WAITING FOR THE PRESENCE
GALILEE: TABGHA, NAZARETH, TABOR, TABGHA
Each place in the Holy Land had its special grace and spiritual atmosphere. Jerusalem was noisy and often tense. It is the focal point for Christian, Jewish and Muslim sensitivities, with these people – not to mention the tourists – rubbing, jostling, and clashing with one another on a daily basis. You feel the tension all the time. Yet, you still sense it is the holiest city in the world.
Bethlehem, though not far from Jerusalem, exudes a different climate. Perhaps it’s the calming effect a baby has anywhere. People can be tense and edgy in a room together. When a baby is brought in, everyone smiles and relaxes. In Bethlehem everyone is aware of the Child.
At Tabgha, my next stop, I experienced in a prolonged, constant fashion, the presence of the risen Christ. He exploded upon me in the tomb. Here he seemed to walk with me at every moment. Strange, but Tabgha was the only place I felt a little sad in leaving.
After leaving Jerusalem I took a bus to Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. The first sight of this beautiful sea already imparts a calming, restful effect after the starkness of the southern deserts. I took a taxi the short distance to Tabgha. We passed some ruins on the right and the driver said, “Magdala.” Immediately that magnificent lady, Mary, came to mind.
It has been said that the gospels are not so much complete accounts of the life of Christ as stage directions for a drama. It’s true in a way. We only have a few lines, a few sentences, about Man’s whole life. What happened in between?
As regards Mary Magdalen, for example, how little we know of their relationship. And yet, she loved him so much that she was the first person reported in the Gospel to see the risen Lord. As Jesus was making his long journey back to us he thought to himself, “Now, whom shall I visit first?” Our hearts tell us he went to see his mother first. But then he appeared to Mary Magdalen as one of the first he desired to see. I believe that he really wanted very much to see her again. He must have loved her very much.
Tabgha is the name given to the site of three gospel occurrences – the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, the resurrection appearance along the shore of the lake (the Primacy of Peter), the Sermon on the Mount. “Tabgha” is an Arabic abbreviation of an old Greek name for “Seven Springs,” because of the abundance of springs that characterize the area.
Recent archaeology confirms the presence of a Jewish-Christian community in nearby Capharnaum in the early centuries. It is from this community that pilgrims gathered the living tradition of these three holy places. The Franciscan Fathers take care of the sanctuary of the primacy of Peter, the Basilica of the Multiplication of the Loaves by the German Benedictines. Guided by Fr. Raphael’s directions and with his letter of recommendation in hand, I rang the bell of the gate leading to the site of that wonderful appearance of Jesus on the shore.
Brother Michel graciously let me in. As the door to the dusty road closed behind me I knew immediately that I was in another world. The breeze from the sea hit my face; at the same time the presence of the risen Christ impacted upon my soul. Both were to last my entire stay there.
The resurrection appearance commemorated here is, of course, from John’s Gospel, Chapter 21: “Later on Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tuberous, and it happened like this.” There follows the account of the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus cooking breakfast for them at a charcoal fire, and Jesus’ conversation with Peter, “Do you love me?”
After getting settled in my room I went to the shore of the Lake. It was the first time I was able to touch those historic waters, so I dipped my hand in and blessed myself. Jesus had walked on these waves, calmed them, perhaps even swam in them. I just stood there on the shore and let the whole astounding episodes of the Gospel wash over me, as the waves were now washing over the shore.
I don’t know exactly why, but it was at this site of Tabgha where the reality of the kingdom, of the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection, came alive for me. This site became one of the most perfect images of our restored human existence that has now been permanently transformed by the presence of the risen Christ.
Here was the miraculous catch of fish. Here the apostles recognized the risen Lord. Here the New Adam peacefully walked up and down the shore in the early hours of the morning. Here was the reunion of Jesus with is friends, sitting around a charcoal fire eating breakfast, which his own hands had made. Is this not a return to Paradise? Adam and Eve, in the person of the apostles, no longer hiding from God: they are once again communing with the Creator in the coolness of the new creation. As the hymn says, “God and man at table have sat down.”
