Locusts and wild honey doesn’t sound like a very appetizing diet. I suppose some people have eaten chocolate-covered grasshoppers, but I haven’t been brave enough to try that. And I know there are cultures that regularly dine on certain insects as staples in their diet (plenty of protein, I’m told). You have a hard enough time convincing me to eat vegetables.
This tree's pods might have been the source for the "locusts" in John the Baptist's desert diet.
For that reason the Scripture we heard last Sunday (and that we hear at least every three years in Advent) about John the Baptist’s unusual sartorial habits and dining choices always gave me pause. My natural response was: Itch. And: Ick.
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
The great thing about our pilgrimage to the Holy Lands of Israel and Jordan were the way the trip opened up the Scriptures in ways previously blocked. We saw the Jordan River, probably the spot where John did his baptizing. What was at that time a rushing river is barely a stream now, but it was still impressive to be in that holy place. But it was not just the places but the bits of trivia that made the Scriptures come alive.
Msgr. Art Valenzano holds a dried seed pod, the food that might have been the "locusts" in John the Baptist's desert diet.
At Sephora, in Galilee, the place believed to be the home of Joachim and Ann (parents of Mary, and grandparents of Jesus), we saw a tree whose pods were drying in the October sun. Our guide happened to mention that these were likely the “locusts” that John ate, when Matthew talked of him eating “locusts and wild honey.” Although some versions of the Bible actually translate that passage as “grasshoppers,” the guide said that the dried pods looked somewhat like locusts and rattled or chirped like locusts when scattered on the ground. When chewed, the pods and the seeds in them gave off a vaguely cocoa-like smell and taste, he said. (Could this be where the idea for chocolate-covered grasshoppers came from?) In any case, such a plant could well have sustained a hermit in the desert, especially one aiming for a simple life, as John did.
Msgr. Art Valenzano sniffs a dried seed pod, the food that might have been the "locusts" in John the Baptist's desert diet.
While the revelation demystified the Baptist somewhat, it doesn’t change his heroic effort or his message. Whether he was eating grasshoppers or seed pods, he lived a humble life in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Savior. Through his baptism of Christ in the Jordan, salvation history takes the next step.
December 07, 2010 11:47
By Christopher Gunty
By Christopher Gunty
BETHLEHEM, West Bank – The newest building at Bethlehem University, completed in the year 2000 and appropriately called the Millennium Building, was struck by shells fired by the Israelis. Other parts of the campus were hit as well.
The damage has since been repaired, and other than the hole in the library building/heritage center that has now become a porthole window, and machine-gun scars that pock-mark the walls of some buildings, most of the campus seems secure.
“I don’t know what the message was supposed to be,” de La Salle Christian Brother Joe Loewenstein said of the guided-missile attack on the school, the first university in the Palestinian Territories, but he knows it was not a mistake.
“They said they saw somebody with a gun or something,” he said wryly. As the president emeritus of Bethlehem U, he sounds as though he has trouble believing the claim.
The university aims to be unabashedly Catholic-Christian, and yet be a place where the region’s Muslim majority are comfortable attending. In fact, with Christians comprising less than 1 percent of the population in the Palestinian territories, it might come as a surprise that 30 percent of the 3,000 students are Christian and 70 percent are Muslim.
To encourage understanding of each other’s cultures, all students are required to take a religious studies course that teaches students about both Christian and Muslim cultures.
While on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land Oct. 12-21, Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary of Baltimore, and 23 priests from the archdiocese and nearby dioceses visited Bethlehem for a day. After celebrating an early Mass Oct. 14 at the site of Christ’s birth and visiting the Grotto of the Nativity, the group visited Bethlehem University for a briefing and a visit with students.
The university was established in 1973 as one of three initiatives – along with the Tantur ecumenical institute and the Ephphatha school for the deaf – at the urging of Pope Paul VI after his visit to the Holy Land in 1967.
Ala Sharif, a fourth-year student who is a Muslim, said she has no problems relating to her classmates; if possible, she hopes to start her own business after completing a master’s degree.
The priests talked with students about prospects for peace, not only among Christians and Muslims within Palestine, but with Israelis on the other side of the 700-mile-long wall that separates the West Bank and Palestinian territories from Israeli-occupied settlements.
Bishara Nassar, a recent graduate and one of the school’s ambassadors, said peace must begin from the ground up. “Peace will never come from the governments; it will not come through the peace process,” he told the group.
Another fourth-year student, Tareq Shahwam, agreed, though he believes it will not be even his generation, but the next, that can achieve peace.
“We need to break down the physical barriers and then break down the psychological barriers,” he said, adding that most of those in his Palestinian generation “would recognize Israel if they would recognize us.”
