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Mary Magdalene: the mislabeled woman

Some of the Salt + Light team went to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage. We had the opportunity to film reflections in various places of great importance. This is the text of a reflection was filmed at the Magdala Centre in Galilee. 

We are the Galilee region of Israel. Specifically, in Magdala, the same town that was home to Mary Magdalene, the woman we know as the apostle to the apostles. We know very little about the woman who is described as the apostle of the apostles, so this village helps fill in some background.

So far a first century synagogue has been unearthed, as well as paved streets, the ruins of mansions, and three ritual baths that used groundwater rather than rainwater. These few elements are quite important. These ritual baths are the first to be found that that used ground water instead of rainwater. This means Magdala has sophisticated plumbing. The paved streets and mosaics in the mansions, suggest wealth. Magdala seems to have been a thriving port city, at the forefront of commerce and culture. In its midst lived a woman named Mary.

This village tells us she was probably exposed to the world. From the Gospels we know she was a follower of Christ, she was at the crucifixion, she witnessed the resurrection, and she was the first person given the task of spreading the message of the resurrection. But how did she get there?

All four gospels refer to her as Mary Magdalene. Now, married women were described differently. For example: Mary the wife of Clopas, or Joanna the wife of Chuza. So we know Mary Magdalene was unattached. Three of the Gospels first introduce us to Mary Magdalene at the crucifixion. But Luke mentions here earlier. In Chapter 8 of his Gospel, Luke says:

“1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”

She is part of a group of women who provided for Jesus and the apostles “out of their own means”. So, she had her own money and because she was unattached, it was her own. Also, she is described as the one “from whom seven demons had gone out.” She’s not a sinner here, but someone who was possessed. In Jesus’ day that might have been what we call mental illness, depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Maybe it was addiction, or emotional problems caused by her past. Maybe she survived an abusive relationship and never healed. Whatever it was,it took over her, changed her personality, affected her daily life, kept her from having healthy relationships, maybe led her to make bad choices. At the very least was probably known in town as “that” Mary.

But then something happened. Probably right here in Magdala. We don’t have details but we can imagine it based on what we already know: Jesus the Nazarene came to the area to teach, probably even in this synagogue. A buzz would have built up in the region and in town people would have been talking about him. Maybe it took a little while before curiosity got the better of her, but finally one day, she quietly slipped into the crowd as he was teaching. Maybe she stuck to the back of the group, maybe she stayed in the shadows. She listened to him teaching and understood his message. His parables they wash over her like a healing balm, and sin into her soul. She looks around and sees people of all ages, backgrounds, professions, social standing gathered around this Man. He touched them, healed those who needed healing, accepted them and showed them love. As she takes this in, he looks straight at her. That gaze. Without words, without anyone else in the crowd knowing what is happening, he says “I know. This is not you. I know.” After he finished teaching perhaps she approached him. He didn’t treat her like “that” Mary, he wasn’t afraid to be seen talking to her. He gazed at her without fear, without derision, He spoke to her like a normal person, an equal, and maybe even invited her to come along with him to his next stop. It was done. He was the real deal. He wanted nothing from her but to tell her of the Father’s love for her. Maybe she tried to explain “no, no, you don’t want me to follow you, I’m a bad deal” but he didn’t care. She was his father’s creation and deeply loved.

Whatever her demons were, anxiety, depression, addiction, it stopped there. Life had meaning again. She had a purpose. She was loved. Whatever she had in Magdala she packed up, maybe sold, maybe gave away, and embarked on a new life, following Jesus. Her meeting Jesus changed her life forever and set her on a new path. She would do anything, anything, to make sure other people met him face to face.Because of that meeting in Magdala, some years later Mary finds herself at the foot of the cross. Even though meeting Jesus changed her forever, it did not mean life would always be all roses. The worst thing she can imagine comes to pass. This man who changed her life is killed, hung on a cross to die. She stands at the foot of the cross, weeps, takes comfort from the other women also at the foot of his cross. When he breathes his last, she is there,watching. When his body is taken down and carried off to the tomb, she is there. She stays away on the sabbath because she must. She locks herself away with the apostles, with Our Lady, bides her time. But then, she can’t stand it any longer. On the third day after his death, she must go to him. She rises early and goes to the tomb. Some of the Gospels say she went with the other women to anoint the body. The point is, in all four Gospels Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. She finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Again, each Gospel tells it slightly differently, but the common point is she meets someone who tells her “he is not here” and then, it clicks. This is what Jesus had been talking about, the temple that would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days! He is risen. She rushes back to the place where the apostles are locked up together, wallowing in their fear. She bursts through the door and breathlessly exclaims “I have seen the Lord!” They freeze, look up, see the joy on her face. Maybe she repeats it again, “I have seen the Lord” and then continues to tell them what she saw and what he said to her. They are at peace.