Between the church and the shore is a rock formation resembling stone stairs. “It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore.” If someone wanted to call out to fishermen on the sea, this rock formation would be the obvious place to stand. At the beginning of the fifth century the famous pilgrim Etheria wrote about "some stone steps on which our Lord stood." I sat down on those steps and meditated and prayed for almost an hour. I was often to return here in the course of the next few days.
Here Jesus stood in his resurrected glory. There must have been a divine playfulness in him that morning to have called out to his friends, “Hey, lads, have you caught anything?” What a human/divine joy for him to surprise them like this; and the whole while planning to make breakfast for them. What a very human Saviour we have!
Then I went into the little church of the Primacy of Peter. Like Peter it is solid rock, with strong reds and blues in the stain-glassed windows. It shouts permanency and stability. Right in the center of the church was the rock upon which the Lord built the charcoal fire. The altar is situated just behind this rock so that when you are celebrating the Eucharist you gaze directly over it.
On two mornings I celebrated Mass here alone – just me, the Trinity, and the angels. It’s hard to put into words the specific grace that came to me through those morning celebrations. It had something to do with the accessibility, the approachableness of our God. God became Man so that we might come close to him, and no longer tremble at the foot of a high mountain. The Baby in the crib is God, the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings; and yet we can now hold him in our arms. We have returned to walking with God in the garden: “You have not drawn near to an untouchable mountain, and a blazing fire, nor glooming darkness and storm and trumpet blast, nor a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that they be not addressed to them, for they could not bear to hear the command: `If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.’ Indeed, so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said, `I am terrified and trembling.’ Now, you have drawn near to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant (Heb. 12:18-24).”
This passage sums up best the grace I was experiencing. I saw Jesus, our mighty God, puttering around that charcoal fire, cooking the fish, making sure the apostles, after fishing all night, had some warm food. Jesus has done everything possible to make himself approachable – even to the making of our breakfast!
This grace continued to acquire new depth the next day when I walked up the Mount of the Beatitudes that rises directly from Tabgha. That morning I witnessed five different Masses going on, in five different places, in five different languages. I thought to myself: “I’m so glad I belong to the Catholic Church that allows such simple Eucharists to take place that ordinary people can participate in and understand.” They may not be at the top of liturgical perfection, but these people know what they are celebrating, and can do it in their own language with gusto.
I have been exposed to many Eastern rite liturgies that have been prayerfully celebrated. They have a splendor and magnificence all their own. But I thought of Emmaus; I thought of breakfast on the charcoal rock. It seems that Jesus himself opted for simplicity, for ordinariness, for accessibility. Here, on the Mount of the Beatitudes, these pilgrims from all over the world were having breakfast with the risen Lord. The songs, the ritual, the vestments perhaps had much to be desired, but the essence was here: people were feasting merrily with the risen Lord.
There was a sadness that morning also. These people really had come from the north and south, east and west, and were taking their places at the feast in the kingdom of God, while many of the children of the promise were not at table. I experienced a constant sadness in the Holy Land, realizing that most of the people who lived there did not believe in Christ.
Some consider this attitude, that everyone should believe in Christ, as intolerant, making your faith more important than any others. Intolerance is not respecting the beliefs of others. A belief that “no one can come to the Father” except through Jesus is certainly our faith, but we are not disrespectful of other faiths. If the belief in the lordship of Christ is intolerant, than Jesus himself was the most intolerant of all men! On Good Friday the Church prays that our Jewish brothers and sisters may come into the fullness of the Covenant. We believe that fullness is Christ.
I thought of all the discussions going on today about Jesus as a “revolutionary,” and how the Gospel is being turned into another political theory. Jesus saw Roman power all his life; he knew he was living in an occupied country; he was aware that there were various revolutionary factions at work to overthrow the Romans. Some might even have been of his acquaintance. And yet, never once does he even hint that he is planning to move against these political powers. In all his speeches his adversaries could not find anything approaching political activity.
