried our best, all of us are more like Peter than Jesus when it comes to our relationship with the Sea of Galilee. 

January 4 - Retreat on Mt. Beatitude

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:

BethsaidaWoe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Beth-saida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Caperna-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me. (Lk 10:13-16)

To give you an idea, the Mount of Beatitudes is just a mile or so away from Capernaum, which is about five miles from Bethsaida. It is definitely possible to make a comfortable shore-side walk between the cities, but going by boat could be even more convenient. Jesus and the twelve did both on different occasions. We took a bus :)

At the time of Jesus, the city was easily accessible from the sea, but a major earthquake in the fourth century caused a landslide that moved the shore line 2km south of the city. Today Bethsaida is reduced to ruins and is undergoing an archaeological dig. It was heavily influenced by Greek culture as well as schools of Judaism that promoted zealots. Archaeologists have unearthed the original road, foundations and partial walls that existed not only during Jesus' day, but several hundred years before as well.

Scripture recounts that Bethsaida was the original home town of Andrew, Peter and Phillip (again the Greek influence is shown by the fact that Andrew and Phillip are both Greek names, not Hebrew in origin, and the zealot influence colors Nathaniel's response to Phillip).

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Beth-saida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathana-el, and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathana-el said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." Jn 1:43-46.

Jesus' ministry brought him back to the city more than once. Mark and Luke both record a multiplication miracle in the area, but the most famous of Jesus' actions was the healing of the blind man in Mark 8.

And they came to Beth-saida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up and said, "I see men; but they look like trees, walking." Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even enter the village." Mk 8:22-26

This healing of the blind man follows shortly after Jesus reprimands his disciples for not having a clear vision or understanding of who he is and what he is about. They were each clouded by their own expectations and hopes of who the Messiah ought to be, that even though they were the closest to him, they were spiritually blind and only slowly began to see clearly.  DinnerIt is a reminder to all of us to allow Jesus to reveal himself to us as he is and as he sees fit, instead of asking him to conform to our cloudy vision. We ask him to heal us of our spiritual cataracts so that we can perceive him as he comes to us today, and look forward to seeing him face to face in heaven.

P.S... An idea of what our meals are like : )

January 5 - Retreat concludes. Visit Capernaum.

Capernaum

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. 

Today a modern church has been built above the excavated remains of Peter's house with a glass floor so you can see down into it. It gives you the perspective of the men who would have cut a hole in the roof to drop the paralytic in front of Jesus. It was here that vasts crowds smashed in and around a single room house that could have only fit twenty to thirty people if there was no furniture and everyone was standing. People were amazed at Jesus healing powers and his popularity grew. But it would not last. 

CapernaumA few hundred feet away stands the synagogue where Jesus gave the "Bread of Life discourse" found in John 6. It was at this moment that the crowds turned against him, his relatives called him insane, and even one of the twelve resolved to betray him. But today once again, the word was made flesh. For the teaching Jesus gave his disciples about eating his flesh and drinking his blood is celebrated several times a day, and though the citizens of Capernaum abandoned him, crowds now come from the four corners of the Earth to worship him. Sadly, the three towns that Jesus knew so well, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin are now nothing but ruins. Though they are prime real estate on the Sea of Galilee, like the fig tree that withered at his command, so these towns were destroyed in 613 A.D. by the Persian army, never to rise again.  

Lastly, as we were celebrating mass a storm developed on the Sea of Galilee that put on display for us the strong eastward winds and rising waves that would have given fishermen in a small boat a lot of trouble.  

Storm over the Sea

January 6 -  Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Excursions to Mt. Tabor, Nazareth, and Cana.

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.Sea of Galilee

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;

Mt TaborAnd after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son,* with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." (Mt 17:1-7).

The church is built in three sections, two side chapels or "tents" one dedicated to Moses and the other to Elijah, and the main church featuring a mosaic of the transfiguration which, unbeknownst to its designer, is illuminated perfectly by the sun coming through the circle window on the face of the church every August 6th (feast of the transfiguration) from 12-1pm.

NazarethFrom there we went to Nazareth where so much of salvation history is both recorded and simultaneously remains hidden. Inside the main basilica is the excavated remains of a first century house (part of a larger excavated neighborhood that is on the grounds...including a nearby house that obviously belonged to a carpenter/mason and is regarded as the house of Joseph) that from the fourth century had Christian graffiti "Ave Maria" inscribed on the interior wall. It is this site that is regarded as the room of the Annunciation. Mark Twain was noted for saying The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter---it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. Well it was here that the lightning of salvation history struck. Verbum Caro Factum Est...and the word was made flesh, is a fairly well known and often inscribed phrase of prayer and theology. But this place is different, and the inscription on the altar inside the room makes it clear. Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est. The word was made flesh here. Lightning bug and lightning. Here the "hail Mary " we so often repeat was first spoken. Here heaven and earth waited on the virgin's reply. Here the God who cannot be contained by the universe takes flesh in a womb. Here salvation was made possible. Here...

