Notes from the Holy Land Day 2
Below is the next installment in the blog from Angela DiLaura, Everest Collegiate High School Senior, who is with her class on a pilgrimage this week to Jerusalem.
Day 2: Cana, Nazareth, and Mount Tabor
I love sunrises. I always have. Whether I’m viewing them from a campsite in the mountains, the shore of Lake Michigan, my backyard, or my bedroom window, getting to see the sun rise always makes me happy. So, this morning I received a huge gift. I woke up ten minutes before the wake-up call with the sun streaming through the window next to my bed in my hotel room. The sheets on my bed looked like they were glowing, and the palm tree right outside my bedroom was swaying gently beneath the same breeze that was coming through the window. Sarah, my roommate, just opened the window and said, “Angela, LOOK!” Kneeling up on my bed, gazing out on the lovely countryside around the Sea of Galilee, I knew this day was going to be glorious.
After a quick breakfast in the hotel, we boarded our bus and set off for Cana in Galilee (an important distinction, I discovered, as there are two other Canas in the area). We visited the Church located over the room where Christ performed his first miracle, beginning his public ministry. First, Father Daniel (Pajerski LC) read the gospel passage narrating the wedding fest at Cana, and then led a brief reflection. Next, our guide Amer described what a wedding would be like at that time period in light of the Jewish culture. When we were easily able to imagine the scene, he led us downstairs to the remains of the original shrine which had been built over the location of the miracle. Then, after climbing a different set of stairs, he led us up into the more modern church there today. After a few moments of prayer we emerged, squinting, back into the sun and climbed onto the bus.
A few minutes later we arrived in Nazareth, and the bus dropped us off near Mary’s Well, the place where Mary would go twice a day with all the other women of Nazareth to draw water. We walked Mary’s path back to the Basilica of the Annunciation, which was built over the house where she lived, the location of the Annunciation. Next to the Basilica was the Church of St. Joseph, a simple yet majestic structure which was built over the ruins of the house (cave) the Holy Family lived in. There were railings around the stairs that led down to the house. There were grates in the floor of the basement room where we were, through which we viewed the house below. Amer told us that the deep cistern they would have used to hold rain water also doubled as a refrigerator, and that during the dry season, when the cistern was empty, they would lower one of the children into the cistern on a rope to clean the bottom before the rainy season filled it again. Can’t you imagine the child Jesus doing this job? With a rope around his waist smiling up at Joseph as he was lowered, and telling Mary that he would be careful, she didn’t need to worry.
The steps leading down to the house were steep, with a vertical stretch of about two feet per stair. A semi-circle shaped depression had been worn into the rock in the middle of each step. Along the walls of the stairs, small crevices pocketed the rock. I could almost see the child Jesus rushing up and down the stairs, calling to Mary, or leaving toys or notes in the rock for his friends. Maybe, when he was little, he tripped and fell down a few of the stairs, and Mary rushed to help him. Maybe he sat up with a grin on his face and asked to “do it again!” Who knows! But he lived there, worked there, prayed there, laughed there, and loved there. (He loved me there.) I felt so close to him!
After we finished touring the Church of St. Joseph, we walked across the small courtyard to the enormous Basilica. Inside the Basilica, there are two levels. The first is fairly simple. Around the walls were several side altars, as well as the statue of Mary of Nazareth. In the middle, a large circle in the ceiling opened into the Church above, and below, the floor dipped down to the level of the ruins of the first church built where the Annunciation occurred and the cave where Mary lived. We were not able to enter the actual cave, but we stood at the gate immediately outside it. Just before entering the Church, we realized that it was the feast of the Annunciation and there was a Mass upstairs in the main Church. As we began praying a decade of the rosary outside of Mary’s house, we heard from above the cantor for the mass singing “Ave Maria.”
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.
I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy word.
Mary, pray for me, that I may be able to say yes to God’s will in my life just as you did.
Here are a few reflections from my time of prayer outside Mary’s house: How incredible, how unimaginable. Our infinite God, outside of time, descended into time and space, in this place. God became flesh here. The relationship between the spiritual and the physical changed forever, as God took on a human body. It happened here. I am standing here.
Jesus, come into my soul just as you came to earth, to Mary. Fill my heart with your grace so I can say with your mother, “let it be done unto me according to your word.”
Upstairs, there was a large church decorated with several different images of Our Lady, and the largest dome in the Middle East. The whole church was filled with people celebrating the feast of the Annunciation, and we counted four bishops on the altar, as well as several other priests and deacons. I really can’t describe the majestic aura of this holy place. The Church is ALIVE and Christ is guiding her!
After some time to explore and pray in the Basilica, we headed across the street to a lovely restaurant, where we were served an amazing lunch. The waiters were great. For the second course, they came around with enormous platters heaped with steaming pasta, which they served in very generous amounts. “How much would you like?” they asked us while spooning about a pound of pasta on each plate. “Oh, that’s quite enough, thank you!” I said. “Oh, no, just a little more!” he said while adding another ½ pound to the plate, which was then almost overflowing with pasta.
After a lovely meal, we boarded our bus and drove to Mount Tabor and the Church of the Transfiguration. We parked at the bottom of the mountain and climbed into two vans, which took us on a terrifying ride up about 10 switchbacks at breakneck speed to the summit of the mountain.
Father Daniel celebrated Mass for us there at the main altar of the Church. Then, Amer told us a bit about the Church. It faces directly east, so when the sun is rising, the whole church is filled with a golden glow from the stained glass windows behind the altar. Opposite windows at the other end also light up the Church in the evening. On the feast of the Transfiguration, the sun dips especially low on the horizon, coming through the doors of the Church, hitting two glass mirrors set into the floor, and reflecting onto the golden mosaic of the transfiguration opposite the doors. What a perfect shrine for the location of the Transfiguration!
After taking in the stunning view from the top of the mountain, we rode back down the mountainside to our bus, and returned to our hotel. Reflecting on the day, I could hardly believe everything I saw. I am staying in the place where infinite, omnipotent God descended to earth and became human, loved us, forgave our sins, and died for our salvation. Is it any wonder I can hardly absorb these awesome experiences?