From January to March 2017 I was in the Holy Land with forty of my classmates from Mundelein Seminary. Nine weeks in the Holy Land! Most of the people we met were trying to squeeze everything we were doing in nine weeks into only nine or ten days. That must have been a whirlwind.
In some ways, though, I envy the people who were able to come in and out in such a quick time. Of course it was the trip of a lifetime; when else will I spend three weeks at the Sea of Galilee? But life in the Holy Land was pretty difficult for me. Imagine…the same forty people eating, praying, staying, studying, and traveling together in close quarters for nine weeks. It was a blessing to get to know so many of brother seminarians and now-brother deacons, but at times it was like being in a pressure cooker of fraternity. Moments of prayer and of peace were always welcome!
One of the deepest and most surprising moments of prayer occurred at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This is the last remaining wall of the Second Temple Mount in the Old City after it was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. The Temple Mount is Judaism’s most sacred spot. As I stood leaning against the wall, with my forehead and both hands resting upon it, everything else slowly faded away behind me and I was, for the first time in a while, really at peace. Then a short phrase popped into my head and began repeating: “God of my fathers and Lord of Mercy. God of my Father and Lord of Mercy. God of my fathers and Lord of Mercy.”
One of my favorite passages in the Gospel of Mark is the healing of the paralytic who is lowered to Jesus after his friends hacked through the roof for him, so that he could be close to Jesus and experience healing. (Mk 2:1-12)
Being in the Holy Land helped me to realize that the Patriarchs and prophets really are my fathers in faith, and that I belong to a patrimony, a family, of faith that has existed for a very long time. It is a source of great beauty, wonder, and awe for me to consider the many millions of spiritual mothers and fathers who have lived before and who, because they struggled and lived and kept this faith, have made it so that I might come to know Christ and his Church. These are the people who, by their faith and experience, have hacked through a roof that I might be brought to Jesus. If Moses gave up on the Israelites instead of suffering their rebukes in the desert, would I know Jesus? If Joseph would have given in to the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, would I know Jesus? If John the Baptist had focused on his own increase, would I know Jesus?
But these questions hit so much closer to home. If my extended family stopped believing in God after my great-great grandfather Cornelius Kiley mysteriously died in a Boston river, would I know Jesus? If my mom gave up the awful task of waking me up on Sunday mornings as a kid to go to Mass, would I know Jesus?
We come from a long line of patriarchs and prophets, of mothers and fathers who, like the people in Capernaum, knew they could find Jesus at home, in their midst. They knew that for Jesus, to be “at home” meant more than being in a physical place. In the exercise of his ministry, Jesus was truly “at home” in himself, confident and certain. Jesus is always certain when he deals with the ones he loves. He is cool, calm, collected, and ready to receive guests in the home of his heart. He is “the face”, Pope Francis says, “of the Father’s mercy,” of the mercy that has emanated from a God who has been eternally at home, confident and ready to receive his little ones even long before the incarnation.
The best part? Generations and generations of loved ones, yours and mine, have found rest and hope and a home in him. In the midst of their struggles and woes, they’ve gone to him and given themselves to him. I am so captivated by the thought of the people who have hacked through roofs, perhaps long ago, so that I could know Jesus. I find it totally plausible that some relative of mine in Austria, whose name I’ll never know, who lived perhaps 500 years ago endured a trial and crisis of faith, but chose to hang on and believe and because of him (or her!), the faith continues in my family. The faith and effort of so many before me have hacked through so many roofs and have dropped me, time and time again, at the feet of Jesus who, now as before, remains at home and ready to receive me.