Don’t we understand that Jesus’ kingdom really is not of this world? It wouldn’t have mattered to him whether he said, instead of “render to Caesar”, “render to the Shah, the King, the Caliph, the Emperor.” They’re all the same for Jesus – kingdoms of this world. He is not, in the first place, preaching against any of the structures of the world. For him they’re all infested by sin, because they were created by sinful men. What he come to do is ignite a revolution of hearts, to reveal an alternative way of living, a way of love instead of hate – the kingdom of God. It’s totally opposite to all the worldly kingdoms, and cannot be achieved by taking on the means of earthly power. Earthly kingdoms are born of the earth, earthly; his kingdom is born of the Spirit and is heavenly. Jesus calls us to live in a New Kingdom, the kingdom of hearts. If that kingdom spreads, all the others will eventually fall.
As the Roman horses kicked dust in the Lord’s face along the roads, he knew where real power lay. His revolution was directed at the heart. His plan was to heal sin, and plant in the heart the seeds of a new way, the way of the beatitudes, the way of the kingdom of love. In Capharnaum he forgave a man’s sins and restored his health. This was the real revolution. All others that are built on sin and ignorance and the principles of the world simply prolong the disease. The kingdom of God is the only way to a new world.
I continued walking to Capharnaum. There are only ruins now. But as you walk around, if you listen closely – I read once that no sound ever dies; it continues on somewhere in the universe - you can hear, hovering over the ruins, the discussion Jesus had with Peter about the temple tax (Matt. 17:24), and with the centurion about his sick servant (8:5). If you are really quiet you can enter Peter’s house (the ruins of which are still there) and hear the Lord heal Peter’s mother-in-law, hear the commotion as all the people are freed from evil spirits (16). If no sound ever dies, then the words of Jesus – the words of everlasting life – have special staying power. They are still in the Holy Land. I’m sure I heard them.
I took the boat ride from Capharnaum to Tuberous and couldn’t resist having a St. Peter’s fish at a seaside restaurant. (I wonder what it was called before St.Peter? How clever are the children of the world.)
On my first day at Tabgha I had stopped at the church of the multiplication of the Loaves. On this, my second day, I returned for a longer visit and prayer.
From archaeological findings we know there was a church on this site in the 4th century; and a Byzantine church was built here in the 5th century. This latter was destroyed by the Persians in the 7th century. However, many mosaics from the Byzantine period are still visible on the floor, especially one beautiful mosaic of the loaves and fishes right in front of the main altar. Seeing that 5th century mosaic makes your heart jump. I experienced a closeness with those brothers and sisters who worshipped on this site fifteen hundred years ago. I arranged to celebrate the Eucharist here the following day.
There is a small chapel for private prayer where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. Every time I went in the same elderly woman was there, praying. She was a Palestinian. At first I rather resented that I could never be alone in here, but soon she became a living symbol of all those sisters and brothers (perhaps her ancestors) who worshipped Christ here down through the centuries.
The grace I received in this shrine was trusting more in Providence. With Jesus we possess all things. On that special day so long ago, they had five loaves and two fish – plus Jesus! As our material, psychological, emotional goods dwindle, or seem to, what should increase is our awareness of our true wealth – Jesus. He should be sufficient for us. In the words of the father in the parable, “My son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours.” The Father mostly has Jesus to share with us.
I have a practice of rising during the night for a prayer vigil. I continued this on my pilgrimage. If you’ve never tried it, please do. Nighttime is a very special period of prayer. There’s something about silence and dead of night that releases your soul, enabling it to soar into heights and depths that for some reason are not as accessible during the day light. Jesus often spent nights in prayer. Try it sometime.
On my third day at Tabgha I rose around midnight and went outside. It was warm, with a rather pronounced wind blowing. The sky was filled with millions of stars. I walked down to the shore of the lake and sat on the steps where Jesus stood. The experience of the “return to paradise” that I mentioned earlier was intensified. The Lord taught me some profound truths that night.
We have such a minimal understanding of why Jesus came. For all practical purposes we allow the reality of “original sin” to dominate our efforts and awareness more than the grace of the Holy Spirit in us. Jesus did not come simply to help us control our anger and impatience. He did not come simply to forgive our sins. He did not come simply to help us get through another day without killing one another. He came to restore us to paradise, to the way things were “in the beginning.” “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound.”
