Our Holy Land pilgrimage has ended. I am writing these initial reflections while on the plane home. The thirteen of us had a wonderful time exploring the life, time, and places of Jesus. We learned not only about the past - the historic stones - but about the present - the living stones - our sisters and brothers in Christ in the Holy Land. There are many challenges here, but their hope and faith is inspiring. Time and again, I heard the local Christians thank us for coming. Our presence there was an act of solidarity with them and brought them hope.
This was my third pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Each one has meant something different to me. The first pilgrimage changed my mental image of Scripture. I started hearing the biblical stories differently after visiting the land in which they took place. When I pray Psalm 121 - "I lift up my eyes to the hills" - thinking about the hills of Jerusalem, when I hear the story of the Good Samaritan and imagine the robbers hiding along the road to Jericho, when I read of Jesus calling his disciples by the Sea of Galilee and remember the rocky shoreline and the cool waters on my feet, I feel more connected to the story and my understanding is richer.
The second trip really brought Galilee alive to me and for the first time. I really grasped just how many of the Gospel stories take place in Galilee. Jerusalem is important, a few side trips in John and Holy Week in all four Gospels, but Galilee is where the bulk of his ministry took place. The second pilgrimage was a deeply spiritual experience. The first pilgrimage changed my mind, the second changed my heart as I was able to more deeply pray in the places instead of being surprised by the novelty of visiting these places for the first time.
The third pilgrimage was relational. It was about sharing the experience with others from St. Mary's. For my first pilgrimage, I didn't know anyone else on the course with me. For my second pilgrimage, I went with my father and had special father-son time. This third time, I was with twelve other pilgrims from St. Mary's. I was able to see these places again, but with my fellow St. Mary's parishioners, sharing the experience with them. I was privileged to see them encounter and explore these places for the first time, to see their mental images change, to see their understanding of Scripture deepen, to see their faith grow. I had the joy of sharing this place that has transformed my faith.
I am grateful for each of these pilgrimages to the Land of the Holy One, Jesus Christ. I am grateful for all that God has taught me in these journeys, nourishing my soul for the greater journey through life in faith. And, although, I am grateful to almost be home, I look forward to returning someday and seeing what God has in store for me. I hope you might be able to join.