Mary Magdalene, the once off-kilter woman with problems, is their apostle. She brings them the message they have been waiting for, the one thing they have been waiting to hear since that horrible, horrible day at Golgotha. The woman with the seven demons is the very person who instinctively seeks and recognizes the face of God and through that search and encounter, becomes the very person He created her to be.

Alicia Ambrosio is an English producer for Salt + Light. Follow her on Twitter!

The Living Stones of Qubeibeh (cont.) – #SLPilgrimage

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Our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land offered the chance to visit the ancient sites where key events in our faith story took place, and meet people living there today who are making sure those sites do not become museums. Visiting Qubeibeh, the West Bank, we met the Salvatorian sister who helped found the Qubeibeh satellite campus for Bethlehem University’s Faculty of Nursing.

The faculty exists because Sr. Hildegard Enzenhofer, the superior of the Salvatorian sisters home in Qubeibeh, realized that the best way to help all the people of the village was to give them education.

Yet the sisters work to help empower the people of Qubeibeh is not limited to either the home for elderly and disabled women they run, or the nursing faculty they helped launch. The sisters also run a cooperative for local women.

Learning a craft and selling their wares helps local women be self-reliant but most importantly gives them a sense of purpose and worth in a village where there is not always a lot for a woman to aspire to. (Talking to our group in the cooperative’s gift store, Sr. Hildegard told us of more than one young nursing student who had to convince her father to allow her to study nursing instead of marrying the man her father had chosen for her).

The products on sale in the cooperative’s shop are a mix of the predictable, the unique and the breathtaking. In one of the the shop’s two rooms the olive wood carvings and ornaments that are a staple in local souvenir shops are displayed along with a mix of products from the sister’s own land. Olive oil soaps fill display baskets and bottles of the purest, greenest, most fragrant olive oil this side of the mediterranean are on offer. Five euros buys a half litre plastic bottle of the liquid gold that travels easily and, though it doesn’t have any labels or endorsements, is probably the best example of a fair trade product one will ever find.  A second room shows off a selection of hand embroidered items: everything from coin purses, to ipad covers and table linens adorn the walls of the shop. The colours are fantastic, the prices are a little higher than the average souvenir shop, but well worth the meticulous, hand-crafted quality.   

Of course, for the cooperative to generate any income, let alone enough to sustain its members, it needs customers. That is no small challenge in a hilltop village that is accessible only through an Israeli checkpoint in Ramallah. (Ramallah lies about 21 kilometers north of Jerusalem, while Qubeibeh is about 12 kilometers northwest of Jerusalem)

Sr. Hildegard is nothing if not practical. She understood quickly the cooperative’s success depended on incoming visitors. She used her connections with the Austrian Embassy to have the cooperative’s products sent to Austria so they could be sold by the sisters in that country. But for the cooperative to really work, people needed to be able to see the village for themselves; see the hillsides, feel the remoteness of the land. One thing stood in her way – the separation wall and its checkpoint.

The checkpoint closest to the sister’s home is not one generally open to tour buses. Sr. Hildegard worked up the courage to ask how she might go about getting permission have tour buses with pilgrims through that checkpoint. (The alternative is checkpoint in Ramallah and a long, winding drive on mountain roads). She eventually got permission to approach the appropriate military authority to make her request.  

“Everything in life is about relationships, so before I went, I made an Austrian cake and took it with me,” Sr. Hildegard recalls. Cake in hand, she gently pursued her goal of winning the trust of Israeli officials and getting permission for pilgrim tour buses to come through the checkpoint nearest Qubeibeh.