This means that, whatever original sin is, however much it has affected out being, it is not deeper or more powerful than the original image of God in us; not deeper r more powerful than the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us.
It is important, the way we imagine what happened to our being through original sin. Some theologies say we were depraved. We say were deprived. It’s only the difference of one letter, but the difference is measurable only in spiritual light years.
What image should we use? The one I like best, and which I think is very accurate, is that of an uncut diamond. The diamond must be cut and polished, but it is already there. Its essence is always there. It simply has to become more manifest. .
Unfortunately, I think many people are often operating with a much more damaged image of our relationship with God due to original sin. The diamond has been fractured beyond repair; it is not really good any more. It can be covered over or glued together, but its essential beauty can never be restored.
Listen to one of the prayers from the Byzantine Liturgy for Christmas:
“Come, let us rejoice in the Lord! Let us proclaim the present mystery by which the partition has been broken and the flaming sword withheld; now shall the Cherubim let us all come to the Tree of life. As for me, I am returning to the bliss of paradise whence I had been driven by original sin.”
In the West, Pope St. Leo proclaims the same truth in one of his Christmas sermons: “In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its Creator. He took pity on us so that in him we might be a new creation. Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. You have been brought into the light of God’s kingdom.”
“Return to the bliss of paradise.” “Reconciliation with the Creator.” “New creation.” “Sharers in God’s own nature.” “Brought into the light of God’s kingdom.” Whatever original sin is, it is not more powerful – nowhere ear as powerful – as these positive realities, as Christ’s presence in us.
Our image of having been saved by Jesus is something like this. We were drowning. Jesus comes along in a boat and rescues from the water. But the rest of our life is like being exhausted and soaking wet, hanging over the side of the boat like a wet rag, and waiting until we reach the shore, heaven.
It is something much more profound and magnificent that that. Not only has Jesus pulled us out of the water and into the boat. He has rowed the boat to shore, given us warm clothes, made breakfast for us on the shore, and is seated with us around the cosy fire. And most astounding of all, he sits down with us and
serves us. He then explains to us, as his friends, the secrets of the kingdom of God. If we believed more in the reality of the Holy Spirit within us, we would experience even now more of the beauty and peace and harmony of the new creation, which is both in us, and around us.
It was intensification of these truths that flooded my being that blessed night. I stayed up for two hours, just walking under the stars in the presence of the risen Christ. I knew he was really risen, and that everything against us –original sin, our personal sins, the devil, fear of death, the sin of the world – all these had already been conquered by the risen Christ. They would – could – actually be visibly conquered if the entire world believed in the risen Christ.
It was a sublime evening. The stars were singing, the waves were gently washing the shore, the wind was blowing – and I was walking once again with my God in the cool of the evening.
In the morning I went to the church of the Loaves and Fishes and celebrated Mass over that exquisite mosaic. I asked pardon for my lack of faith in the Eucharist, my lack of faith in God’s providential care of me. He always has taken care of me, and I’m sure he always will. “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full hampers of fragments did you collect?” They answered, ‘Seven.’ He said to them again, ‘Do you still not understand?’” (Mark 8:2021)
I prayed also for the people at Madonna House who grow and prepare food of us constantly. They often seem to multiply food miraculously from only five loaves and two fish.
On this day I also was planning to visit Nazareth. As I was standing at the bus stop an army truck pulled up and a young Israeli soldier asked if I wanted a ride to Tuberous. Of course I did. He was very kind. He had stopped completely unsolicited. He couldn’t speak English very well, but said he and his wife were expecting their first child soon and were very excited. (I thought of St. Joseph and his excitement over his “first born.”) I told him I was a Catholic priest, and that I would pray for a safe delivery. He dropped me off at the bus station.
On the bus to Nazareth I read in the paper of Jerusalem’s first test-tube baby born in the Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem. Ein Karem is where the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy at the presence of Christ in Mary. The process of procreation is becoming more and more separated from human love and the natural processes. We are still adolescents in our human development, manipulating the laws of nature. We no longer work with his laws as he made them. We now think we are creating the laws of nature.
