This week, I returned to ordinary life from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group of friends. We spent ten days in the footsteps of Christ, moving “from glory to glory”, each place seeming more profound than the next, driving in more deeply the reality that the One Who walked this ground, Who lived in these places has also reached my life, to such a degree that He has brought me to walk, to live, to be in these same places two thousand years later.
There is so much I could say about those days, so many things I am still unpacking interiorly: the utter poverty of the huts in Nazareth where God chose to become flesh; the surreal nature of standing on the shore, with our feet in the water where Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Spending the night in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and waiting like the women outside the tomb, for the bells announcing the dawn, reminding the world that the tomb is still empty, and He is risen. The one thing, however, which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since returning is the fact that my life, my simple, American, twentieth century life, came into contact with all of these events physically, concretely in that place: I sat on the floor of the cistern where Christ spent the night before his trial, and my voice wavered out the words of Psalm 88, as perhaps His own voice did, in that same place. My voice spoke the creed beside the Jordan River where He sanctified the waters to allow me to profess that faith; we sang “Veni Creator Spiritus” in the place where Christ first gave His Body and Blood, and first sent the Spirit to give birth to the Church: and it was like standing in the place your ancestors were born in, returning to the origins of our own lives. I couldn’t help thinking of Fr. Giussani’s description of the first apostles’ encounter with Christ, “…and these in turn told other friends, and others again. Thus the 1st century passed, and these friends invaded the 2nd century with their faith, at the same time they were invading the geographic world…like a great flow that grew wider and wider, like a river that grew fuller and fuller, and they ended up telling my mother- my mother. And my mother told me when I was small, and I say: ‘Master, I don’t understand what you say either, but if we go away from You, where shall we go? You alone have words that correspond to the heart’.” I found myself repeating these words in all of the places: “Where else could we go? Only You have the words that give me life…”
The day after we returned was Epiphany Sunday, and as I found myself back in my local parish Church, surrounded by the same familiar prayers and songs, forever transformed now by the fact that I have lived and prayed them in the places they first happened, I was struck by the realization that I have not left anything behind in Israel: I have returned to the same mysteries, the same reality, the same Person that I discovered there. What I met in Jerusalem is the life of the Man Who has claimed my life, and inserted it irrevocably into His own. I want to continue to live the very present memory of the realities we were privileged to enter into anew at their beginnings: realities that are still alive and present thousands of miles and years later, in my life in Northern Virginia. As we enter into this new season of Ordinary Time, I pray that I not lose sight of the fact that Christ’s coming in the poverty of Bethlehem has penetrated into the deepest fabric of the ordinariness of my life, here and now, making the most mundane things radiantly new with His Presence.