We were blessed with the opportunity to awake to a beautiful sunrise over the Sea of Galilee again. I was led to picture perfect sunrise moments by Shirley, and I felt this was a fitting metaphor, as companions on the journey, we are leading each other to the light.
The theme for today seemed to be about trust and obedience. We started the day at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle of changing water to wine. It was not yet his time to begin his ministry, but because of his mother’s request, Jesus listened and obeyed. Mary also trusted that her son would do what was right, as she told the servers to “Do whatever He tells you.” This is biblical proof of our Blessed Mother as the greatest intercessor, as a son listens to his mother’s pleas.
The mood was joyous and celebratory; Fr Angelo presented the couples with a gold pin of two interlocking rings, and a red rose for the man to give to their woman. We first had a blessing for the engagement of Malcolm & Victoria, followed by the renewal of marriage vows for Jack & Karen, Tony & Karen, Leo & Lea, Mike & Shirley. It was a beautiful ceremony and we were all very touched as we witnessed the celebration of love. Hearing the number of years that these couples have been married: 30, 27, 26 and 30 years, it was truly a testimony to what a marriage is; despite the trials and difficulties these couples have gone through, their love and commitment to each other prevailed.
We also remembered the widowers present, that they will be comforted by God’s love, and the hope of reuniting with their spouse in heaven. This was significant for me as I too thought of my own mother, especially on this day when it was my father’s 7th death anniversary.
We moved next to the Basilica of the Annunciation to celebrate mass. It was my unexpected God-moment, as I had initially thought that mass was going to be held at the Wedding Church of Cana. Many had shared the sentiments that it was a real privilege to be able to actually celebrate the Eucharist at the Basilica and to be sitting so close to the altar; for if we had merely visited the church, it might have become just another site for us to take photos. It was especially meaningful for me as I had offered mass up for my father, and listening to the intentions being prayed out loud for him and my family was very powerful; Puspa and I were also given the opportunity to proclaim the Word of God; to be able to experience all that at such a grand church was truly a privilege. Mass ended just before 12 noon, the time for the Angelus, and as we stepped back out to the courtyard, the church bells rang loud and clear. It might have been too noisy for some, but for me it sounded like a beautiful affirmation of the angels in heaven, calling us to do God’s will.
We were at the very site where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary – this is the epitome of trust and obedience, a simple “yes”. A young virgin girl, not understanding how she could possibly bear the Son of God, but leaving the consequence of her “yes” in God’s hands. Trust is not a feeling; trust is a decision we choose to make. We here as pilgrims, we chose to answer God’s call by coming here, we too gave God our own fiat, to let it be done according to His word. But trust is not conditional; it does not mean that by saying yes we would get a manual or guide of what we could expect. To trust is to let go and let God, and we have our Mother Mary to turn to who leads us by this very example.
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”
We continued to the Workshop of St. Joseph. He did not utter a single word in the Bible, but his actions were much louder than words – he lived his life by faith, silently and obediently as the Angel of the Lord commanded. It was his mission to safeguard the mystery of the Immaculate Conception and to nurture Jesus as he grew up. In some ways Joseph is like a forgotten figure, even as we recollected our experiences at the end of the day, this site was left out in the sharings, but the importance of his role cannot be undermined. We can draw parallels to the many people who serve in the background, their work may not be clearly visible, but is a critical piece to the whole picture.
The just man is not a man who seeks only what justice demands, but a person who knows how to temper justice with mercy.
Our last stop was at the Magdala Centre – the site of a 1st century synagogue and hometown of Mary Magdalene, where it can be said with certainty that Jesus once walked on these stones. We were tired by the end of the day, and honestly did not think much of this place initially as it seemed to merely be a modern visitor centre preserving an ancient site. But God very unexpectedly came and spoke to us through a 19-year-old Mexican girl, a volunteer guide who had only been at the Magdala Centre for just a few months. As a fellow pilgrim described, the more she spoke, the more she captivated our hearts and attention.
The Duc In Altum chapel commemorates the public life of Jesus. Our attention was first drawn to the ceiling of the Women’s Atrium, which featured a painting of Mother Mary’s praying hands. This was symbolic of the way Mary helped Jesus, which was through her prayers, as it was impossible for her to be physically with Jesus all the time. Like all mothers, they cannot be with their child at every step of the way, and can only let go and trust. The atrium is supported by 8 columns, 7 of which represents women in the Bible who followed Jesus, while the 8th nameless column represents all women of faith across time – us. This is a key representation that without Mary, there would be no Jesus.