However, with the requirement for service in the Israeli military for people his age, Shahwam fears that they are already indoctrinated.
“The next generation,” he said, “if you can put other ideas in their head that Palestinians are people too,” then there may be a chance for peace.
De LaSalle Christian Brother Jack Curran, vice president for development for Bethlehem University, told the priests that 2,000 years ago, “people came to Bethlehem because a star led them.” Gesturing toward the eight students who had shared their experiences with the group, he said, “Brother Joe (Loewenstein) and I and people like us stay in Bethlehem because stars lead us.”
– Bethlehem, Oct 19, 2010
November 09, 2010 11:44
By Christopher Gunty
The Western Wall had a great impact on several priests on our pilgrimage, as you’ll see in this reflection from Father Steve Hook.
Bishop Denis J. Madden prepares to celerate the fractioning rite during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in a Mass for a pilgrimage of priests from Maryland inside the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem Oct. 15. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
This entire pilgrimage was awe-inspiring, yet overwhelming. It is going to take me years to fully appreciate what I have experienced by my journey to the Holy Land and being able to walk where Jesus walked and pray where Jesus taught.
One of the highlights that comes to mind for me was actually the day we celebrated Mass at the Holy Sepulcher, then walked the Via Dolorosa through the streets of the Old City, which ended at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount with the view of the Dome of the Rock. It seemed to be the one place on earth where Christianity, Judaism and Islam converged, and at least while we were there, were living side by side.
As we approached the Western Wall, I was thinking to myself what it was that I wanted to pray for that day. The custom is to either write a prayer and place it in the wall or just touch the wall and voice your prayer in silence.
The Dome of the Rock overlooks Temple Mount and the Western Wall Plaza, one of the most sacred sites in the world for Judaism. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
I was thinking of so many things and people that I should include in my prayers but I couldn't settle on any one person or request. So as I approached the wall, my mind was scattered in all directions. But as soon as my hands touched the wall, a prayer intention miraculously became clear: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. It is a prayer that is mentioned throughout the Scriptures, which also say that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, which would be destroyed.
As I reflected upon this prayer throughout the rest of the trip, and even still today, I believe that is the, and ought to be, the ongoing and daily prayer of all peoples of faith. It is a prayer not only for the Jerusalem here on earth, but also a prayer of hope for all of us, as we await the coming of the new Jerusalem in the kingdom of God.
Father Stephen Hook
Pastor, St. Augustine Parish, Williamsport, MD
Oct. 30, 2010
See a related entry here.
Pilgrims approach the Western Wall, one of the most sacred sites int he world for Judaism. People of all faiths come from around the world to bring their prayers to this holy place. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
October 30, 2010 09:06
By Christopher Gunty
The priests in the group continue to share some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s a different perspective from Father Ty Hullinger.
A memorial monument outside the Yad Vadhem Holocaust History Museum in Israel. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
“For me, one special pilgrimage encounter was our visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust (Shoah) History Museum in Jerusalem. I had heard many people talk of its importance and the impact it can have on the one who visits it: from our own Cardinal William H. Keeler to the many rabbis and cantors I have known. I must say that the experience touched me deeply, and has left an indelible impression in my mind and heart (and, dare I say, soul?). I have visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., numerous times, and it is a powerful place of memory, but Yad Vashem had further layers and depths of meaning for me. One of the first exhibits was on the Church’s influence in inflaming the powers of hate, anti-Semitism, and anti-Judaism by a preaching of contempt for the Jewish People, especially during the Middle Ages. Yad Vashem did not shy away from presenting the disturbing images coming from within the Church of depictions in art, architecture, etc. of the Jewish people as rejected or accursed. And this was easy fuel for Nazis to ignite into flames of contempt, hatred and destruction. I appreciated the fact that Yad Vashem did not chose to ignore this tragic history, but presented it upfront, as one of the first exhibit panels, forcing us to move beyond our complacencies.
And as we journeyed to the Hall of Names, where Yad Vashem has collected more than 3.5 million (of the estimated 6 million) names of Jewish men, women and children who perished in the crimes of the Shoah, I was confronted with the knowledge that of the names already collected at Yad Vashem, there were Hullingers and Hollingers, mostly from Southern Ukraine and Romania, who perished in the death camps. Are these distant relatives? Why does my family have no knowledge of them? The general assumption among the elders of my family is that we are descendants of German and Swiss Protestants. But is there more to my own family tree? Is there another history of my family that has been forgotten (deliberately or not)? The Hall of Names is a circular room, painted black, that is in reality a library of names and memories. About half of the shelves are already filled with huge black books containing the names and information of 3.5 million Jewish victims who are known. The other half is empty. It reminds you that there are still so many lives hidden among the horrors of what happened, waiting to be discovered by relatives and friends. Many may never be remembered because there were no immediate survivors among family and friends. That is a haunting thought. As if the designer knew these emotions would surface, the Hall’s ceiling is a cylinder of portraits of victims, faces that swirl upward to the light. But the middle of the floor is the reverse image of the ceiling. It is a dark abyss, literally a pit that extends down into darkness below. How much has been lost by the cruelty of human persons? This “empty tomb” immediately reminded me of the empty tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. So much remains unknown, and unknowable to us.
