Thought for Saturday, 8th Week in Ordinary Time (March 4, 2017)
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
We had an optional tour Wednesday evening of the tunnels below the Western Wall. King Herod definitely thought big. There is as much of the Wall below the ground as there is above the ground. They showed us one stone that weighs approximately 600 tons (1,200,000 pounds)! They can only speculate how they moved this stone into place. We arrived back at the hotel around 11pm ready for bed because we had a big day planned on Thursday.
Each day seems to get better. Thursday morning we had a 4:50am wake up call so that we could leave the hotel by 5:30am. It was easy to arise because we were going to celebrate Mass at the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of Jesus, at 6am sharp. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life to celebrate the Mass at that place. I cannot put into words what it felt like it. I’ve dedicated my whole life to Jesus and this is the place He was laid to rest, but also the place that He rose from the dead. I was left speechless and in tears.
We then got a tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I loved walking up the stairs to Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. There is a stone under the altar that is believed to be the place where Jesus died on the cross. Then at the bottom of the stairs is the stone of the anointing, where they prepared His body for burial. These are surreal moments and it was not only personally inspiring, but I saw tears on the faces of many of our pilgrims. We left to eat breakfast at the hotel around 7:30am and we felt that our day was complete after such a powerful morning.
The six Joliet seminarians who are studying in the Holy Land for nine weeks joined us for breakfast. The pilgrims in our group enjoyed meeting them; in fact, some of them knew the seminarians from a Cursillo last year.
After breakfast, we went to Mt. Olivet and walked the path Jesus did on that first Palm Sunday as He entered Jerusalem. We stopped at the church that commemorates where Jesus cried over Jerusalem and the seminarians joined us there. The pilgrims and our seminarians were mutually inspired by the encounters they had this day.
Our group then prayed the stations of the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. Because our group is 55 people, we had two crosses and we took turns carrying the cross. As we walked through the marketplace, much like Jesus may have done that first Good Friday, some people came to honor the cross we carried, others were indifferent and others looked at us with disdain. These are probably the same reactions Jesus received during His walk to Calvary. The stations finished on the top of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and then we went to lunch.
After lunch, we walked through the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem and then visited the Westers (Wailing) Wall. The men had to cover their heads and we prayed and offered our petitions on the left side of the Wall. The women went on the right side of the wall and prayed for the people who sent intentions with the pilgrims. The tradition is to leave a small piece of paper with your intentions in one of the cracks of the Wall.
We finished the day with a visit to St. Peter Gallincantu (the cock crows), which commemorates two parts of Jesus’s passion. First of all, we visited a cell in which we believe Jesus was held on that first Holy Thursday night. For me it was very moving to read Psalm 88 in the place where Jesus spent the night in the cell. This psalm, although written long before Christ, could have been written by Christ from this pit. It is also believed that this was the palace of Caiaphas, the High Priest. Secondly, the church honors this as the place where Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed three times. How many times do we deny Christ through our words, actions and inactions?
We then went to our hotel for dinner and rosary with our seminarians. After dinner we had to take care of one of our pilgrims who was sick, but she is feeling much better today, thanks be to God.
Friday was another grace-filled day. We had a 6am wake-up call, breakfast and boarded the bus for 8am Mass at Gethsemane, the garden outside the walls in which Jesus prayed with Peter, James and John before He was arrested. Fr. Enrique presided and preached this Mass. His homily was inspiring, calling us to spend time in prayer daily in order to know and do the Father’s will. In front of the altar is the rock on which it is believed that Jesus prayed that night he sweated blood and asked that “cup might pass from my lips, but not my will, but yours be done.”
We then left to head east into the dessert on our way to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The dessert is pretty barren, hilly and rocky. The Jordan River runs all the way from north of the Sea of Galilee until the Sea and then south all the way to the Dead Sea. Our guide “Yair”, explained that the Sea of Galilee receives from the Jordan River and then gives back to the Jordan River on the other side. The Dead Sea only receives from the Jordan, but gives nothing in return. That is why it is called dead, because it takes and doesn’t give. That is true in our spiritual life, when we take and then give, we are fully alive. When we only take and consume, we die.
At the Jordan River, we renewed our baptismal vows. This was very meaningful for me, because at a silent retreat many years ago I prayed with this image of Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. My spiritual director asked me to imagine that I was Jesus during my baptism and I could hear the voice of God the Father say, “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” As our pilgrims entered the Jordan River with Fr. Enrique, myself, Deacon Tom and Deacon Steve, we told them, “You are God’s beloved son/daughter, and I renew your baptism in the name of the Father, son and Holy Spirit.” There were many tears on my part and those in our group as we reflected on the immensity of God’s love for us and our desire to be faithful disciples.
We then drove south along the edge of the Dead Sea to Masada. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should look into it. Herod the Great built a large palace on the top of Masada, a high mountain that was rather flat on top. Jewish zealots had fled from Jerusalem to the top of this mountain and were defeated in battle by the Roman army shortly after the sacking of Jerusalem. We took a cable car up the mountain to see the ancient ruins and see the stunning view over the Dead Sea. We ate lunch at this site.
We left Masada and stopped the bus to look at the where they found the “Dead Sea Scrolls” in 1947. The Essenes copied the Scriptures and hid them in jars in these remote caves. They were written between 100 BC and 200AD. Then we boarded the bus again to swim in the Dead Sea.
We then had the opportunity to “swim” or “float” in the Dead Sea. It was such an amazing experience to lay in the water and float without any real effort. We also rubbed some of the black mud on our bodies that has great effect on our skin. If you ever come to the Holy Land, do not miss his opportunity.
After leaving the Dead Sea, we stopped in Jericho, the oldest active city in the world. We stopped to see the one and only Sycamore tree in town, which we believe is where Zacchaeus climbed the tree to see Jesus. It is great to have an image of tree for future opportunities to preach this gospel. We prayed a rosary on the bus on our way back to the hotel and everyone rested for our final full day in Jerusalem – Saturday.
Have a blessed weekend!