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace,* the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her,* "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no husband?"And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." CanaAnd Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Lk 1:26-38).

On a personnel note, I was moved to offer my mass for my parents in gratitude for the "yes" that they had said to being faithful to God and to each other in marriage, and for the untold graces that I so often received and so often took for granted in my home growing up.

The day culminated in Cana, where Jesus performed his first public miracle at the wedding feast. We crossed paths with a large group who were on retreat with Dr. Scott Hahn, and were renewing their wedding vows. A good day for the sacrament of marriage all around.

January 7 -  Visit the Dead Sea, Jericho, Qumran, and Bethany

Today 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. 

From there we journeyed to the Dead Sea, and the archaeological site of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered near an ancient essene settlement. Even though it was rainy (we're in the middle of the worst storm in 10 years in Israel...but lots of rainbows) and cold (snow is in the forecast) a few guys were brave enough to wade into the Dead Sea and allow the mineral rich water raise their bodies up to the surface. 

We celebrated Mass at the tomb of Lazarus in Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Bethany literally means "house of the sick" and would have been where people deemed unclean were sent to live. It is possible that Lazarus himself suffered from leprosy or some other illness that forced he and his sisters from Jerusalem. 

During his homily Fr. Lappe commented on how Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus and yet remained away for two days and allowed the illness to run its course. Sometimes we feel abandoned by God in times of distress, but in his wisdom, God allows things to run their course so that the fullness of his glory may be revealed in the end.

Qumran   Dead Sea Swim  Dead Sea

January 8 - Visit sites in Jerusalem. Excursion to Bethlehem and Ein Karem.

ChurchToday we spent the majority of our day visiting various sites in Bethlehem. We were able to celebrate mass in the cave of the shepherds and watched as a full rainbow extended over the valley of fields that they used. 

The significance of the shepherds being included in the Gospels is should not be overlooked too quickly. Shepherds were the low men of society that were not usually invited to important events in town or to family celebrations. However, with the kingdom of God, everybody from shepherds to kings are invited to worship under the same roof. Further, the shepherds reveal to us a watchfulness that we all ought to have in our spiritual lives. While others were asleep, the shepherds receive the good news from the heavenly hosts. Jesus himself, the eternal high priest, the alpha and omega of all of creation, refers to himself in his public ministry simply as the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. He associates with the poor, but unlike a hired hand, cares deeply for each of us and desires to draw us to green pastures and restful waters, even if it demands his life.  

Of course we also visited the site of the nativity where we were swarmed by thousands of Orthodox who had just celebrated Christmas the day before.

January 9 - Walk the Palm Sunday Road and the Way of the Cross.

Scheduled: Drive to the Summit of Mt. Olives to visit the Chapel of the Ascension and the Church of Pater Noster. Walk the Palm Sunday Road and celebrate Mass in Dominus Flevit Church. Visit the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane. Return to the city of Jerusalem at St. Stephen's Gate. Make the Way of the Cross and follow the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

 

January 10 - Visit sites in Jerusalem, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wailing Wall.

Snow in JerusalemWhen 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.

This morning we arose early, around 4:45, to walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This church, which is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Syrian, and Latin churches, is grand in every sense of the word. Contained within its massive stone walls are Mount Calvary where Christ was crucified, the stone on which his body was anointed, and the Holy Sepulcher, the tomb in which he was laid and site of the Resurrection. This is where redemption happened. This is where death was destroyed. This is where Mary and John stood, where Mary Magdalen came to find an empty tomb, where angels announced that he had risen! We were able to celebrate the Easter mass of the Resurrection in the tomb. One might think that this would be where I would offer some very profound thought or insight, but words fail when it comes to describing the power and grace of this holy site, and it will take a long time to process and nurture what we have received by being here. The mass was offered for Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and for an increase in vocations to the priesthood.

Pray that we can make it back to the airport tomorrow and arrive safely home.

January 11 - 12 - Visit sites in Jerusalem. Return to St. Louis.

 Scheduled: Visit the Upper Room and celebrate Mass in the Franciscans' Cenacle Chapel. Travel from Jerusalem to St. Louis.