Father Ty Hullinger prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, and also welcomes those of other faiths. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
This pilgrimage leaves me with new questions to consider. Maybe that is why we make pilgrimages to holy places. Our presumptions and assumptions about our faith will be challenged on a pilgrimage. Dreams and ideas confront reality, geography, and even family history. Pilgrimages pose difficult issues and questions that the pilgrim must wrestle with. So like Jacob who wrestled with God (or his angel) in the night, I too now am confronting the difficult but necessary and life-fulfilling questions God is posing to me.
Father Ty Hullinger
Pastor, St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Most Precious Blood Parish, St. Dominic Parish; Baltimore
Oct. 27, 2010
October 28, 2010 09:19
By Christopher Gunty
I asked the priests in the group to share their some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Third Order Regular of St. Francis Father Peter Lyons.
Priests from the Baltimore area stop for prayer along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering or Way of Grief) during Stations of the Cross in the streets of Jerusalems Old City. Vendors\
In the narrow, crowded streets of the Old City of Jerusalem the sacred and the secular come face to face. For me it brought home once again the reality of the Incarnation, that Jesus really took on our humanity and pitched his tent right here in the messiness of this world of ours and this life of mine. Saints and sinners rub shoulders in these streets. Some are carrying a cross or praying the rosary or singing hymns. Others are selling fruits and vegetables, tacky souvenirs, T-shirts with crude sayings – while cripples and beggars sit by the side of the road and, more than likely, a few thieves and prostitutes ply their trades as well. And slowly the truth sinks in, that God is the God of all of them. All are his children. He loves each of them – each of us – maybe the prostitutes and beggars more than those we might label as righteous. And the Christ who came among us has commissioned us to continue to deliver this message. This is the mystery of faith which we are so privileged to celebrate, and which came alive once more as we walked in his footsteps in the Holy Land.
Fr. Peter Lyons, TOR
Pastor, St. Ann Parish, St. Wenceslaus Parish, Baltimore
Oct. 26, 2010
Father Peter Lyons (white shirt, at left) participates in the Way of the Cross with the pilgrimage of priests from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The prayerful procession wended its way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem\
October 28, 2010 08:58
By Christopher Gunty
The priests in the group continue to share some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Missionary of St. Paul Father Augustine Inwang.
Father Augustine Inwang blesses himself with water from the Jordan River during a pilgrimage with priests from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
As far as I am concerned, the pilgrimage that we made to the Holy Land was a trip of a lifetime. I was blessed to be in the company of those who went on the trip. I am blessed and very privileged to have been in the company of Bishop Denis J. Madden. I don’t think my first trip to the Holy Land could have been half as wonderful and spirit-filled as it was if the bishop was not directing the journey.
The high point of the pilgrimage for me was our last day in Tiberias. Early that morning I went out to pray behind the hotel looking at the Sea of Galilee. There it was easy to look across the lake to Nazareth on one side and Capernaum on the other, to imagine all the activities that took place there during the time of Jesus: the Sermon on the Mount (the Beatitudes), the feeding of the 5,000, the primacy of Peter, the walking on the sea, and even Jesus sleeping on the boat. It was an experience that will be difficult to describe. The peace that I felt and favors received while there are beyond words.
Father Augustine Inwang, MSP, prays Oct. 15 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred sites in the world for Jewish people and those of many faiths. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
The journey was not just a pilgrimage, it was indeed a retreat. The reflections of Bishop Madden during the Masses celebrated were deep and spirit-filled. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to travel in such a great group of caring and compassionate priests. I have no doubts that the priesthood is the best profession in the world and I am grateful to God be counted as one his priests.
Fr. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP
Pastor, Transfiguration Roman Catholic Congregation, Baltimore
Oct. 26, 2010
October 26, 2010 02:38
By Christopher Gunty
I asked the priests in the group to share their some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Benedictine Father Paschal Morlino.