Besides being the place where the Lord spent most of his life, Nazareth had another significance for me. The spirituality of Nazareth is very central in Catherine Doherty’s thinking. It is assuming more and more theological importance in my own thinking as well. In very many important writings to the community she says that Madonna House is the spirit of Nazareth, a holy family like that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, living ordinary human existence with extraordinary love. You might say that Nazareth is one of the central mysteries of Christ, the “divine milieu,” the spiritual atmosphere in which we are called to live. In Nazareth I would be touching, in still another way, the deep roots of my present way of life.
I said that Nazareth is assuming more importance in my own thinking as well. This may sound like an exorbitant claim, but I really believe the mystery of Nazareth is one of the great keys to the restoration, the re-creation of the whole world. But we do not take his thirty years in Nazareth seriously. Jesus spent most of his life in preparation for his mission.
All the politics, art, economics, culture of the world is diseased because the human person who creates them is diseased. It’s like trying to play beautiful music on a broken violin. First the violin must be restored. I believe that if first we lived with the Holy Family in Nazareth for thirty years, learned how to pray, love, purify our hearts – allow Jesus the Master Craftsman to restore the violin – then we could venture forth and play beautiful music.
And the music would be a new composition of the Spirit. Nazareth his not simply “getting strength” to infuse the structures of the world with a little sprinkling of the Gospel. Jesus has come to do much more than that. He didn’t pay much attention to the structures of his day because they were all diseased beyond repair. Or rather, they are all useless violins, not worth repairing. Jesus has come to build new instruments on which he can play new music. Until our instruments are repaired, we cannot even see what political, artistic, economic music we ought to play. Yes, allowing Jesus to repair us is the great key to the restoration of the world. And it can happen in Nazareth.
I only spent one afternoon in Nazareth. Mostly I just walked around this town where Jesus lived so long. Perhaps some of the people I passed in the streets were his descendants. Possible.
I went, of course, to the main Basilica, where over the entrance it reads, not simply Verbum Caro Factum Est, the Word was made flesh, but Hic – here – the word was made flesh. Again, I prostrated, in thanksgiving for Mary’s fiat. There is an inner shrine (sections of the house of the Holy Family, I think) which is usually not open or accessible to the public. But you can see them through an iron gate.
The gate, at this moment, was open. A priest was arranging flowers on the altar. So I went in and say down and began to pray. The priest left and I remained. I prayed for about fifteen minutes and then decided to see the rest of the church. But the gate had been locked! Not again! The priest must have seen me in there. Why did he lock the gate?
So here I was again, trapped in a very holy place. O happy fault! No one can ever get in here. Another gift from God. So I sat down again and kept on praying. I asked for a share in our Lady’s profound acceptance of God’s will for her, which led to the salvation of the whole human race. What absolute power is unleashed upon the world when we say yes to God with our whole being. After an hour I decided to leave, but how?
I went to the grate and motioned a priest passing by to come over. I asked him to find someone to unlock the grate. Then I heard a voice from the balcony above, “Father Bob!” It was Sr. Donna! She came down and we conversed through the bars of the grate. “I keep getting locked into these holy places,” I said. “Do you think there’s some sort of message here?” We both laughed. In a few minutes a priest came with the keys. He didn’t even seem surprised that I was in there. He let me out without saying a word. The whole episode was very mysterious.
I also went to visit the Little Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth. Archbishop Raya had ordained Eddie Doherty, Catherine’s husband, a priest of the Melkite rite in their chapel in 1969. More roots. Sr. Bernadette was a very gracious hostess during my brief visit. I spent some time praying in the chapel, mostly thanking God for Fr.Eddie, for his ordination, and for the continuing gift he is to our family. (He was a favorite confessor here. He always gave out three Alleluias for a penance no matter what you did!) Then I returned to Tabgha.
That night I took my usual walk with the risen Christ along the shore. I thought of one of my favorite stories from the desert fathers. A hundred-year old hermit, purified by years of prayer and penance, used to, every night, in the light of the moon, stroll with his [pet lion! It’s one of my favorite images of our restoration to paradise. There he is, all ready to meet Christ. His face is radiant. He’s just waiting for Christ to come and take him home.
