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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Our Last Day

Pilgrim discovers you do indeed
float in the Dead Sea.
As I write this final blog post of our pilgrimage, many of our pilgrims are swimming in the Dead Sea. Not a bad place to be today, when news from home tells us the temperature in Edmonton is -46 degrees (yes, MINUS 46)!!!!!

In Bethany, beneath the home
of  Mary, Martha & Lazarus.
We set out first thing this morning on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Out first stop was in Bethany to visit the site of the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. This is where Jesus, prior to raising Lazarus from the dead, pronounced himself as the Resurrection and the Life. It is also the place where he would spend time with these sisters and brother since they were his friends. This juxtaposition gave us pause. Jesus, who is our Lord and God, our Saviour, the Eternal Son of God made flesh, seeks friendship with his people, with us. A friend is someone you like to spend time with, and Jesus rejoices when we choose to take time just to be in his presence. There are times to be active like Martha, but our actions as disciples must spring from a contemplative listening at the feet of Jesus, as Mary did.

Fresco in the church at Bethany.
As we set out from this place we were conscious of traveling the same road to which Jesus refers in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Such a parable makes it clear the type of action to which a contemplative listening to Jesus leads: to works of mercy.

Soon we arrived at the Jordan River, near the place where Jesus was baptized by John. Our Lord underwent this baptism of repentance not because he was in need of it but in order to express his solidarity with the humanity he had come to save. This was to "fulfill all righteousness", that is, to manifest obedience to the saving plan of his Father.

Pilgrims renew baptismal promises
at the Jordan River.
Here we reflected upon the significance of the sacrament of our own Baptism. Standing near the place where our ancestors in the faith crossed over into the promised land, we recalled the essence of baptism as a "crossing over" from the old to a new way of life, a life in union with Jesus Christ. As such it imprints upon us as a way of life the pattern of his own: death to self and living for God and others. With this in mind we joyfully renewed our baptismal promises, and prayed that we will continue to be intentional about appropriating the full meaning of baptism and living it out in our lives with consistency and integrity, as Pope Francis is calling us to do.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Jericho.
From there we went into Jericho, where Jesus visited Zacchaeus and healed blind Bartimaeus. We celebrated the Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent at the local parish church of the Good Shepherd. It was a remarkable experience to be in the Judaean wilderness as we listened to Saint Matthew's account of the preaching of Saint John the Baptist that he delivered in the same place! We considered our call, as agents of the new evangelization, to bring the joy of the Gospel to the vast wilderness areas of the human heart today.

Mount of Temptation.
Next we drew near to what is called the Mount of Temptation. To this lonely place Jesus had been led by the Holy Spirit to fast for forty days and nights and then to be tempted by the devil. We could easily imagine how weak he must have been when the devil came to him, and this reminded us that the evil one will also come to us when we are most weak and vulnerable. We asked The Lord for pardon for the times we have succumbed to the devil's seductions, and asked that henceforth we might face and overcome temptation not by our efforts alone but above all with the Lord's strength.

Qumran, site of discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls.
Our final site to visit was Qumran, site  of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. This is of far more importance than just archaeological or historical interest. These scrolls, 2000 years old,  pertain to the Old Testament, and as such are previous to both Jew and Christian alike. On this itinerary of conviction we have appreciated in new and wonderful ways how all that God has done throughout history has been to prepare the world for the gift of his Son, after whose coming all of time and all of history unfolds under his Lordship.

A final blessing – rainbow over the
Dead Sea, looking toward Jordan.
One of the  great signs of God's covenant love given in the Old Testament is that of the rainbow (cf Genesis 9: 8-13). This is precisely what awaited us as we left Qumran – a beautiful rainbow over the Dead Sea. As we leave now this sacred land and return home tomorrow, this sign reminds us that we are never distant from the ever faithful Love of God that has been revealed in Jesus Christ, his Son and our Lord.

Pilgrims take advantage of
Dead Sea mud and minerals.

Pilgrim tempts a camel on Mount of Temptation.

Gift presentation by Gabriel, president
of Guiding StarjTours, in Jericho.