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“Many cakes and cups of coffee later, I was given permission to have one bus come through that checkpoint to visit us,” she says smiling. She was given a fax number to which she was to send a list including the full names and passport details of every person who would be on that bus. She made up the list and went to her fax machine to send off the required document, “but a voice came over the line saying something strange. It said I was not allowed to call that number from my current location,” she recalls.

Undeterred, Sr. Hildegard travelled into Jerusalem to use a friend’s fax machine. (Being a foreigner Sr. Hildegard does not need special permission to cross into Jerusalem). Although it was more complicated than she originally envisioned, she had the permission she sought. Every time a group wanted to come visit the sisters she would go through the same routine: ask for permission, make up the list with the visitor’s personal details, travel into Jerusalem, use a friend’s fax machine, travel back to Qubeibeh.

Time passed, many more Austrian cakes were baked and cups of coffee were shared. Finally Sr. Hildegard told her Israeli contacts “most of life is done by e-mail now. Is there some way I could do this by e-mail too?” They agreed and provided her with an email address to which she should send the information the required in order for her visitors to pass through the checkpoint. They send her an email with a form with she could fill out, “but nothing in life is ever so easy” she says. When she tried to download the form and print it in order to fill it out, it printed as a blank page. Undeterred, she adapted to the situation “I just filled it out online and e-mailed it back without downloading” she said.

Today Sr. Hildegard is able to ensure that visitors come to Qubeibeh to see the village from the sister’s hilltop location, and visit the gift shop that helps support the women of this enclosed village. Her many cakes and cups of coffee shared with the people who control movement through the checkpoints ensure that the women of Qubeibeh have hope for their future.

To Wail or Not to Wail – #SLPilgrimage

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Have you ever wondered why they call it the Wailing Wall? It’s evident as soon as you get closer to it and make your way through the faithful standing before it, finding just enough space to press your hand against its cold brick to pray. During Salt and Light’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land in February, each of us had the opportunity to do just that. I glanced over to the women on my left and right and noticed their positions: heads bowed and prayer book in hand, they swayed back and forth, reciting prayers under their breath. Some…were crying. Deeply moved by what I saw and feeling privileged to be praying so closely to women of a different faith, I cried too. A lot. Not such a strange name for a wall after all.

But the Wailing Wall has another name. It is better known as the Western Wall, since it is one of the last remaining walls of the Temple built by Herod in 19 B.C. It was burned by the Romans in 70 A.D and, since its destruction, Jews have flocked to the remains of the Temple to pray. The Western Wall has become one of the holiest places in Jewish tradition because of its proximity to what used to be the place in which God dwelt within the Temple. That place was called the Holy of Holies or the Ark of the Covenant. In Jewish tradition, Abraham would have offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God on Temple Mount, or Mount Moriah, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque now stands.

Traditionally, the Jewish people go pray at the Wall, day and night, to lament the destruction of the Temple and over a city they consider holy. That is where the name “Wailing Wall” comes from. In French, we use the term “Mur des Lamentations” which translates literally to “Wall of Lament”. The Jewish people therefore lament over the destruction of a place they considered to be the holiest place. Yet that cry over the destruction of a place where the Jewish people feel at home, where God is closest to them, resonates in other parts of the world. While at the Wall, I was reminded of those who are scattered because of other kinds of destruction, and in particular because of violence and the threat of war. At the Wall, I was particularly conscious I was in the Middle East. We were far enough to be safe from the kind of violence encountered in countries bordering Israel and yet close enough to experience the frailty of the place, of its borders, of the relations between Christians and Jews and Muslims, between the government and its people, between Palestinians and Israelis…In these situations, reconciliation seemed out of reach.

In the Old Testament, the psalmist cries out to God:

“Out of the depths I have cried to Thee O Lord! Lord, hear my voice. Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication […] let Israel hope in the Lord. For with the Lord there is mercy; and with Him plentiful Redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord! And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace” (Psalm 130).

This is only one of many psalms depicting humanity’s deepest prayer to God. Even Jesus, at the hour of his death, uttered the words of Psalm 21 “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” which we read each year on Palm Sunday. Despite the psalmist’s powerful prayer to God, is there any hope for the people of the Holy Land to live in peace? Yet God is present to His people. And He reminds us of His proximity, His love, and His favor for us everywhere.

