When visiting my family in March I received many questions concerning “What was your favorite part of the Holy Land?” Perhaps they were looking for certain answers concerning beautiful places. I admit that swimming in the Dead Sea was a neat experience and seeing Middle Eastern markets, landscapes, and people were interesting as well.
This being said, many people answer that the best part about the Holy Land was seeing the places where Jesus and the Apostles walked. This is also wonderful and I cherish these memories. My favorite part about the Holy Land, however, was learning to love Scripture again. Learning about the ancient and modern history of places we hear about every year in Scripture. In some ways it is putting an image and a story to the story we hear about.
For example, we hear that Amos was “among the shepherds of Teko’a” (Amos 1:1) and I got to see first-hand what shepherds do and the mountain of Teko’a itself. I got to experience and imagine the life of a simple shepherd traveling up and down the countless hills, praying for rain so their flock could eat, setting up their tents when they found a place to stay for a month.
All of a sudden Amos is called by God to proclaim His word in the Northern Kingdom, Judah. A shepherd with no attachment to politics was called to condemn the corrupt king Jeroboam even though he was a resident of Israel in the Southern Kingdom. So Amos left everything he had and followed this strange and terrible call: to condemn the Northern Kingdom for abandoning God, for practicing injustices, and for whoring themselves out to foreign powers.
Then Amos was to return to Israel to preach a similar message. It’s not hard to imagine if you see Amos as a plumber, a teacher, a doctor, an electrician, or as some other day-to-day worker. Who will the Lord call? How will I respond?
These landscapes brought these thoughts alive. In a way, you really do walk in their shoes, and there’s a lot of walking.
One landscape that was my absolute favorite was the Sea of Galilee. A popular spot for many, but watching the sun rise over the sea was beautiful. The area is remote, away from major populations or construction, so you could sit by the sea, much like Ss. Peter, Andrew, and John and see the sun rise. Jesus, who spent a lot of time in Galilee, perhaps appreciated the relative silence of this place.
The Middle East is a land of commotion, sometimes discrimination, and sometimes violence. This was as true 3,000 years ago as it is today. Finding silence and peace is always at a premium. It’s a land, unlike the United States, that makes you realize how precious silence is.
I prayed for the intentions of many in the Holy Land, keeping in mind all your generosity and love to me. In fact, I would say that in my lowest moments it was remembering everyone back home in prayer that made me strong. It’s another grace from God that I cherish very much. Being so far away made me realize how close we all are, and how our prayers make all distances seem close, both on earth and across the chasm of life and death.
Thank you for your prayers. I will be ordained in just about a month. Please continue to pray for me.