Gunty is associate publisher/editor of the Catholic Review.

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Family of 7 would like to go from Our Lady of the Mountains in Cumberland, MD.

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I would love to go. Planning on taking my granddaughter. She is 11.

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Locusts and wild honey, or chocolate-covered grasshoppers?

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. (Mt 3:1-6)

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.

Christopher Gunty 12/7/2010

December 07, 2010 11:47
By Christopher Gunty


Father Paschal's reflection: Called to spread the Word

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. – CG 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


Rock of ages

By Christopher Gunty The Catholic Review

Sunday, Oct. 17, the group found its way to one of the seven New Wonders of the World, Petra (rock), a city formed in the rock canyons in southern Jordan. Many people will recognize part of Petra, the façade of the Treasury especially, from the first Indiana Jones movie. The site is stunning for its beauty and its archeological significance. It’s a lot of walking, but well worth it, and the trip provided an opportunity for a bit of levity for those who dared. A few of the group climbed into the saddle of a horse (led by a guide, so it took no previous riding experience) for the trip partway down to the Treasury or back. And once there, a few also hopped on a camel’s back for a ride in a short circle (slightly larger than the route of a pony ride at a county fair). [slideshow]

Still, the adventure of a camel ride is not so much the ride, as getting up and down, as camels are fairly ungainly in the manner in which they rise, first to their knees and then all the way up, one end of the camel at a time. The rider must lean backward and forward in the opposite direction for balance. Monsignor Robert Armstrong misplaced his hat, and could not go without something to cover his head in the hot sun. He picked up a Bedouin shepherd’s head covering, though he said he doesn’t have plans to become a sheep-herder. Actually, the retired rector of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen may have missed his calling: he has already been a pastor for many decades, and that’s a shepherd of a flock of a different sort. – Petra, Jordan, October 17, 2010

October 18, 2010 12:37
By Christopher Gunty


Father Kevin’s reflection: Mary is accompany the pilgrimage

I asked the priests in the group to share their some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Redemptorist Father Kevin Milton. – CG

We arrived in Jerusalem Oct. 12. Our first Mass occurred there at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. In the sacristy, I came across a picture of Mary that I have known from my earliest days, an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Immediately, I felt deeply within that Mary will accompany me on this pilgrimage. And not only with me but also with all those whom I love and are loved.

A statue of Our Lady of Fatima graces the chapel at Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty

A few days later this became more apparent to me when we journeyed to Mount Nebo. It was there that God showed Moses the overpowering view of the land below where God’s people would inherit the land. In the small chapel there, we celebrated another Mass. It contained one image of Mary: Our Lady of Fatima. Another renewed friendship on our pilgrimage was forged. This privileged pilgrimage is not just for me but for all the people I am called by God to serve – to share with them the vision God has for them. Mary is always there. She will continue to help me understand more deeply that all of us are on a privileged pilgrimage together to the new and eternal promised land of heaven. Rev. Kevin Milton, C.Ss.R. Pastor, Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Baltimore Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 18, 2010 12:19
By Christopher Gunty


Shall we gather at the river?

By Christopher Gunty The Catholic Review

Saturday, on the road from Jerusalem and Jericho in Israel to Petra, in Jordan, our intrepid pilgrims stopped by the Jordan River and the place where John the Baptist is believed to have baptized our Lord. The site where the actual baptism probably took place has the ruins of three Byzantine churches dating back over the centuries. But no water there. We were told that the river was much wider and the area more verdant 2,000 years ago. The river is now a bit of a walk away. Some new churches either are being built in the area or have been completed recently, including a Greek Orthodox church that opened in 2003. Jordan is clearly hoping the site becomes a major pilgrimage destination, with construction under way on a convention and visitors center due to be completed by the end of this year. The Jordan River now winds its way near the original baptism site, and the bells of the Greek Orthodox church greeted our group just as we walked the last part of the trail to the stairs that lead down to a place for pilgrims to access the river. At this point, the river is not more than 20 feet wide, and the fresh water doesn’t seem to be flowing very quickly, at least not at this time of the year. Visitors have the option to go down a few steps, right to the water level, and dip in their hand, or their feet. You can fill a bottle with water from the river, and many do (maybe that’s why the river isn’t as wide as it used to be).

Father Martin Burnham blesses himself with water from the Jordan River near the site where John baptized Jesus. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)

Priests in our group took a chance to dip in their hands and bless themselves. Some coated their whole head with the water – from the same source that baptized our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 3:13-17, Mk 1:9-11, Lk 3:21-22 and Jn 1:29-34). Many took some water back and at least one plans to bless it in time for baptisms at the next Easter Vigil. I blessed myself with the river water, and took the opportunity to say a prayer for three people important to me. No dove came down, no voice from the sky proclaimed the news: “This is my beloved son, in him I am well pleased.” But Bill, Amy and Tim are my children, and like Jesus’ Father, I, too, am well pleased with mine. Many blessings on you, kiddos. – Bethany beyond the Jordan, October 16, 2010

October 17, 2010 03:26
By Christopher Gunty