Life in the Holy Land is a constant reminder to me that I am a pilgrim…marveling and learning along the way, but not yet having arrived to the final destination. As pilgrims, along the way we experience a multitude of blessings and a few too many challenges from our viewpoint.
At least the present challenges are only opportunities to grow in humility and other blessed virtues…or they simply lend themselves to laughter. The greatest adventures of the past 3 weeks have been learning how to live in a land that does not always speak or write your language. I have bought mystery meat, told strangers good morning when it was nighttime, finagled my way out of a situation with a bad-humored policeman (I think he knew no English and gave up trying to understand me), managed to buy a washing machine in Hebrew, been tricked by a gas station attendant who took advantage of a “rich American”, and I gave a tour of ancient ruins using my newly learned Hebrew vocabulary. Ok, it was a 3 word tour (synagogue, market, and house…in Hebrew of course) with lots of hand gestures.
On the other hand, I marvel at the blessings. The greatest blessing came when Fr. John celebrated Holy Mass in our house, converting one small room into our oratory, with the Blessed Sacrament. I need only take 2 steps out of my bedroom and I enter the oratory!
Another blessing is seeing the action of God in others in the Magdala Center, a place dedicated to the public life of Jesus. Every day I walk into a recently excavated first century town of Magdala, which includes a unique synagogue and a treasured altar-like stone depicting images of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. Nothing as such has been found in the 6 other ancient synagogues discovered in the Holy Land. The Magdala Project is dedicated to Jesus Christ’s public life and includes our Duc en Altum spirituality center, complete with 4 mosaiced chapels dedicated to events in the public life of Jesus around the sea of Galilee, an altar in the shape of a boat with Jesus (Blessed Sacrament) within, accompanied by his 12 apostles (paintings that line the sides of the church) and his women disciples (columns with the names of New Testament women disciples in the entrance atrium).
The pilgrims’ reactions to this place is unproportional from a human standard. A simple explanation of the ancient synagogue stone, and in particular the spirituality center (church) provokes many open jaws of awe. Women are especially teary eyed in the Women’s atrium, when they see a place dedicated to their own role as disciples of Jesus in the history of humanity. So far I have witnessed Germans, Mexicans, Spaniards, Dutch, Americans, Canadians, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics, men and women express their gratitude for this place. And many have requested to volunteer.
I have also witnessed the action of God in our volunteers. We celebrate Mass and Eucharistic hours together and enjoy lunch as a small community after hot mornings of work. I have witnessed the challenges and triumphs of respect for each one’s creed and practice among the volunteers. While the majority are Catholic, there is one Jew, one Evangelical, and one “free-lance” believer in God. The French Catholic even helped the Mexican Jew build his sukkot (a special tent that practicing Jews live in for 8 days to remember their40 years of wandering through the desert and God’s providential care).
Finally, I marvel at how the gospels are coming alive for me. One day I spent about an hour reading through the gospel of Luke following Jesus in my mind to the real places in which he taught, preached and healed. If I have my bearings correct, my living quarters are in the center of a 60 mile radius of the majority of Jesus’ public life.
Having the blessed sacrament now in our house I can’t help but wonder if almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus rested his feet upon this hill that overlooks the Sea of Galilee. Did he know then, that while he had to continue on to his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he would one day be back to stay more permanently in a modest wooden tabernacle and the heart of a believer?
Thank you Lord for completing your “pilgrimage” here in this Holy Land. Walk with me now in the place where you taught and healed. Teach me your ways O Lord, that through me, your enlightening and healing presence may be known to other pilgrims I encounter on the way.