Well, it happened again. The Holy Land brought me to tears when I least expected it. After last year’s pilgrimage, I was prepared to be knocked on my heels by the big moments. Waiting to go down the ancient steps in the Church of the Nativity to the very spot of Jesus’ birth, surrounded by stunning icons. Kneeling to touch the rock of Golgotha. High Mass chanted by Franciscans at dawn in front of the empty tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. These solemn moments that touch the soul are what brought me back to Israel, and I knew I would be moved to tears by them. But I was surprised that I was a blubbering mess in the bright sunshine at the top of the Mount of Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes don’t always resonate with me. Blessed are the meek? The pure of heart? Not exactly my strong points. And the Mount of Beatitudes is not one of the “in your face” pilgrimage stops. (And it’s not really a mountain, either. More of a hill. But the folks of Jesus’ time didn’t get out much, so I’ll give them this one.) There are grander vistas in the Holy Land, sites of mysteries and miracles and places that evoke a deep meditation on Jesus’ suffering. But what the Mount of Beatitudes lacks in star power, in more than makes up for with a real sense of place.
This mountain is of the Galilee, this place where Jesus spent so much of his ministry. From it you see Capernaum, where He lived, and the green hills dotted this time of the year with the first of the lilies of the field, mentioned by Jesus in his sermon here. You feel the breeze He would have felt, the faint scent of eucalyptus and cedar lingering as I imagine it did 2000 years ago. And you overlook the Sea of Galilee itself, its grey-green waters still bearing silent testimony to Jesus’ footsteps on its shores. (And even on its waters!) In acknowledgement of the the beauty of the hilltop, or the fact that the gospel event it commemorates occurred on the grass nearby, the grounds of the church are dotted with small outdoor chapels and this is the only place on the pilgrimage where we celebrate Mass outside. It was during this Mass that I was moved to tears.
Deacon Glenn started it, when his voice broke while proclaiming the Gospel of the Beatitudes. (The “at this spot” thing is especially rough on the first-timers.) I looked at the Sea of Galilee on the horizon, beginning to be as overwhelmed as he. Then, when Father Thomas held up the consecrated host, my heart overflowed. I was looking at Jesus in his hand, and could see the hillside where Jesus taught just to the right. It felt as if He was just out of view down the hill, present both in the eternal time of this special place, and in the host I was about to receive. Body, blood, soul and divinity combined with the power of place. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I cried.