I recently led 36 pilgrims to Rome, Assisi and the Holy Land. The trip was amazing. It was full of both struggles and graces for many members of the group as we walked in the footsteps of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Francis and St. Clare (just to name a few) plus, of course, Jesus Himself.
Two things resonated with me most.
First, the reason we make pilgrimages to these holy sites is to remind us that our faith is real. It is tangible. Too often, people discuss Jesus, the 12 apostles or other saints as if they were characters in a fantasy novel. When you go to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you can visit the tomb underneath the main altar where they found the inscription “Peter is here.” Inside were the remains of a Middle Eastern man who had been crucified … all except his feet. Why? Because St. Peter was crucified upside down. The quickest way to remove his body from the cross was to sever his feet from his body. It really happened. He is there. Our faith and our Church are not built on myths.
That reality is elevated when you visit the Holy Land. The word here is printed and spoken frequently at all of the holy sites.
The word was made flesh here. John the Baptist was born here. Jesus was born here. Jesus came up this mountain and was transfigured here. He gave the bread of life discourse here. He celebrated the Last Supper here. He was crucified here. He was buried here. And He rose from the dead here.
One member of the group was so moved by the experience of walking through the places where the Gospel events occurred that he got a tattoo of a Jerusalem cross with the Latin word hic, meaning “here,” underneath it. It is not just a nice story. Jesus is not a character from someone’s imagination. Jesus is a real person. It really happened.
This leads me to my second observation. There are three levels to experience something like this: the human; the intellectual and theological; and the spiritual.
At the human level, walking through the holy sites, we might ask questions like, “How did they build this?” “What type of tree is that?” and “Is the weather always like this?”
The second level is the intellectual pursuit. “What must it have been like to see Jesus walking on the water here 2,000 years ago?”
However, the third level is the most important and most difficult to pay attention to. We ask, “What is Jesus saying to me, here, now, in this place where He once walked?”
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to go to the Holy Land to experience this. As I look out my window right now, I can see scattered rain clouds over St. Louis while we experience another dramatic shift in spring temperatures. I wonder what it would be like to see Jesus walking across the parking lot. I try my best to acknowledge that He is here, now, with me at this moment and that I should listen to Him.
Put down this article for a moment, close your eyes and realize Jesus is present to you, right here.