Holy Land Pilgrimage

Encountering God on Pilgrimage

January 27, 2019

A small cave enclosed our group. Old stones covered everything except a small door on one side, and the simple space had nothing but an altar, some benches, and, in the small box on the wall, the Presence. As we stood shoulder to shoulder, a simple peace flowed into my face, and I smiled as the Franciscan, with a heavy Brazilian accent, told us how for half a millennium men had come here to pray. Compared to many places in this land, however, the little chapel in the Franciscan Seminary situated on the floor above St. John the Baptist’s birthplace contained a noble youth. It was only about 600 years old. And yet, this place struck me deeply. Why? Why, Lord, would you point this spot out to me? Of what significance can a little chapel for seminarians have in comparison to the spot of the Baptist’s nativity? The Visitation? Jesus’s nativity?!

Upon reflection, I came to a wonderful realization. Here, as the friar had mentioned, many had encountered the Lord through their prayers. Friars destined to dedicate themselves wholly to God in vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience had sought the Lord here, and here, they communed with the One who “looks with favor on his lowly servant” and “fills the hungry with good things.” In the silence of this little 10×10 stone cave, God shaped men’s hearts and fed them with his Word.

Thus, just as God broke forth into our world when he showed his face for the first time in the Nativity, he breaks into our lives whenever we seek him in prayer, encounter him in the sacraments, or notice his movements in our hearts throughout our daily lives. Though my classmates and I have been blessed to be able to visit so many amazing sites in the Holy Land, God wanted to remind me, and remind you, that just as he was born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, so too can he can make himself present to us today in just as an effective and real way. May we be open to knowing this deeply in our hearts and to therefore receive the abundance of blessings which the Lord is always ready to shower upon us. Amen.

James Guarascio

Diocese of Joliet

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