Day 2 of the Catholic Digest Holy Land Pilgrimage with Steve and Janet Ray from the Footprints of God pilgrimages.
Today we rose before sunrise to travel to Mount Tabor, the place where Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John (see Matthew 17: 1-8).
Our bus took us to the base of the mountain and then we took taxis that drove us up the winding road to the Church of the Transfiguration.
The altar in the church is a 12th century Crusader altar which faces exactly East, so when the sun rises and shines through the stain glass there is a beautiful golden glow in the church.
The architect, Antonio Barluzzi (1884-1960) designed the Church of the Transfiguration to bring as much light into the church as he could. At sundown, the sun reflects so brightly on the golden mosaic to try to show what the apostles would have experienced at the Transfiguration.
Our spiritual director, Fr. Frans Berkhout said that when Jesus appeared in his glory to Peter, James and John he was giving the disciples a glimpse of what awaits us in heaven. The Father spoke out of a cloud, “This is my Son, My Chosen; listen to him” (Mark 9:7)
Fr. Berkhout reminded the pilgrims to be still and take the time to listen to the voice of the Father. Fr Berkhout said, “Let the voice of the Father reach into the depths of your being.”
Visiting these biblical sites increases my desire to know Scripture, to be still, and listen to what the voice of the Father is trying to tell me. Steve Ray told us that he hopes when people go back they will have a deeper love of Scripture. Seeing these sites and gazing upon the mountains that Jesus walked on, is a life changing experience.
Visting the Holy Land brings the Scripture passages alive and I can better understand why Jesus did and said the things he did.
For example, we traveled to Caesarea Philippi, the place where Jesus made Peter the Rock and gave the keys of the Kingdom (Matthew 16).
In preparation to visit this place, Steve Ray asks us, why would Jesus bring his apostles all the way here?
Having no sense of geography I didn’t understand that Caesarea Philippi was out of the way from where they usually traveled. Steve explained that Jesus was using this location as a teaching tool for the Apostles.
The rock at Caesarea Philippi has a cave that was once called the “Gates of Hell.” Pagans believed it was the gate to the netherworld and they would offer sacrifices to the god, Pan. Pan was the god of the shepherds. It wasn’t a coincidence that Jesus used this huge rock as a backdrop to explain to Peter that he was the rock on which Jesus, the true Shepherd, would build his Church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it!
Later we traveled to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter that marks the spot where Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead and confirmed the primacy of the Apostle Peter.
Before we visited the spot, Steve Ray paints the picture of the Gospel passage from John 21. The disciples had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Jesus asks them, “‘Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.’ So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. … Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you just caught.’ So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.”
With this visual in our mind, we were able to walk on the shore where Peter dragged in the net of 153 fish and see the rock where Jesus had prepared breakfast for the disciples.
On this same spot is where Jesus gave Peter primacy over the Church as its shepherd.
Isn’t it wonderful to be Catholic! Let us remember to pray for the Christians in the middle East and to take part in keeping these holy places safe.