Posts Tagged ‘Mt. Tabor’


Friday, January 11th, 2013

This common farewell saying among our Jewish sisters and brothers came true this past December 30th for our thirty seminarians, three priests and myself as we made a wonderful pilgrimage to the land of Jesus’ birth. With absolutely idyllic weather for five of our seven days in Israel (cloudless blue skies and daytime averages in the mid-70’s,) we visited all the holy places, prayed at them, took one day at the end for a silent day of recollection, recalling all that we had seen and experienced, and then set our eyes on home. For myself, I believe it was my seventh trip to the Holy Land and in all likelihood will be my last. Many of you will recall that I led a semi-pilgrimage using a cruise ship for our conveyance in the Fall of 2011. It was then that I thought, if at all possible, I would love to bring those who are preparing for the priesthood to experience for themselves the incredible sense of the presence of Christ in the midst of modern day Israel.

We stayed at only two places, the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem (nothing to do with the US university of the same name) and the Hospice of the Franciscan Sisters on the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee in the northern part of the country. Both places had chapels where we prayed morning and evening prayer together, but daily Mass was celebrated in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, the Church of the Primacy of Peter along the Sea of Galilee and the Church of St. Peter in Capernaum. Additional time was made available for lengthy private prayer in the Church of the Dormition of Mary on Mt. Zion (Jerusalem), the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel above Haifa. Additionally, every evening during Vespers or “Evening Prayer” I gave the seminarians about a twenty minute reflection which I had worked hard on prior to departure.

As many people say when they have finished a visit to the land of Jesus’ birth, they can not listen to the Gospels, indeed the whole of Scripture, in the same way again. To understand spatially what it meant to walk from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemani, to appreciate the topography for the trip down from Nazareth to Cana or even better, the three trips from Galilee to Jerusalem for the major feasts adds so much more to one’s understanding of the Incarnation and Christ among us in history two thousand plus years ago. We had a superb guide in Hani, an Arab-Christian and former principal of the Christian Brothers High School in the Old City and he, better than I ever could, made the scriptures come alive and he often connected the dots of words and places. We also had, and perhaps even more importantly, a great bus driver who kept us alive along challenging roads.

The two priests whom I ordained last May, Fathers Tim Corcoran and Victor Amorose came along. It did not seem fair to announce while they were in the seminary that I was inviting all the seminarians to come to the Holy Land at Christmas/New Years 2012/13 and leave them at home because they were “unlucky” enough to be ordained just prior to the trip. Along with our Vocation Director, Father Carl Melchior, the four of us were able to lead the community in prayer and provide for them sacramentally. It would be hard to precisely define the major moment for my traveling band of seminarians as each would likely have their own favorite spot. But we left the region of Galilee on Epiphany, right after celebrating the Solemnity in the Chapel at the hospice on the Mount of the Beatitudes and I came across this line from the gifted Father Robert Barren, Rector of Mundeline Seminary in Chicago and author, who quoted Archbishop Fulton Sheen speaking about the part of the Epiphany Gospel where the Magi or wise men disobey Herod’s orders and return to their homes by a different route than that which they came. Archbishop Sheen said, “of course, they went home a different way. No one who comes to Jesus ever returns the same way that they came.” I hope that was true of all of us.

I am exhausted and sleep does not come easily yet. I lost ten pounds in walking and climbing (in the Catholic Church, nothing seems worth seeing without climbing steps) and longed for my McDonald’s sausage biscuit for eight days, but it will be a while before the memory of this final visit of mine dims and the looks on the faces of those who, God willing, will some day serve you as priests as they stood on the Mt. of Olives with their faces toward the West and the place where the Temple once stood and then walked down the steep hill into the Garden where Jesus prayed and met his accusers.

For me now, “next year in Jerusalem” will now mean that moment when someone comes, hopefully, to lead me into the new and heavenly Jerusalem. The men I travelled with have a lot longer journey ahead of them, but they learned much about the cost of discipleship and following Jesus.