It has taken me a couple of days to gather my thoughts and reflect on them. It was 30 years ago since I was there and so much has changed. The suffering of the Palestinians is so much in evidence now. The Wall [separating Israeli settlements from the Palestinian Territories] is a symbol of so much mistrust and lack of desire to create peace. Bridges build peace and trust and walls only alienate.
First of all, the numbers of people on pilgrimage in every place we visited astounded me – It shows the great thirst to walk where Jesus walked.
Benedictine Father Paschal Morlino, in black habit, carries the cross along the Via Dolorosa during the Stations of the Cross Oct. 15, 2010, in Jerusalem, while on pilgrimage with Bishop Denis J. Madden, right, and a group of priests from the region. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
But it was in the quiet places where I felt the most moved especially by the words spoken to us in the well-prepared homilies given by Bishop Denis Madden. He made the places we visited and where we prayed so often come alive and have such a moving effect on me. When we visited the place of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan amidst all the folks there I had the sense that the same Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus was hovering over us. It was guiding us along the way to see more clearly the true spirit of the place we visited.
It was very evident that we had been called, as the bishop said so often. What was it that we were being called too? The Mount of Beatitudes gave us the answer: Called to holiness of life and a sharing of that life with those to whom we minister. Acknowledging the same Holy Spirit that came over Jesus in the Jordan will guide us as we struggle each day with all our shortcomings to live out that teaching of Jesus to us in the Beatitudes.
Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary of Baltimore, preaches the homily in the chapel of St. Jerome, just a few yards from the site of the Grotto of the Manger. It is believed that St. Jerome worked on his translation of the bible in this cave. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
Another place where I felt so moved was in the cave of St. Jerome in Bethlehem during the Mass I had the distinct feeling that I was in very holy place and needed to just be present to Jesus in a very special way and it brought me to tears. Something about the place and what had taken place there with God's Word just got into me in a way I had not ever felt before. I was truly spiritually moved and it has made me think of how the Holy Spirit moved St. Jerome and is still moving us to spread that Word. That Word that has moved so many over the centuries and the need for that Word to be proclaimed particularly in the Holy Land where so many do not know it, have not heard it and need it so badly.
Finally, it was truly a spiritually moving event in my life. As time passes to go back and reflect, the words spoken to us and the affect they are having on my own spiritual life are a very rewarding experience.
Fr. Paschal Morlino, O.S.B.
Pastor, St. Benedict Parish, Baltimore
Oct. 25, 2010
October 26, 2010 06:32
By Christopher Gunty
I asked the priests in the group to share their some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Father Martin Burnham.
As I look back at our Holy Land Pilgrimage, I am struck by some of the many words spoken to us by Bishop Kamal Bathish, and it is through the prism of his words that I offer this reflection. Bishop Bathish, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, spoke to us about the idea of Pilgrimage. He reflected that God has called us on this pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and if God has called us to this place, then God will meet us on our journey, each in his own unique place and time. It was after this meeting that I began in earnest to await God’s meeting with me as I journeyed through these holy sites of our faith. Oddly enough, it was not in the “expected places” that I experienced the awesome presence of God on this pilgrimage; the God of surprises met me in some very unexpected ways and in some very unexpected places.
Three experiences stand out for me as places where God came to meet me on pilgrimage. The first experience of God’s abundance happened for me during our meeting with the students at Bethlehem University. I was moved in Spirit as I listened to their descriptions of how they overcame great obstacles to seek a better life for themselves through their university education. As we spoke about the negative effects of media portrayals of life in Palestine, I witnessed my personal biases about Palestinians formed by my media exposure dissolve as our encounter in dialogue continued. The stories of friendship, openness, and desire for peace spoken by both Christian and Muslim students filled me with a sense of hope that peace was truly possible. Closed in by the Israeli border wall that visibly divided communities and disrupted lives, I experienced great heaviness of heart and a sense of despair that questioned whether peace could ever be possible. It was to this darkness that God came, the God of light and hope, speaking words of peace and reconciliation. These words, testaments to God’s presence, are rarely conveyed to us in America when media portrayals of Palestinian people are created.
The second experience of God’s abundance happened for me at the Wailing Wall [the Western Wall]. This site, sacred to those of Jewish faith, provided me with a deep sense of God’s abiding presence. As I approached the wall, I could sense the millions of prayers that have been offered at this very site through the centuries. What was clear to me as I approached the wall was that there was only one prayer that wanted to pray – I asked God to bring peace to the land of His birth. It was a prayer formed from the experiences of a trip that showed firsthand the deep divisions that exist between people of faith. From the Israeli border wall that meanders over, around and through family properties and neighborhoods, to the Holy Sepulcher where people of shared faith try to overwhelm one another with the volume of their liturgical celebrations, it was clear that to me that peace was and is an overwhelming need for this holy land. It was within this prayer with my head resting on the ancient stones of this Temple wall that I experienced God’s presence fully alive to me.