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When Pope Francis went to Israel in 2014, he made a powerful gesture in front of the Western Wall. He was accompanied by close friends he met as a bishop in Argentina: a Rabbi and a Muslim professor. After praying at the Wall, he embraced them and later on stressed the need for mutual respect and love between people of all faiths, working for “peace and justice”, and treating everyone as brothers and sisters. He also left a note wedged between the stones of the Wall – a common practice among pilgrims – on which he wrote the Our Father, a daily prayer reminding us that God is active in our life right now, giving us everything we need to overcome the struggles of the day-to-day. Overcoming division, then, happens in just that, the day-to-day. It happens between people and as Pope Francis perfectly summed up, “Before the mystery of God we are all poor”.

 

“To See What Jesus Saw” with People in Holy Land – #SLPilgrimage

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Lent is a time of penance, a period for us to refresh our faith with God. This year, I had an unforgettable time during lent and it took part in the Holy Land.  

From Feb 25th to Mar 6th, I had the opportunity to follow Salt + Light on a pilgrimage, led by Fr. Thomas Rosica, to the Holy Land. On our first day, our local tour guide Usama said, “You are not only in the Holy Land, but you can also see what Jesus saw.” At that moment, I told myself, “Yes! I will treasure every moment of the trip and open my heart to experience what Jesus saw.”

The most beautiful part of this pilgrimage was being able to meet with people like Jesus. From the bible, we all know that Jesus met so many people (including the disciples) from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem. We did the same thing.

I try to think about what Jesus did when he met someone for the first time. He must fulfill what he taught to us, “Be the first one to love!” Therefore, I loved talking to those pilgrims whom I had never met before. This is the first step to experience what Jesus did in this land. Also, this is the mission of the Church, “Go out and spread the good news to one another.” After that, we all build up very good relationships and friendships in those ten days, regardless of the age difference and where we were from no matter where we from. We are all in ONE Family, ONE Church with ONE Lord.

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On this journey, Fr. Rosica not only brought us to the touch the land of Jericho, Mount Nebo, the tree on the Mount of Olives, the rock of Peter’s Primacy, the water in the Sea of Galilee and Jordan river, the birth place of Jesus, the Church of Holy Sepulchre, the empty tomb of Jesus, etc., but he also brought us to visit the local people who are living in the Holy Land, so that we too can be touched by the local people who were keen to share their stories and dreams with us.

One example of this was the opportunity to visit Bethlehem Pontifical University in Palestine. I could see a visible sign of Hope from the students in there. During the visit, we had a lunch and met with the students who were either Christians or Muslims. They were very welcoming to us. During our conversation with them, I realized there was a joy that sprung from what they believed in. Although they came from different religious, there was peace there. They are the hope that springs from peace.

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I asked them a question, “What is your dream after gradation?” They all answered me from their heart. Some wished to have a job which is related to what they are studying, and also the freedom of Palestine. For those who were born in Palestine, it is not easy for them to go to anywhere, as  they are surrounded by the ‘wall.’ Let us pray for them, pray for the youth, pray for peace, and pray for the freedom of Palestine.

On a different note, one of the most famous pieces of art from the Holy Land is the ICON which we use often in Taize prayer. It is a window for you to communicate with God. We visited a beautiful little church located on “Palm Sunday Road” where the monastery of the Benedictine Sisters is located. Sr. Marie-Paul Farran, O.S.B. is 84 years old and she shared with us her beautiful story of being an icon maker. Sometimes it takes her three to six months to draw an icon after meditation. She also explained the colour and the scriptures associated with different icons. I loved what she shared at the end – an icon is revelation, however, we are an icon, the icon of GOD and we have to act out the love of God.

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To see what Jesus saw. The bible unfolded in front of my eyes every day in Holy Land. It felt like every day was Sunday as the bible readings were repeated to me. After this trip, I realize more than before that we also can see what Jesus saw anytime. How? The answer is on my desk. Pick up the bible and read it. It is the best way to learn and to walk with Jesus. I would like to invite all of you to open the bible with me and to begin our blessed journey with Jesus everyday.

Thanks be to God for granting us a safe and blessed journey.

Thank you for your prayer! I am sure that this blessed journey could not happen without your prayer.  

