By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Day at the Seashore

Pilgrims on the edge of Sea of Galilee at Tabgha
Pilgrims on the edge of Sea of Galilee at Tabgha
Measured in kilometers we did not go very far, but in terms of experience the distance traveled was great indeed. Today was filled with visits to the holy sites very near one another along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. In doing so we retraced the steps of our Lord and listened anew to his words and teachings in the very places where he had spoken them. Yet we knew that this was far more than an exercise of historical recall. The One in whose steps we were walking is the Risen Lord, who remains always present with his Church. Thus we knew that as we walked the paths of Jesus, he was walking them with us! As we listened to the words uttered so long ago, we knew he was speaking them to us not in the past but present tense. We acknowledge that, although we have two excellent professional guides, nevertheless our real leader is the Lord himself. As we see, listen and reflect, we are asking him to draw our attention to what he wants us to see, to direct our listening to what he wants us to hear, and to move our hearts to accept anew the truth he is revealing to us.

Pilgrims in front of the church
on the Mount of Beatitudes
On the Mount of the Beatitudes we listened again to that most famous of all sermons (Matthew 5-7), and heard its call to a radical reversal of values and a total trust in the love and providence of the Father. At Tabgha we visited the Church built at the place of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, and went from there to the site of the ancient synagogue at Capernaum, where Jesus pronounced his Bread of Life discourse. Jesus feeds his people superabundantly, and has come to do so by the gift of himself, which leaves those who are nourished by the Eucharist deeply and eternally satisfied.

5th-century floor mosaic at the
Church of the Multiplication
The visit to Capernaum also was an occasion to reflect upon the healing that Jesus came to give. This was the place where most of his miracles of healing were worked. Yet the words that he spoke as he brought restoration to those in need ("your faith has saved you; your sins are forgiven") bring out the deepest meaning of the cures: Jesus has come as Saviour to effect the healing needed not only by the physically or emotionally ill but also by all members of humanity: that healing we call salvation.

Church at Capernaum, built over the house where Jesus
lived with Peter
For a number of years Capernaum was also the "home base" of Jesus. We visited the place where he stayed, namely, the home of the mother-in-law of Saint Peter. There is a unique and magnificent church built over the site of this home, and, to be more precise, directly over the archaeological remains of the room identified by tradition as that of Jesus. The glass floor enables one to look directly down upon this site from within the church. Here we celebrated the Eucharist, the wonder of which was underscored by this holy site: he who once dwelt in Capernaum now dwells in our hearts through the gift of himself as Bread of Life, a gift that brings healing, peace and, ultimately, eternal life itself.

The Maple Leaf flies over Sea of Galilee
After this, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. The boat operators raised the Canadian flag and played our national anthem, which we sang with great gusto. The water was unusually and beautifully calm. When we were a good distance from land they turned off the engines. In the stillness, surrounded on all sides by the hills of Galilee, we prayed with the narrative recorded by Matthew of Jesus coming from the hills and walking across the turbulent waters to encounter and rescue Saint Peter and the other disciples.

Church of the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha
Following lunch in Tiberias we made our way to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. The relevant Gospel passage here is John 21. On these shores, most likely in this very place, the Risen Lord found his friends who had returned to fishing. As he had done when he first called them, he directed them again to where they could put down their nets for a catch, and from this they recognized the presence of the Lord. Here, too, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, and, on the basis of that love bestowed upon him the primacy of the Church ("Do you love me? Feed me sheep.") As we listened to this narrative at the place where it happened, we knew that this particular encounter between Peter and our Lord was also indicative of the life of love and service to which each of us is called.

From the region of Galilee Jesus departed for Jerusalem. Tomorrow we shall do the same.

Temple ruins at Capernaum

Pilgrims head out on Sea of Galilee