Here’s the latest dispatch from Kansas City – St. Joseph Vice-Chancellor Dr. Claude Sasso on the Kansas City pilgrimage to the Holy Land being led by Bishop Robert W. Finn:
Tiberias, Israel (Nov. 8, 2009) - The pilgrims began their Sunday morning in Tiberias with a pleasant boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, which is a fresh water lake extending 14 miles in length and as wide as 8 miles. The temperatures were in the 80's and the lake was choppy but the ride was an important part of why we came to Israel, not just a diversion. We listened to Bishop Finn reading two stories from the Gospels that took place on the lake. The first was recorded in Mark 4 when the disciples were crossing over to the other shore and a bad squall blew in. Afraid they might sink, the apostles awakened Jesus who was asleep in the back of the boat. They asked him why he was not concerned that they might perish and he responded “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" They marveled at how he was able to get even the sea and wind to obey his command that they be calm.
In the second reading from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 14, Jesus insisted that the disciples get into the boat and go across to the other side he would meet them. As they were crossing about 3 A.M., Jesus came to them walking on the water and they were afraid, but Peter said, "Lord if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." So Jesus did and Peter set out on the waves but began to be afraid and when he started to sink, he cried out to Jesus to save him, which he did. Then Jesus again reproached them for their lack of faith. They said, “Truly you are the Son of God.” The message was clear, Bishop Finn suggested, keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus amidst the storms of life so that we too can be employed in the work of apostolic ministry. Pondering these readings aboard the boat was a pilgrim's experience as we bounced up and down on the choppy waters. The crew than played Israeli folk songs for us as we finished our ride in a happy mood.
Our next stop was a small hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee near Tabgha the Mount of Beatitudes, which is the traditional site of Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount. The church there where we celebrated Mass is maintained by Italian Franciscan nuns. We had Mass outdoors on the Garden altar overlooking the Sea of Galilee. In his homily at this beautiful site, Bishop Finn reminded us that our whole purpose in being is to become a saint, in accordance with our station in life. He reminded us that the eight beatitudes (Mt. 5-8) which Christ gave us at this place are not easy, but if we bring them to prayer they have a powerful and meaningful effect in our lives.
After Mass and photo taking, we set out for the nearby Church of the Primacy of Peter, built by the Franciscans in 1933 incorporating part of the earlier 4th century church on this historic and holy site of our Lord's third Resurrection appearance. Here we saw mensa Christi, the table of Christ, where the Resurrected Jesus offered his disciples a meal of bread and fish. They had been out on the lake all night and had caught nothing, but in the morning a man on shore suggested they cast their net on the other side of the boat. This was Jesus and they pulled in a huge catch of 153 fish, which some believe represents all the nations at that time. Peter, recognizing Jesus, jumped in the water and waded ashore first where they all dined with him.
This is the occasion when Jesus asked Peter three times whether he loved him. St. Augustine suggests that the three affirmative responses of Peter negated his earlier threefold denial. At each affirmation, Jesus answered, feed my lambs; and the third time he said, feed my sheep. To feed, in the style of the Scriptures, is to guide, rule, and govern. St. Ambrose and others note, that the lambs, might be understood as the people, and the sheep, those placed over them, but others say only that it refers to all the members of Christ's Church. It was here that Christ gave to St. Peter that power which he had promised him (Matthew 16: 18), that is, He gave him primacy in the Church, hence the name of the church here.
Our final stop of the day after a hardy lunch, was Mt Tabor, where our Lord was transfigured before the eyes of Peter, James and John. This magnificent hill is 600 meters above the terrain in the Jezreel Valley. At the top we entered the beautiful little Church and then came out of doors to hear Bishop Finn read the following Scriptures to us:
Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.
But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." (Mt 17:1-9)
(pics – Top. interior of Church on Mt. of Beatitudes. Below, Church of the Primacy of St. Peter.)