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Pilgrimage to the land of miracles

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Imagine you were able to follow the footsteps of Jesus, visiting the places Jesus visited with his Apostles. Just one month before I was ordained to the transitional diaconate, I had the grace of visiting Israel and was immersed in the places we read about in the holy Scriptures.

The Holy Land is called the Fifth Gospel for good reason; meditating on Gospel passages in the actual places where they occurred certainly transformed my view of them. Each day gave me many moments to enter these mysteries in the life of Jesus, to encounter him there and in my own life.

I went with my fellow deacons from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and we stayed in a retreat house only 27 yards from the Sea of Galilee. One day I was praying morning prayer contemplating the sunrise over the water, and was moved by this line from the Benedictus (the Canticle of Zechariah, part of Morning Prayer): “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1: 78-79).

Every place we went brought me to a true encounter with Christ. Doing a holy hour from that shore and looking at the modern-day fishermen called to mind Jesus and his disciples on those same waters, and led me to reflect on my own call and the many times Jesus has come out to encounter me. Walking up the Mount of Beatitudes on a rainy day gave me an idea of how many times Jesus and the apostles struggled to climb that mountain. Not too far away is Mount Tabor, which I hiked with a small group, experiencing firsthand how tiring Jesus’ ministry must have been. From Mount Tabor I wondered how Peter, James and John felt when they contemplated Elijah, Moses and the transfigured Jesus.

One of the most moving places was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the tomb of Jesus. Normally pilgrims to these holy places are only able to stay a very brief time at each site — minutes only. I was one of 15 who signed up to spend the entire night praying there, along with the Greek Orthodox families who clean the church nightly. Every corner of that church is full of stories and traditions, including the Chapel of St. Helena, named for the emperor’s wife who found Jesus’ cross when she was a pilgrim in Jerusalem.

I was also able to be alone with the Lord for two hours on Calvary, accompanying him where only his mother and the beloved disciple had remained. As the cornerstone of our salvation, Calvary forced me to look back on my sins and ask the Lord for pardon and forgiveness. Being there reinforced God’s immense love for us which is always there regardless of whether we love him in return. Mass at this holy place literally connected Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary to the Mass.

As a pilgrim in the Holy Land, my head and heart were full of prayers for people from our diocese and I was able to entrust them to God in these sacred places. What a great gift it was to prepare to receive the great gift of becoming a deacon, called to preach the Word, by visiting these holy sites. This pilgrimage changed my life, and I can continue reaping the fruits in my daily prayer as the Gospel scenes come to life, and I encounter the living Christ once more.

Deacon González, who is from St. Leo Church in Fairfax, is in his fourth year of theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and is assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Winchester.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020