Monsignor Rob Jaskot (from left), Father Martin Burnham and Father Chuck Wible pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem while on pilgrimage Oct. 15, 2010. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
The final experience of God’s abundance came to me as we walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee to celebrate our outdoor Mass. Throughout the pilgrimage, our guides continually spoke words of condition as they described the holy places that we visited. For instance, when describing the Church of the Visitation, we heard that “tradition has it” that this could be the place where Mary “may have lived” when the angel of the Lord came to her with his incredible news. These words of condition followed us on a majority of our pilgrimage, but they could not accompany us to the shores of Galilee. This lake was, is, and forever more shall be the Sea of Galilee, the same body of water upon which Jesus walked when he came to the disciples in their boat. Here God’s presence was palpable to me, and the Eucharist we celebrated that evening as a group was memorable.
I have returned from this pilgrimage a changed priest. Having walked in the footsteps of Jesus, my experience of Scripture will never again be the same. My experiences of God’s presence will carry me in the months and years ahead as my journey with God continues in my service to his people.
Father Martin Burnham
Pastor, St. Andrew by the Bay Parish, Annapolis
Oct. 25, 2010
October 25, 2010 04:47
By Christopher Gunty
Our final evening prayer was in the Church of St. Peter in Old Jaffa, where tradition says Peter healed Dorcas.
Finishing with prayer was a fitting way to end this marvelous pilgrimage through the land of Christ and his disciples.
Pray for our safe flight home.
- Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 21, 2010
October 21, 2010 01:04
By Christopher Gunty
By Christopher Gunty
Today’s travels centered around the Holy Family, and places where they might have lived. Many of these locations fall into the “traditional” or “legendary” designation, which means that there either is not much evidence to support the claim, or that more than one place makes a claim for the honor.
For example, last week in Jerusalem we visited a church that was said to be site of the home of St. Joachim and St. Ann, parents of Mary.
Bishop Denis J. Madden and the pilgrim priests gather around the altar in the Chapel of St, Joseph in Nazareth for Mass Oct. 17. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
Today, one of our stops was Sepphoris, traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Mary and therefore the home of Joachim and Ann. It’s not a suburb of Jerusalem. So how can this be? Our guide explained that when the Crusaders came through the Holy Land, they wanted a site that could be considered the home of Mary’s parents, so they “found” one. That may be a simplistic explanation, but as people in the region around our home know, there is no shortage of “George Washington slept here” locations, and many are hard to prove.
At Nazareth, we visited the church above the legendary site of the Annunciation and the nearby Chapel of St. Joseph, built in 1918. The church sits above what is believed to have been the site of the foster father of Jesus carpenter shop.
If Mary was indeed born in Sepphoris, and grew up there in Ann and Joachim’s home, perhaps she first encountered Joseph in the market there. Since Nazareth was a small town, the guide explained, there might have been few opportunities for Joseph to sell his wares in his hometown. But Sepphoris was a fairly wealthy town, evidenced by the mosaic floors found in the homes excavated there, rather than dirt or stone floors. A carpenter would have done well to make the journey to sell tables, chairs and other woodworks.
A statue of the Holy Family set into a wall near the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
The day’s sites on our pilgrimage also included a stop at Cana, site of Jesus’ first public miracle, and the start of his public ministry. On many pilgrimages, the couples in the group renew their marriage vows at the site. With a group of all priests (save this chronicler of the journey), instead Bishop Denis J. Madden, Baltimore auxiliary and spiritual leader, ended Evening Prayer in an open-air chapel in a courtyard at Cana by asking all the priests to join him the closing blessing. They invoked their blessing on my marriage (to Ann) and by proxy on all the couples they have married during their priesthood.
Mostly, our day gave us a chance to reflect on families, and how to be faithful to the call of God. As Bishop Madden noted at the beginning of the Mass in the morning when he asked the priests to breathe in the spirit of Joseph and Mary, “All they knew was that something would be expected of them. … Their life was constantly being tested in one way or another,” but they answered with fidelity to their call.
We all are called to do the same. We are all members of families, with all their good and bad times. We are all called to help our families holy and healthy. What have you done today to be faithful to that call, as were Joseph and Mary?
– Tiberius, Israel – October 19, 2010
Blogger's Note: The pilgrimage ends tomorrow, and there may not be a way to post on Thursday without internet access en route. Keep us in your prayers as we travel home.
October 20, 2010 01:36
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By Christopher Gunty