Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land had a humble yet profound beginning. Our first action was a simple, beautiful Mass. It was not in a magnificent cathedral. It was not in a place even mentioned in Scripture. There was no choir, just we travel-weary pilgrims in a small meeting room in the lower level of our hotel. Some of us were a little rough around the edges. I was struggling with motion sickness from the bus ride from the airport to Tiberias. The twenty hours of travel showed on more than of few of us. Others however were elated at being in the Land of Jesus. Bishop Zubik was among them for sure. He tenderly led us in the great mystery of our faith – Jesus fully present in the Eucharist: body, soul and divinity. Jesus is here and he is waiting to meet us at every shrine we will visiting, helping us to come to know him better.
Yes it was a humble beginning, but so too was the Easter story. Jesus did not appear in the grand temple or in the precincts of Pontius Pilate. He appeared in a garden to a woman. This was the Gospel Bishop Zubik proclaimed to us at our first Mass in the holy land, beginning of the good news.
It is a humble story. It hinges on five small words. These single syllable five words changed her life. Changed the apostles’ lives. Changes our lives. Five simple yet profound words: “I have seen the Lord!”
Bishop Zubik shared with us it was Mary Magdalene who announced to Peter, to John and the other disciples the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead. She was the first one to know! She was the first to see! She was the first to hear his voice! The first to touch his wounds! She was the first evangelist! She was first and that is why she is called the Apostle to the Apostles.
Bishop Zubik reminded us Mary was not the only one to encounter our Risen Lord. We know what happened next. John and Peter ran to the tomb and found it empty. Jesus then appeared to the disciples in the upper room greeting them with PEACE. Shalom. We too like Mary Magdalene are to share with others our encounters with Jesus.
Mary of Magdala was from a village just up the road from where we are now. Magdala was a village here on the Sea of Galilee. The Via Maris, that great Roman road connecting three continents – Asia, Africa and Europe – went right by Magdala.
The best fishing on the Sea of Galilee was up near Capernaum and Bethsaida. In Magdala the fish that was caught was salted and preserved. There wasn’t refrigeration back then and we all know how rotten fish can smell. The fishermen, including Peter, Andrew, James and John, would sell their fish immediately. Most of it wound up in Magdala to be salted so that it would last more than a few hours in the heat of Galilee. The five fish Jesus blessed to feed the multitude was surely salted in Magdala.
From Magdala, Galilee fish was carted down to Jerusalem and up to Damascus. The fish may have been sent down to the huge port in Caesarea and shipped to Rome.
The point is – the fish had to be preserved and the place where it was preserved was Magdala. To us Magdala is just the village where Mary was from. Like I am from Ambridge and you are from Castle Shannon or McKees Port. But to the early Church the name Magdala may have meant more. It may have conjured up notions of keeping things fresh. Mary of Magdala preserved the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, she kept it fresh in her heart.
Here we are – in the Holy Land on the Second Day of Easter. Easter like Christmas is so great a feast it lasts eight days! How good it is for us to be here during Easter! To see with our own eyes, to hear with our own ears, to touch with our own hands the places of Jesus life, death and resurrection! Let us pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to preserve all our memories of this pilgrimage so that others too can come to believe that He is alive and He loves them. May we like Mary of Magdala proclaim: “I have seen the Lord!” May our Easter faith stay fresh!
May our humble beginning end in a glorious future – eternal life with the Father for us and for all with whom we share the good news!
Stayed tuned. Tomorrow is Nazareth. Another place of humble beginnings.