Today started out very calmly with a bus ride from our hotel to the Mount of the Beatitudes. We were the first people to arrive even before the gate to the area had opened . Soon several other buses lined up behind us, all filled with pilgrims ready to celebrate Mass in the place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. When our guide, the two deacons in our group, and I arrived in the small sacristy at the church we were met by a lovely Franciscan sister who was ready to greet us and prepare for our celebration of the Mass. And then the calm ended. Several other guides, priests, and deacons filled the sacristy, and one by one we were given our instructions for where on the mountain we were to be celebrating our individual Masses (there was even a bit of an argument when a guide from another group attempted to take over the Sister’s job and move in front of us in order!). Since we were the first to arrive, our group began Mass first at an outdoor chapel dedicated to St. Luke. It was a beautiful setting, with the Sea of Galilee in the background, birds singing in the trees, and a cool breeze coming through the air. To hear the words of the Beatitudes and to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the very place where Jesus taught the disciples is an unforgettable experience. But ours was not the only Mass being celebrated. Soon after we began, the songs and prayers and scripture readings of other groups mingled with ours on the mountain. The crowd was gathering, from many lands and in many languages, but all focused on the presence of Christ.
After we finish the celebration of the Mass, we had about 45 minutes to spend in quiet prayer and reflection, many of us reading for ourselves the entire Sermon on the Mount in the place where Jesus taught it. As I stood outside the church of the Beatitudes, looking over the Sea of Galilee, I was surrounded by crowds of people singing , praying, talking, taking pictures, and generally absorbed in their own individual world. By that time, the crowd was quite large, made up of many different groups both big and small. It was a bit hard to pray and concentrate in this atmosphere. I longed for quiet to be able to take in the place and focus on the words that Jesus spoke here. But there was no silence. The crowds were pressing on from every side. Several times one of the Franciscan sisters had to come outside the church and ask people to respect the holiness of the place and to preserve it as a place of prayer. I could not help but think of the Tower of Babel, with the peoples of the world all scattered around speaking in their own languages and about their own business, absorbed in their own worlds. Of course many of these people were here to pray and to remember the presence of Jesus in this place. But we did that remembering and praying separately, almost competing with one another. And I suppose we are destined to do so, as long as the church and the world is divided by sin and individualism. I also could not help but think that this was like the crowd Jesus would have encountered on this very same mountain. And we hear in Scripture that not everyone listened to what Jesus had to say. But if we can listen, then Jesus is the one who will be able to bring us together and unite all people of goodwill.
Following our time on the Mount of Beatitudes, we spent the rest of the day exploring various areas associated with the Galilean ministry of Jesus. We visited the ruins of the city of Chorazin, one of the three cities in which Jesus centered his ministry of healing and teaching. We also visited Bethsaida, another of those three cities (Capernaum is the third), and also the hometown of Saints Peter, Andrew, and Phillip. Bethsaida is also the location of the healing of the blind man in Mark 8. From there we traveled north towards Caesarea Philippi where Jesus went with his disciples on something of a retreat away from the towns of Gallilee. There, Jesus asked the disciples the question “who do people say that I am? ” There in Caesarea Philippi, Saint Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus named Peter the rock on which he would build the Church. Scripture continues by saying that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. In visiting this place we learned that the gates of hell is not just a figure of speech, but a reference to an actual area outside of Caesarea Philippi where a number of pagan shrines and temples had been erected on a stone cliff. These pagan shrines represented the gates of hell which would not prevail against the church. So you could say that today we went to the gates of hell and back.
Today was our last day in Galilee. Tomorrow morning we begin the journey to Jerusalem, stopping in Beth Shean, Jericho, and the Jordan River along the way.