Let’s keep praying for each other. Let us be the salt of the earth, the light of the world together.

“Shalom, chaverim,Shalom, chaverim,
Shalom, shalom;
L’hitra’ot,L’hitra’ot,
Shalom, shalom.
Shalom, o my friends,Shalom, o my friends,
Shalom, shalom;Till we meet again,Till we meet again,
Shalom, shalom.”

Mount of the Beatitudes – #SLPilgrimage

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Our first few days in the Holy Land granted us full and beautiful access to the Mount of the Beatitudes Church, the guest house located on the property and the incredible landscapre. For each of the days we stayed at the guest house, Lou-Kevin and Jay — the cameramen — and myself would get up at 5:00 am in order to capture shots of the sun rising from the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It was a majestic vista, providing an incredible view of one the most ordinary things in world: the dawn of a new day. Of course, it is cliche to mention now how we don’t take nearly enough advantage of enjoying God’s creation (especially at that ungodly hour!), but the cliche holds true: it is usually in the most ordinary, simple things where we find the splendour, the wonder and the sheer magnificence of being human. The joy of being made in the image and likeness of God as a steward of His created, natural world.
Perhaps the most arresting thing of being atop the hill at that time was the sound of the animals. Birds, mostly, but it was as if a whole exotic zoo were laid out in front of us; invisible, but allowing us a privileged audience to their impromptu symphony. There were so many individual calls that I had never heard before — shrills and caws and tweets — that I will probably never hear again, yet the echo of which resonates in my memory. Moreover, it helps to hear Jesus’ words from the Gospel alongside the soundtrack of those birds and animals in the background, since this helps me realize that there is no difference, really, from the time Jesus walked the earth to now. In truth, there is no difference in the lessons and the people who surrounded Jesus, yearning to hear Him amongst the flora and fauna of that time, then there is in the people who live to hear His message today, wherever they may reside.

Mount of the Beatitudes – View of the Church of the Beatitudes

Mount of the Beatitudes – View of the sun rising

Reflections from the Holy Land – The Last Supper

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Salt + Light made a pilgrimage on the footsteps of Jesus in the heart of Lent and offers us reflections of the holy places we visited.
In this meditation we meet at the Cenacle in Jerusalem where Jesus shared one last meal with his friends. During this Last Supper, we are confronted with Christ’s radical humility. It directs us towards his ultimate humiliation at the time of his Passion. But in this lowering he reveals to us the “real face” of God, as Pope Francis once pointed out, a face of love and mercy.

The Living Stones of Quebeibeh – #SLPilgrimage

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Fr. Rosica with one of the residents of Qubeibeh.

The unofficial theme of Salt + Light’s 12 day pilgrimage to the Holy Land was “Living Stones.” For every biblical site visited, there was a visit to a place where Christians are currently putting the Gospel into action. The combination of the ancient and new Christian holy sites proved to be both jarring and edifying. One of these visits took place in Qubeibeh, a Palestinian village in the West Bank.  

Qubeibeh is home to a church that commemorates Jesus walking to Emmaus with two disciples. It is also home to the Salvatorian sisters home for abandoned women.  

The Church of the Breaking of the Bread is a under the care of the Custody of the Holy Land. Because of its location behind Israeli checkpoints, few visitors come here.  

Just down the road Sister Hildegard and her fellow sisters run a home for elderly or disabled women, many of whom have been abandoned by their families. The sisters also run a cooperative to help local women make a living. In addition, Sr. Hildegard established a satellite campus of Bethlehem University’s Faculty of Nursing. With the Salvatorian sisters the women of Qubeibeh rediscover their dignity, find affection and purpose in their lives regardless of their background or family situation.

Seeing the Salvatorian sisters at work was eye opening, but it wasn’t until Sr. Hildegard Enzenhofer shared the story of how it all came to be that we felt our hearts burning within us.

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Emilie with Sr. Hildegard.

The existence of the Faculty of Nursing in Qubeibeh can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit. 

Sr. Hildegard used to visit a woman who lived in a cave because she had been disowned by her family after she gave birth to five daughters. The sisters gave the woman and her daughters food, friendship and basic supplies. One day the woman said to Sr. Hildegard, “Food is good, but the best help you could give us is education.”

