This morning we left the little town of Bethlehem and headed down to the Jordan River to the site where John was baptizing. I must say that this was quite a highlight for me as this spot has only recently been opened to pilgrims. Since the Jordan River is also the international boundary between Jordan and the West Bank it is a very controlled military area. I was not allowed to go to this most special site 5 years ago. I felt very close to my patron at this site that is truly “in the wilderness.”
While at the baptism site, we recalled how this was also the place where the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. What an important boundary this little bit of water is. It marks the crossing from the wilderness to the land of promise as well as the crossing from death to life in baptism. Just as the Israelites had to renew their covenant with God after crossing the river, so we too renewed our baptismal promises. It was a very special moment that gave us all a new sense of purpose and commitment.
Leaving the Jordan River we entered the oldest city in the world, Jericho. It has been continuously inhabited for at least 10,000 years. It is also the lowest city on earth by elevation. The main highlight of our visit here was to make the climb up to the Temptation Monastery. It is built right into the side of the cliff overlooking Jericho. It marks the spot where Jesus spent his 40 days and nights being tempted by the devil. It was very hot and we all certainly got our exercise. Even though you ride a cable car most of the way up, there are still 200 stairs to climb. While there, Mike reminded us that the key to overcoming temptation is to be committed to meditation. We cannot overcome temptation on our own, but by remaining in union with God, he will deliver us from the test.
Our final trek was north to the Galilee where will be spending the next three days. It was so wonderful to see the Sea of Galilee again. We are actually staying inside the walls at the Church of the Beatitudes on top of the mountain overlooking the sea. You might doubt the location of some places in the Holy Land, but there is no doubt that the Sea of Galilee is still right where it was 2000 years ago.
We ended our day by celebrating Mass outside the front of the church as it was much too warm inside. I got to give the homily and it just so happened that today’s Gospel from Mass was on the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew. You can’t ask for a more obvious blessing of Divine Providence. It was wonderful to read and preach on these 9 keys to be blessed right in the place where Jesus spoke these words. We are truly blessed. We don’t have to wait for heaven to be blessed, but we are blessed right here and now, even if our circumstances might seem otherwise. I pray all of you at home enjoy a blessed day.