Continuing with Day 5 of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee year Holy Land pilgrimage journal.
Day 5 – Saturday, 2/19/00 Jerusalem/Mt. of Olives/Bethlehem/Shepherd’s Field
Today was the most emotional day yet. We began on the Mt. of Olives and walked the Palm Sunday path. We paused as Father read the scripture where the disciples acquire a donkey for Jesus. We visit the Church of the Pater Noster and recite the “Our Father.” We visited the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem and continued to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of Jesus’ Agony . . . the place of His betrayal and arrest . . . “Not My will, but, Thine.”
We travel to the Church of Peter in Gallicunti [Peter’s Denial] which is built over the excavation site of the House of Caiaphas the High Priest. This is the first place to which Jesus was taken after His arrest and imprisoned overnight. The excavations allowed us to descend down into the dungeon region and reflect on the night Jesus spent before being sent to Pilate. In the dungeon, we gathered as Father read Psalm 88. With my back to the wall, I slid to a sitting position and closed my eyes while hanging on to every word. I’ve always thought more about Jesus and His agony in the garden, but, never much about that night immediately after the arrest – the lonely night. I could feel the cold from the wall through my coat. It would have been completely dark. Tears came as I absorbed these images in my mind and my heart. Once outside, I was bursting with immense sorrow. Everyone in our group scattered in tears as we were powerfully moved by the Spirit. We stood on the steps that lead to Caiaphas’ house from the City of David. From there we can look back across to the Mt. of Olives and know that this was the beginning of the long walk to the crucifixion. Jesus led bound, battered, and mocked through the streets and up those steps – the scattering of the disciples. Peter “follows from afar” and quickly slides into denial, “No, I don’t know the man.”
From here, we traveled to Bethlehem and visited the Church of the Nativity at Manger Square, which is the place of His birth. It lifts our spirits to think now of the birth. Mass on this day was at the Shepherd’s Field where, according to the Priest who greeted us, “It’s always Christmas.” We sing the Lamb of God to the tune of Silent Night. To be physically present with all the places I’ve only read about in the Bible is overwhelming. Today my soul has been ripped and bared open. God has drawn me ever closer to the mysteries of His great love. I feel these are the experiences God is using to draw me closer than I believed possible. I feel His powerful love and arms wrapped tight around me.
There is not a lot I can add other than to say just typing these memories have brought the tears again. I was enveloped in the Gospel “red letters”, the words of Jesus, to which I grew up with as a Baptist in my King James Bible. Less than a year after my reception into the Roman Catholic Church, a Holy Communion that is the anemnesis of Christs’ Passion, I find myself physically in Israel. Receiving Holy Communion here was exponential to me in a spiritual sense. Here the physical and spiritual united for me.
The Church of Pater Noster remembers Jesus teaching us how to pray. The “Our Father” is represented in many languages on tiled artwork on the walls. I remember at Shepherd’s Field, I finally thought to myself, “Franciscans are everywhere.” I briefly commented on the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in a prior post. I got used to seeing the now familiar habits in most of the Holy Places where we visited and/or celebrated Mass.
I would encourage you to read and pray Psalm 88. In those words, I felt a certain union with Christ as we gathered in the prison dungeon.