Today was a very exciting day. We began with a visit to one of my favorite biblical towns, the city of Capernaum. If there was any place that you could say that Jesus had as a home during his public ministry, this is it. This was also the home of St. Peter. The modern church that stands at the site today is built above the 1st century ruins of St. Peter’s house. There is a glass floor in the bottom of the church so you can look down and see the ruins. A church has stood in this location since the 4th century and these ruins are also visible. As we celebrated Mass here in this church I thought of the ruins below me and all the people who had celebrated Mass here over the centuries. I thought of the early beginnings of the Church at St. Peter’s house. What a special place.
After Mass we toured the ruins of the city. The most famous site is the synagogue. The ruins visible today are from the 4th century, but this synagogue is built rite on top of the original 1st century synagogue. The foundations of this original building are still visible. I have been looking forward to visiting Capernaum for such a long time. It was here in this very synagogue where Jesus gave his famous Bread of Life discourse and taught about the Eucharist (John 6:59). This synagogue is also special because we have an account of the man who built it. When the slave of a Roman centurion from Capernaum is sick he sends the apostles to Jesus who tell him, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:5-6). With many of these biblical sites you can’t really be sure you’re at the place where the event took place. However, I knew today that I was definitely standing in the location of the 1st century synagogue of Capernaum and I could imagine Jesus teaching here. I wanted to stay here all day and meditate, but had hardly any time at all before we had to move on. I will have to return here many times in my memory in the future.
From Capernaum we continued on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee to Tabgha, the traditional site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Luke 9:12-17). Here there is the rock upon which Jesus is said to have placed the loaves and fishes, as well as a famous 4th century mosaic which you see everywhere around Israel. Just a couple hundred yards from this spot is a church dedicated to the primacy of Peter. This is the traditional spot where Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, standing on the shore. He had cooked breakfast for them. It is here that Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep and places him in charge of his new flock of Christians. The rock in this church is labeled “Mensa Christi” or “Table of Christ” because Jesus and the disciples used this as their breakfast table on that day.
I felt particularly close to Peter at this place. When I receive the Sacrament of Penance and the priest does not offer a scripture reading, I often use the reading from this encounter between Jesus and Peter, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” What beautiful words spoken by St. Peter. In the Greek, Peter is not quite able to respond to Jesus with the “Agape” love that he is asking, but only “Philos” love. He does not yet have the unconditional, perfect love that Jesus is requesting. The third time Jesus asks the question he asks only if Peter has this “Philos” love for him. He tells him that in the future he will find that he does have this unconditional Agape love for Jesus and will even lay down his life in love of Jesus. I find great consolation in this encounter because I too know that I do not yet love the Lord as I ought. Peter knew he was still weak and I can relate well to him. I trust that, like He did for St. Peter, Jesus will gradually perfect my love for him and I will one day be able to have this “Agape” love that will compel me to lay down my life for the Lord.
We finished up our day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It wasn’t too hard to imagine the apostles out in their little boat being tossed by a storm because the sea was particularly rough today. We were in a wooden boat that was going up and down quite a bit on this windy day. We took that same route towards the other shore that the apostles would have taken. As I mentioned earlier, some sties here are questionable, but Jesus and the apostles were definitely on the Sea of Galilee just as we were. Fortunately, we did not need the have either of our priests calm the sea as we were able to make it safely back to shore without any miracles. What a marvelous day this was. There is much to mediate on now.