Holy Land Pilgrimage

Watching from the Mountain Top

December 7, 2021

Son of man, I have appointed you a sentinel for the house of Israel.” (Ez 3:17)

Throughout the Scriptures, mountain tops were sites of sacrifice to God or places to encounter him, such as Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. At the same time, they were places with military importance—vantage points to see enemies coming and fortifications to protect key locations from attack. Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration, had this purpose in ancient Israel.

Today, we visited the mountain fortress of Masada, a site filled with legends, mystery, and grandeur. Masada was used by several various groups with opposing goals—King Herod the Great built a palace-fortress for himself here, and a Roman garrison patrolled it, watching for Zealots in the region. A group of Jewish rebels captured it from them, and from its great height looked on as the Roman army built their camps and walls on the ground below. Centuries later, a group of monks came and built a monastery on the mountain, looking on into the wilderness.

As our group toured the site, looked at the buildings, and learned the story of those who had been there, we were struck by the expansive views of the Dead Sea and the land below. We had the sense that we were watching as those who came before—the soldiers who were watching for enemies, or the monks who would enjoy the view in prayer. For me as a seminarian, I was reminded of the verse from Ezekiel and the homily on that passage by St. Gregory the Great – “Son of man, I have appointed you a sentinel for the house of Israel” (Ez 3:17). The sentinel watches for enemies, and must stay at a high location, just like we were at Masada. They must stay there to be able to see and forewarn people of any coming dangers. In a similar way, we as seminarians are learning to be sentinels, learning the spiritual life and teaching others to avoid coming dangers, helping guide them safely to their spiritual destination: Heaven. The task is not easy, but the moments where we see the view—the joys and blessings of the spiritual life—they remind us of the importance of our task.

Our class is filled with joy as the day of ordination approaches us (some within six months), and even though we may not always know what is coming our way, we look forward to our task as leaders of the Church with great respect to what the Church asks of us as sentinels.

Dcn. Joseph Nguyen
Diocese of San Jose

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