I just got back from a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land with 30 on-fire Christians including our spiritual director Monsignor Charles Pope of Washington DC. And what a trip it was. Bathed in the clement Israeli sun, we saw Magdala, Capernaum, Caesarea Maritima, Cana, Nazareth, Bethany, Calvary, Qumran, Jericho, Bethlehem – stunning and quite impossible to absorb.
Also impossible to summarize. Even a book-length treatment would only scratch the very top surface of the spiritual egg. But there are some practical lessons or takeaways. Here are four:
1. America is a newborn baby compared to the grand old man otherwise known as Israel.
Take Jerusalem, for example. Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. And that is young compared to Jericho, the oldest continually inhabited city, starting around 9000 BC, or 11,000 years removed from today. In Southern California, old means a building from the early 1950s. (The Franciscan Missions are the closest we get to “ancient.”) Our first-world, western way of reckoning time and of what counts as old gets a serious re-framing when you’re sitting in a café over there.
2. The events of our Faith are historical.
It’s become popular to reduce faith in Jesus Christ or God generally to the level of myth or nice moral lessons (“Dontcha just love the positive attitude of that Jesus?”). But being in the Holy Land offers a constant reminder that the events of salvation history are rooted in places and in objects manmade (like the Temple) and natural (like Mt. Tabor), featuring real battles led by real leaders. One may try to deny the accuracy of the biblical accounts, but it’s hard to deny the concrete proof of the details and the history of the events they describe, culminating with the Incarnation of Christ.
3. The Sea of Galilee is a teacher.
Also known as Lake Gennesaret or the Sea of Tiberias, this freshwater lake (the lowest in the world) offers a homey Sunday School lesson about the relationship between generosity and happiness. Fed by underground springs and the Jordan River flowing in from the north, the Sea of Galilee is ringed by verdant green hills, bears plenty of fish, and supplies most of Israel’s water supply. Less than 100 miles to the south, however, another lake is fed by the same Jordan after it leaves Galilee. But nothing can live beneath its waves. The Negev Desert air is hot and still over its leaden depths. As a result, this Sea is called The Dead.
The same Jordan fills up both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, but the Sea of Galilee shares its bounty by emptying its healthy contents southward, while the Dead Sea jealously hoards its supply, keeping every drop it gets. As a result, it’s sterile, uninhabitable, and lifeless.
4. Archeology keeps verifying the truths of the Bible.
Whether it’s the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran (which establish the Catholic biblical canon as normative, by the way), or the latest digs in and around Jerusalem, modern archeology keeps unearthing insight after insight into life in biblical times. Some believers get nervous about archeology, imagining some secular archeologist stumbling upon evidence that would demolish either the claims of the Church or the teachings of the Bible. Funny how that has never happened, not even at the hands of secular archeologists with axes to grind. Truth is truth, whether directly from God in revelation or indirectly through scientific (or archeological) inquiry.
Stay in touch – we’ll be announcing our 2018 destination(s) soon – join us!