Early in the morning I celebrated a Mass of the Transfiguration in preparation for climbing Mt. Tabor, which was next on my pilgrimage. After Mass I went swimming in the lake. It was beautiful. (I suppose Jesus went swimming.) The sun was just above the horizon, and there was a brilliant corridor of light coming from the sun to where I was in the water. Of course, that light covers the whole lake. But the Creator has so arranged our vision that we only see what is in front of us. We could not stand so much beauty.
People who have had a “life after life” experience describe themselves walking down a corridor of light, with a Presence at the far end, drawing them. Jesus was at the end of that corridor of light on the lake that morning. In my imagination I heard him call my name, “Robert! Come!” One day the sound will be real, and I will be drawn to him forever.
As I came out of the water I wondered why so few people who live here believe in Christ. Has God come too close?
In a homily once I called the Transfiguration the “feast of the good self-image.” Here, on this mount, Jesus revealed his divinity as much as human nature could bear. At the same time he revealed our own beauty as “sharers of the divine nature,” as St. Peter described our new dignity.
One day the Lord revealed to St. Theresa of Avila the beauty of her soul living by the divine life. She said afterwards that, had it not been for the sustaining power of God, she would have “died from too much beauty.” To die from too much beauty! The example I gave of the whole lake filled with lights true of all of reality: God protects us constantly from too much beauty. We couldn’t handle it! But it’s nice to know it’s there.
Even though the bus left me off near Tabor, it was still a long walk to the top, about five miles. A man was sitting by the road and said, “Take a taxi.” I said, “No, Jesus walked. I want to walk.” He smiled.
It is an extremely winding road up to the top of Tabor. Someone told me how many turns there are, but I forgot. Often the road winds away from the summit, and sometimes even down. As I was walking, this circuitous road became an image of the spiritual life. If we persevere in walking, we are always ascending, even though at times we seem to be walking away from the heights. Our spiritual experience is not one of a continual climbing straight up. There are turns and level runs; but if wee keep walking we really are always ascending.
It was a very fatiguing climb, hot and dusty. Taxis were a continual temptation. But I walked along with the Lord, and with Peter and James and John. It must have been exhausting for them as well, and they didn’t have this nice road. Perhaps Peter was thinking, “Now where are we going! Do we have to climb to the top of this thing!” Bodily penance prepares for grace. The fatigue of the climb was meant to help them withstand the light that was coming. Penance strengthens us to see God and not pass out from the blaze of light.
On the summit of Tabor, near the church, a group of Jewish boys and girls were having an outing. I wondered if they knew that their great ancestors – Moses and Elias – had had an outing here as well. Unfortunately the main church was locked, and wouldn’t be open for another three hours. I couldn’t wait that long. I sat outside on the stone steps overlooking the panorama below. I waited for the Presence.
Tabor was as very quiet experience for me. No blazing light, no overwhelming vision. I read the Transfiguration story from my New Testament, but I can’t say any new insights came to me. It was just “wonderful to be here.”
I got up and began walking around. Then I came to the spot where the Lord had been planning to meet me. It wasn’t the sight of the Transfiguration, but one of the resurrection sites. “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go
This mountain Jesus mentioned is traditionally thought to be Tabor. “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the ages'’ (Matt. 28: 16-20).
This site was my Presence on Tabor. I thought I had been to all the resurrection sites, but I had forgotten this one. Now I had been to them all. On Tabor, during their first visit with the Lord, the disciples were overcome with Beauty, and wanted to stay on the mountain in contemplation. After the Resurrection, Jesus did not overwhelm them with glory, at least not as before. Surely after his resurrection he was glorious. But now was the time for mission, for spreading his Good News to the nations. It was not the time to remain for days on the summit.
Christ is beautiful, and at times he wants us to contemplate his beauty. We all need that for our journey. But most of this contemplation is reserved for heaven. Even if one spends a lifetime of prayer in solitude, the deepest call is to mission – to intercession and penance for the world. Someone has said, “May I never be so lost in God that I cannot hear the cries of my brothers and sisters.”
