Holy Land Pilgrimage

This Place, This Presence

January 25, 2022

“THIS hill country.” At each of the holy sites, there is a unique Mass that uses special prayers and readings, which are related to that specific place. What’s interesting is that in the readings, one word can be added to Sacred Scripture: “this.” The word “this” emphasizes the fact that pilgrims are praying in the very spots where events of salvation history took place.

Today we visited Ein Karem, the village where, according to tradition, after having conceived Jesus, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. This is where John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting. The Gospel passage for the Mass at the Church of the Visitation begins, “Mary set out and traveled to THIS hill country…where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39-40). Ein Karem is situated in the hills of Judea, and after taking some winding roads and climbing over 100 steps, we reached the Church of the Visitation, which overlooks these verdant hills. As someone who loves the mountains, I was grateful to be away from the crowds of the city and in a place that was quieter, calmer, and more conducive to prayer. When the Gospel was proclaimed at Mass, the phrase “this hill country,” which matched the beautiful geography of our surroundings, made this event in the life of Christ come alive!

But I would argue that there was a more important “this” that was spoken during our Mass at the Visitation. In the Prayer After Communion, the priest prayed, “As Saint John the Baptist leapt with joy when he first sensed the hidden presence of Christ, so may your Church rejoice to receive in THIS Sacrament the same ever-living Lord.” As blessed as we are to be here in the Holy Land, that prayer reminded me that we are closer to Christ anytime we receive the Eucharist at Mass or visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament than when we go on pilgrimage to the places of our Lord’s life on earth. A visit to the tabernacle is not a consolation prize for those who cannot make it to the Holy Land, but rather it is a real, privileged opportunity to draw near to the very presence of God with us!

Visiting “this hill country” today brought a spark of joy to the seminarians. But receiving “this” Sacrament, the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, brings lasting joy to all of us.

Jeremy Leganski
Diocese of Joliet

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