These words stayed with Sr. Hildegard in the way that only words from the Holy Spirit tend to do. She approached the, then-brand new, vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University. He loved the idea but like Sr. Hildegard didn’t know where to start. A providential conversation with a stranger while waiting for a friend in Jerusalem open the door to UN development funding for the school.  Soon qualified professors appeared out of the woodwork in Qubeibeh.

Still, Sr. Hildegard proceeded with cautious optimism. She explains, “we started building in February (2006), we had our first classes in August, but I bought only 25 chairs. I thought it better to start small and expand as needed. So we took our first computer out of the box in December.”

From the very beginning the board of directors emphasized that the faculty was open to women and men, Christians and Muslims. That led some families to decide against enrolling their daughters, “but this also is education,” says Sr. Hildegard defending the school’s unwavering co-ed policy. After several years of operation the school’s board of directors established a scholarship for a Bedouin girl – no small feat considering most Bedouins do not educate their daughters. It was a challenge to find a Bedouin girl with a high school education and another challenge to convince her father to allow her to attend a co-ed nursing school. But the girl’s education was such a boon for the family her father eventually approached the sisters saying “You know, I have another daughter…”  

Today the Qubeibeh Faculty of Nursing boasts a 98% employment rate among graduates. That is a commendable rate for any university. But when you consider that the overall unemployment rate in the Palestinian territories is 27 percent rising to 40 percent for young men and 63 percent for young women, the success rate in Qubeibeh is astonishing.

The Faculty of Nursing is not the only project the Salvatorian sisters have had a hand in making flourish in Qubeibeh. They focus on helping all women in the region, not the univeristy aged. But that is whole different story.

Emmaus Reflection – Fr. Rosica

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At Emmaus (El Qubeibeh), a village in the West Bank of Palestine that commemorates one of the sites where Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt and Light Television Network teaches about the Emmaus story to a group of Canadian and American pilgrims in the Franciscan Church of the Breaking of the Bread on March 3, 2016.

The pilgrim group also visited the neighboring Home for the Aged in the small village of El Qubeibeh to experience the Lord’s presence alive amidst abandoned elderly women from several places in the Middle East. This home is administered by the Sisters of the Divine Savior (Salvatorian Sisters).

The Home of Joseph, the Just One in Nazareth – A Reflection on the Feast of St. Joseph

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The house of Nutrition, Nazareth

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

One of the highlights of our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land was the time spent in Nazareth and the visit to the excavations under the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth. While Nazareth is well known for the imposing Basilica of the Annunciation, built over the grotto of the Annunciation to Mary, and entrusted to the care of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, less known are the fascinating excavations under the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth just across the street from the Annunciation Basilica. The relatively unknown site of the Sisters of Nazareth has revealed a house dating to the first century and now thought to be the place where Jesus was brought up by Mary and Joseph. The house is partly made of mortar-and-stone walls, and was cut into a rocky hillside. These excavations are slowly coming to be recognized as the “House and Church of the Nutrition” (where the Holy Family settled and lived) and the nearby tomb of the Just One of Nazareth, St. Joseph.

The first excavations at the convent date back to 1884. At that time, the sisters were repairing a cistern in their cellar when they uncovered some ancient stonework, which turned out to be an underground room with a vault. The Sisters and the young girls at their school, with some workmen, dug further, and unearthed other stone structures, including two rock-cut tombs. In 1936, when Jesuit priest Henri Senès, who was an architect before becoming a priest, visited the site, he recorded in great detail the structures the Sisters had uncovered in their basement. His work remained unpublished and so it was unknown to anyone but the Sisters and the people who visited their convent. The famous Italian Franciscan archeologist, Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti (1905-1990), who investigated the site in 1937, thought the whole complex consisted of tombs. That was the opinion of most experts at that time. It seemed impossible that a Jewish house could have been built near a tomb because Jewish purity laws would have forbidden it.