One interesting architectural feature of the atrium was that the closer you got to the centre, the louder your voice; the further away from the centre, the softer you became. In other words, we need to put Mary, and thus Jesus, in the centre of our lives, so that we can hear the voice of God clearer. “To Jesus Through Mary.”
The boat chapel features an altar boat which stands over the first century port, commemorating Jesus preaching from the boat. It reminds us to put out and go into the deep, all we need to bring is our heart with Jesus. If Jesus asks you to do it one more time, even if you may have already failed the first time, listen to him, trust in him, and you will receive more. Having faith is not a guarantee that we shall never be mistaken in our decisions. But God allows us to go through these difficulties and trials, and He will see us through the Light.
The four mosaic chapels each had very powerful messages too:
- Walking On Water Chapel (Matthew 14:29-31) – Peter’s faith was tested by walking on water with Jesus. “You of little faith.” Why do we doubt Jesus? Do not be afraid, take courage, and trust in Him. Interestingly, it was Singaporeans who had donated towards this chapel.
- Fishers Of Men Chapel (Matthew 4:18-20) – Jesus calls his first disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” “At once they left their nets and followed him.” This was also the chosen verse for this pilgrimage.
- Daughter of Jairus Chapel (Mark 5:41-42) – Jesus raised a daughter from the dead. This picture was particularly powerful, as it depicted a busy market scene on one side, and Jesus performing a miracle on the other. In our busyness, we often tend to overlook the many miracles that happen daily in our midst. We are reminded to search for God in all the little things, not just in the big miracles. This is also an affirmation of what we do at Landings, that we did indeed get the formula right, and encourage us to continue searching for all the little God-moments in our everyday lives.
- Mary Magdalene Chapel (Luke 8:1-2) – Mary Magdalene is an icon of hope. She was traditionally described as a promiscuous woman, from whom seven demons were cast out. And she heeded Jesus’ invitation, to repent and believe in the Gospel. Jesus gave her a look of unconditional love and acceptance, that penetrates the false fortress of a broken heart, and restores peace of mind at the realisation of the truth of one’s dignity. We are reminded that Jesus always forgives, but it is us ourselves who hold on to grudges and continue blaming ourselves. It was here that I realised, how much I identified with Mary Magdalene, a repentant sinner, and this gave me great comfort and hope.
Lastly, we were led into the Encounter Chapel. There was something “magical” about this place. The original flooring and stones from centuries ago were preserved in this chapel. Some of us took off our shoes and stood barefoot on the very ground that Jesus once walked.
We were invited to write down on the altar, all our fears and troubles, burdens and struggles, to leave them at the foot of Jesus and surrender everything to God. It was a very simple gesture, we were literally just using our fingers to trace invisible words; you would not have thought that it could have made a deep impact on anyone, but it was here that I broke down. It was here that I had a deep personal encounter with God. I understood that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us on that altar table, and with that all our sins are forgiven. I made a promise to God that I will once and for all get out of the toxic cycles that entrapped me.
A fellow pilgrim shared that she was initially sceptical and did not approach the altar, but she stepped forward after she saw the impact it made on me. That was an affirmation to me, that we are indeed journeying together as one community, and the little that we do can lead another, just as how Shirley led me to the beautiful sunrise in the morning. As I reflect back, this day closed beautifully in one loop.
It was not just I, but many of us who were deeply moved in this “room of hope”, as described by several pilgrims. Many brought home the replica of the painting at this chapel, of the hemorrhaging woman desperately reaching out to touch just the cloak of Jesus, because of her simple but deep faith that just a simple touch was all it took for her to be healed. Likewise, perhaps that simple rite of us touching the altar, was all it took for us to be healed.
Some still had doubts – did we trust God enough to truly leave everything behind? Some left truly lightened. But without a doubt, all of us were enlightened. Here we had a chance to encounter God in the living stones. And God used this unassuming 19-year-old girl as his instrument to remind us: He always forgives; trust and obey Him; our God is a God of surprises and He will come in unexpected ways.
As quoted from Jack: “I came, I saw, I believed.”
Truth be told, this day was the hardest for me to write about because it was very personal for me. But I was encouraged, that the heart of landings is about sharing our own personal stories. And it is through our stories that we hope to give that personal touch.
#LandingsHolyLandPilgrimage2018 #GraceAndGratitude #Landings10thAnniversary