Our taboric experiences cannot remain pure beauty for long. I believe God himself gives us some of these experiences, as he did the Apostles on that blessed day so long ago. But ordinarily they are brief. There is much work to do on the plains. We should simply follows God’s lead – be grateful when we experience the glory of Tabor, and draw strength and support from this as he intends us to do. But the whole Christ – Christ joined to his Body – is still marred and disfigured. In some real way the total beauty of Christ is not yet a reality. It is for this that we pray and work and strive.
There was one final insight on Tabor. I meditated on Jesus appearing to the disciples after his Resurrection. Yes, his life had been hard; his own had rejected him; his passion on the Cross was unimaginable. And yet, and yet, he was God, not just another great man. How difficult was the whole task for God?
I received a profound sense of Christ’s divinity on Tabor. He was God. He had really been Lord of everything all the time. Our sins, our blindness, or mindless blocking of his plans, Satan, death itself – nothing could really stop him from saving us. And now this God, this Christ, this God-Man, was sending me out to preach his Gospel. He would always be at my side. I had been given a greater desire to be his voice and his heart.
On the way down the mountain my path and that of the group of young people kept criss-crossing. I wondered if they knew that I was their real spiritual father.
At Tabgha the next morning I again went swimming in the “Sea of Holy Water,” as a youngster once described the Holy See. I concelebrated Mass with my two gracious Franciscan hosts. The psalm verse again was, “I rejoiced when I heard them say, let us go to God’s house. And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” The Gospel was that of the miraculous catch of fish and Peter’s confession of faith.
Unlike leaving Jerusalem, I felt a touch of sadness this morning. I had had such an experience of the return to paradise here. In some way I was leaving the garden again!
The following critical comment probably wouldn’t come from anyone who has read this book. Such a person wouldn’t even have picked it up! It’s probably coming from my own unsettled conscience: “My goodness, with 30,000 people dying every day from poverty, people still killing one another in various parts of the world, many in prison for conscience sake, what does making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and writing a book about it have to do with anything!”
Well, the book isn’t really about a pilgrimage to Israel. It’s about Christ. I went to Israel, of course, but, after all, Gregory of Nyssa is right: we don’t have to go to those places. Christ is now risen, and he is everywhere. Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane and Bethany and Bethlehem and Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre and Nazareth and Tabor and the Mount of the Beatitudes and the charcoal fire on the shore – these mysteries are everywhere now. Christ is all in all, and openness to these ever-present mysteries is the meaning of life; contain the power to live life. Jerusalem is New York and Bethlehem is Berlin, and Nazareth is Paris. Christ is risen and you can meet him anywhere.
But you must have faith. The greatest, most tragic wound in the modern world is lack of faith in Christ. It was Christ who brought the pagan world out of darkness; it is loss of faith in him that has plunged the world back into a new paganism. All the isms and philosophies, past and present, which have attempted to lead the human race out of sin and darkness have failed, and they will continue to fail. There is no way out except Christ. As he told us, “I am the Way.”
I believe the key to the restoration of the whole world is the restoration of the human heart. Only Christ, however, can re-create a living person. Whatever helps to re-create the human person in Christ adds to the restoration of the world at the deepest level of the human heart, the only level where it can and must happen.
We are all pilgrims. Our span of life on earth is an imperceptible movement of the hand of the atomic clock. The answer to making this pilgrimage life-giving and fruitful is openness to the presence of the risen Christ. Unless we are open to this presence that is waiting for us along our way,
The atheism and the hunger and the killings will continue until the end of the existence of our planet.
If all this sounds “medieval,” you are right. God knows the sins and violence of the medieval times. But they did have a vision of Christ that they were following. Would that once again we all had the simple faith of the repentant pilgrims who, admitting their failures to live the Gospel walked to the holy shrines to renew their faith. To repeat: the shrines are everywhere; Christ waits for us in our daily lives. If you have faith, repentance, and wait on the Presence where you are, you will experience something of true life in God, and a foretaste of life everlasting.
Robert Wild. Revised edition, Easter, 2005