In 2006, the Sisters granted the Nazareth Archaeological Project full access to the site, including Fr. Senès drawings and notes, which they had carefully stored. Archaeologists led by Ken Dark, a professor at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, and other archaeologists surveyed the site, and by combining their findings, a new analysis of Fr. Senès’ findings, notes from the Sisters’ earlier excavations and other information, reconstructed the development of the site from the first century to the present. They dated the house to the first century, and identified it as the place where people, who lived centuries after Jesus’ time, believed Jesus was raised by Mary and Joseph. “Was this the house where Jesus grew up? It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds,” Professor Dark wrote in an article published in the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review. “On the other hand, there is no good archaeological reason why such an identification should be discounted.”

Professor Dark and his team have uncovered evidence of a Crusader-era church, as well as an earlier Byzantine one, all built over the first-century stone structure. They discovered that centuries after Jesus lived, the Church of the Nutrition was built around this house and the two adjacent tombs, but the church fell into disuse in the eighth century. It was rebuilt in the 12th century, when Crusaders controlled the area, only to be burnt down in the 13th century. Both the tombs and the house were decorated with mosaics in the Byzantine period, suggesting that they were of special importance, and possibly venerated by pilgrims.

Professor Dark became convinced that this structure was venerated as the home of the Holy Family. He also discovered that the tombs were cut into the walls of the house and must have been built after it was abandoned; this would not conflict with Jewish purity laws. In fact Dark found that the rock tombs on each side of the structure precisely match a detail mentioned in the pilgrim account of Arculf, a French bishop who visited the Church of the Nutrition in the year 670 and mentioned in his pilgrimage account a church “where once there was the house in which the Lord was nourished in his infancy.” This led Dark to believe it is the same church described in Arculf’s account.

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The Tomb of Joseph, Nazareth

The tomb adjacent to the first-century house is today commonly called ‘the Tomb of the Just One,’ and it was certainly venerated in the Crusader period, so perhaps they thought it was the tomb of St. Joseph.

I would like to borrow from my new profession of television production and zoom in on St. Joseph on his feast day – March 19. To “zoom” in on the foster father of the Lord gives us some profound insights into the family background of our Savior and the place where he may have been raised in Nazareth. Joseph is often overshadowed by the glory of Christ and the purity of Mary. But he, too, waited for God to speak to him and then responded with obedience. Luke and Matthew both mark Joseph’s descent from David, the greatest king of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38). Scripture has left us with the most important knowledge about him: he was “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:18).

Joseph was a compassionate, caring man. When he discovered Mary was pregnant after they had been engaged, he knew the child was not his but was as yet unaware that she was carrying the Son of God. He planned to divorce Mary according to the law but he was concerned for her suffering and safety. Joseph was also a man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome. When the angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth about the child Mary was carrying, Joseph immediately and without question or concern for gossip, took Mary as his wife. When the angel came again to tell him that his family was in danger, he immediately left everything he owned, all his family and friends, and fled to a strange country with his young wife and the baby. He waited in Egypt until the angel told him it was safe to go back (Matthew 2:13-23). Holy Family Statue Nazareth

We are told that Joseph was a carpenter, (more likely a builder), a man who worked to provide for his family. Joseph wasn’t a wealthy man, for when he took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons, allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb.

Joseph revealed in his humanity the unique role of fathers to proclaim God’s truth by word and deed. His paradoxical situation of “foster father to Jesus” draws attention to the truth about fatherhood, which is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children. He was keenly aware, as every father should be, that he served as the representative of God the Father.

Joseph protected and provided for Jesus and Mary. He named Jesus, taught him how to pray, how to work, how to be a man. While no words or texts are attributed to him, we can be sure that Joseph pronounced two of the most important words that could ever be spoken when he named his son “Jesus” and called him “Emmanuel.” When the child stayed behind in the Temple we are told Joseph (along with Mary) searched with great anxiety for three days for him (Luke 2:48).

Joseph’s life reminds us that a home or community is not built on power and possessions but goodness; not on riches and wealth, but on faith, fidelity, purity and mutual love.

Visiting the extraordinary excavations at the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth, I cannot help but think of Joseph’s key role in salvation history, how he loved his wife, Mary, and how he taught his son so many things. The entire circumstances surrounding the discovery of the excavations in Nazareth, revealing what may indeed be the home of the Holy Family and the final resting place of St. Joseph, is a deeply moving experience and an opportunity to remember this quiet, humble, just servant of the Lord who still has much to teach us today.
The present challenges to fatherhood and masculinity cannot be understood in isolation from the culture in which we live. The effect of fatherlessness on children is deeply alarming. How many young people today have been affected by the crisis of fatherhood and paternity! How many have been deprived of a father or grandfather in their life?