Saturday, October 29th, 2011

The Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth

We have reached the land of Jesus’ birth and death. Today one hundred and one of us spent most of the day just north of the Sea of Galilee, starting where it all started in Nazareth, moving on to Cana, and ending on Mt. Tabor. With a group our size it takes time and while I had hoped to include the monastery of Mt. Carmel here in Haifa as a late afternoon stop, we did not make it back before their 500pm closing. Darkness comes quite early here in the Holy Land at this time of the year (445pm today) as it is about as far east in what is called the Central European time zone as one can get. On the other hand, sunrise tomorrow morning will be about 545am.

Everything and I do mean everything was closed on our arrival in the port of Haifa today. Because it was Jewish Sabbath, there were no workers loading or unloading the mammoth freighters in the harbor, no cars on the street and little noise anywhere. Haifa and this eastern part of Israel is heavily Arab, Muslim and quite productive. To witness it all so still was eerie.

It took about an hour to drive from the port to Nazareth which is a city built up and down several hillsides. Since Nazareth is today mostly Arab Muslim and Arab Christian (declining dramatically in number) and since it was Saturday there was considerably more activity to be found there, traffic jams and people on the non-existent sidewalks. Nazareth has throughout its history been something of a melting pot of people, even in biblical times, a biblical “Podunk” lacking any one religious or cultural identification. It was for this reason that Nathaniel could ask in the Gospel, “can anything good come from Nazareth.” Well for us it certainly did.

The angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary at what today is called “Mary’s Well” of which there are two, one public and open to everyone on the streets and one under an Orthodox church. Which one it actually happened at is mostly irrelevant as the Holy Land is place where one experiences the Lord more than validating information or seeking specificity. The Franciscan fathers have built a magnificent basilica on the spot where legend days Mary and Joseph lived and raised Jesus and there is also almost attached a Church of St. Joseph which does not press the imagination as much. There was an American group celebrating Mass on the lower altar of the basilica, which is closer to Mary’s home. So what began with an angelic appearance to Mary then moves on to the Jerusalem area with Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth in Ein Karem (not on the West Bank) and eventually with Joseph to the birth of her child in Bethlehem, which we will visit on Monday.

Mary and Jesus would have walked down a steep hill and up another one on the five-mile walk to Cana and the famous wedding. We had Mass in the new chapel at Cana, again run beautifully by the Franciscans responsible for the holy places here. Monsignor Bosso gave a wonderful homily on “relationships” which centered somewhat on Mary’s relation with a “testy” Jesus in the famous Gospel where water was turned into wine. Then, all married couples present renewed their wedding vows and there were few dry eyes to be found. My group sang beautifully at this Mass and since we had the small space of this Church to ourselves, it was a wonderful liturgy. I think all married couples on this trip (and there are three whose marriages I have personally witnessed) would consider this the highlight at least of today and perhaps the whole trip.Mass and Renewal of Marriage Vows at Cana

Then on to Mt. Tabor, which at 1700 feet dominates the countryside of this Galilee region. Off to the east in the distance is to be seen Mt. Hermon which stands at about 5600 feet and which some of the Protestant churches have begun to say was the site of the Transfiguration, not Mt. Tabor. Whatever, the new basilica and surround grounds on a day with a high of perhaps 75 degrees, blue sky and delightful breeze captured our hearts and imagination. It was not hard to envision Jesus, Peter and James sharing that special moment of “epiphany.” Monsignor Bosso here pointed out that the transfiguration account in the Gospel immediately follows Jesus’ prediction of his impending death and resurrection and was meant to convince his two friends that they too needed to prepare themselves for the “cross” which would lead to resurrected life and transfiguration in the life, which is to come. He reminded us that moments of glory often precede or follow moments of challenge in life and we need to prepare ourselves for these moments in order to share the glory of eternal life.

To get to the top of Mt. Tabor, the busses can only take you about a third of the way and then you transfer to a ten person taxi which takes you the rest of the way up a spine-chilling crooked and an narrow road with many, many hairpin turns eliciting prayers from everyone in the cab. The saying around here is that the real reason the two apostles did not wish to leave the place was they didn’t want to take the taxi ride back down!


Mosaic of the Transfiguration at the Church on Mt. Tabor

Tomorrow we spend the whole day around the Sea of Galilee and Sunday Mass will be celebrated for all of you at the Church of the Primacy. Stayed tuned.