After the nation of Israel was formed, the people found themselves in captivity and so Moses was sent to liberate them. Though they wandered for a generation, God kept them alive with bread from heaven, manna, a sign that all journeys begin and end in Him and He is all we need. In the end, God kept His promise to give them a fertile land. But as the time went on the people had continuous temptations to fall away from God and the result was many ups and downs, captors and hardships, prophets listened to and ignored, freedom and the lack of it, covenants agreed upon and broken (by the people, never by God), until God decided the time was right to send His own Son to save His people.
While in Israel our pilgrimage guide spoke of a rabbi, a great Jewish scholar, who once said, “If I believed what you do, I would never leave the Eucharist.” This statement truly shook me because as much as I love the Eucharist, I realized how easy it is to take such a gift for granted. The gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus is offered to us daily, and yet it is easy to become ‘routine’ about receiving it, taking it without entering into exactly what it is we are doing and Who it is we are receiving. Therefore it is important to keep in mind the reality of this great gift. Though it is a blessing to do so, (and I highly recommend it if one can go to the Holy Land),* we do not have to make a pilgrimage to find Jesus because no ‘spot’ is holier than He is. While it was amazing to cross the Sea of Galilee by boat, be in Bethany where Lazarus was brought back to life, pray at the place where Mary was greeted by the Archangel Gabriel, touch the spot where Jesus was crucified, walk the Via Dolorosa, see the Garden of Gethsemane and other sites in Holy Land, there is one pilgrimage in which we can do all that without leaving home, and that is the pilgrimage found in the Eucharist. All the places we visited were places where important things happened, but they do not contain Jesus, nor did the place insure an experience of Jesus. As the saying goes, “if you go to Rome to find Jesus, you will not find Him unless you bring Him with you.” We do not have to go anywhere other than to the Eucharist to find Him whom we seek in the flesh: He is the bread and wine become Body and Blood.
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next entry is November 21.
* If one wants to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land I highly suggest that they do it with the Franciscans since they have custody of all the sites and are therefore very knowledgeable with both the history and the spirituality. Our trip was through www.franciscanpilgrimages.com. I cannot say enough about how fantastic the trip was.
Images: All the photos are mine.
The first is a photo was taken while we were on a small boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. It was amazing because I knew that what I was seeing, Jesus once saw. The Sea was like glass at this point in the crossing and therefore it was very moving to imagine Jesus walking on the water, such as was recorded in the Gospels. It was hazy because it was a hot day. I chose to use this photo because it was the spot I was most moved during the pilgrimage.
The second photo was taken in Emmaus, a place most pilgrims do not go because Emmaus sits in the middle of a Palestinian area which is not the safest place in the world. This life-size bas relief is above the altar in the Church of St. Cleophas. (Cleophas was one of the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection and did not recognize Jesus until He broke the bread.) I chose this photo because it shows Jesus breaking the bread which He had blessed, and had become His Body. The account states that no sooner did He break and share the bread that He vanished. This is because He was already present in the bread and did not need to be present twice!
The third photo is of the spot where Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This holy site is now "housed" in the Church of the Nativity. You can see a pilgrim venerating the spot; the spot where the manger lay is about 6 feet away. I chose it because this photo was taken in the cave where the Word became flesh, the fulfillment of all the promises of God in Jesus, the Christ.
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called The Black Madonna Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table. I chose it because without Mary, there is no entrance of Jesus in the world. Mary was the first tabernacle, so to speak: she had the Savior of the World within her womb for nine months. She brought forth the Body of Christ, whose blood was mingled with her own. Therefore it is she who is Mother of the Eucharist. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this icon it can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-black-madonna-your-lap-has-become-the-holy-table-060-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
The next photo is of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, the building which houses the place where Christ's tomb is located. One can also visit Calvary, the spot where Jesus was crucified and died, within this site. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever been. It looks rather dingy and run down, and it is indeed getting a face-lift inside. The Edicule, the structure which was built around the tomb, is being refurbished, something which is long overdue. But also within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are found many of the altars and chapels used by the Armenian Christians, the Greek Orthodox, and the Roman Catholics.
The final photo was taken at Mt. Hermon in the far north of Israel. This photo is of the source of the Jordan River. Though it is crystal clear here, as one goes further south the river becomes green and mucky due to the runoff and residue from farming. I chose this because even with all the pilgrimage groups converging on this spot, it still maintained a feeling of peacefulness and beauty.