It is not for naught that St. Joseph is patron of the Universal Church and principal patron of Canada. If there was ever a time when we needed a strong, holy, male role model who is a father, it is our time. And the feast of the St. Joseph this year is a very significant day to go to Joseph and beg him to send us good fathers who will head families. Joseph and Mary, more than anyone else, were the first to behold the glory of their One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Let us pray that we may imitate the humble worker from Nazareth, who listened to the Lord, treasured a gift that was not his, all the while modeling to Jesus how our own words must become flesh each day of our lives. From Nazareth’s latest discoveries, may we learn from Joseph’s example of transforming our own homes and communities into houses and centres of “nutrition” where we feed not only the body but the soul of each and every person who comes to us.

For more information:

The Antiquaries Journal,

EARLY ROMAN-PERIOD NAZARETH AND THE SISTERS OF NAZARETH CONVENT

http://subcreators.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Dark-Sisters-of-Nazareth.pdf

 

Jerusalem: A journey for three faiths – #SLPilgrimage

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Some of the Salt + Light team are in the Holy Land on pilgrimage. We are also preparing something special for you to watch in the near future. Stay tuned! In the meantime, here is the text of a reflection that was recorded in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, founded in the IV millennium B.C. This city has seen so many challenges in its history. It was destroyed twice, besieged twenty three times, attacked fifty two and reconquered 44 times.  Somehow she always rebuilt herself and attracted people from all over the world to journey to her in pilgrimage.

This sense of pilgrimage is in the foundations of this city.  A city three times holy; three different faiths find here sites important to their history. Because of that Jews, Muslims and Christians journey here every day to meet God.

Jerusalem is holy for Jews because King David made her the capital of Israel in the x century B.C. Jerusalem was where the Temple of Solomon and the Second Temple were located, and the western wall is the remnant of the exterior wall of the temple. It is said to be the most holy place for the Jewish faith. All synagogues around the world are built with the Aron Kodesh, the place where the Torah is kept, turned to Jerusalem. All daily prayers are done facing Jerusalem and many Jews have Mizrach plaques hung in their houses to indicate the direction of Jerusalem.

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For us Christians Jerusalem is the place where Christ finished his journey of salvation. He was triumphantly welcomed to this city. He preached here and was crucified. Here most significantly is where he rose from the dead. So we Christians believe that this is the center of our faith. When we journey here we feel closer to Christ. We can almost see him carrying the cross on the Via Dolorosa and we have a sense that we can touch everything we believe in.

For Muslims, Jerusalem is sacred because they believe that Mohamed journeyed here. He came to a rock that is under that golden cupola. From there he rose to heaven and saw God himself.  This makes Jerusalem the third most important city for the Muslim faith after Mecca and Medina.

This sense of journey is present in all of these three faiths:  the journey of the people of Israel to the promise land, the Journey of Christ to his death and resurrection, and the journey of Mohammed to rise to heaven and meet God. But a bigger journey brings the believers here to Jerusalem: their own life journey. We and any of our Jewish or Muslim brothers trust God to be with us every step of the way and for Him to point us in the right direction when the challenges of life are more difficult.

Coming here is coming on a quest to find God himself to allow him to touch our lives so we can feel more close to him.

This journey is not different because we are Muslim, Christian or Jewish.  We all have the ultimate goal to one day meet God face to face and experience the joy of eternity. When we come here we come to walk closer to God and maybe taste what we will experience when one day when we are in fact in presence of God.

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Muslims, Christians and Jews come here to Jerusalem because they know that God loves us and they come to find themselves because we all know only in God’s presence we will find out who we really are. If we all journey with the same goal maybe that means we are all together on our path to God and God loves us all.

So coming here to Jerusalem for any of these three faiths is a sacred journey.  It is a journey to find God and in the end a journey to find themselves.

Because this Holy City It is common to all three faiths it means that we all journey to God together. It’s almost like god is telling us that faith should not be a barrier between us.

Here we all come to meet God our own way and we all aspire to feel the same closeness to Him. We all come here to find Him at the end of our journey.