From January 17 until January 27, U.S. Catholic and Catholic Theological Union are cosponsoring a Holy Land pilgrimage that is led by CTU’s eminent scripture scholar and Jerusalem expert, Franciscan Father Leslie Hoppe. U.S. Catholic’s popular scripture columnist Alice Camille is also accompanying the group and leading prayers, reflections, and discussions. She is filing blog posts from the trip. Today she’s at the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem:
To find God in the particular is to find God. What else can incarnation mean but this? What else do we mean by sacrament or church? The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, and Jenny (our pilgrim friend here) is a God of the particular. Not an abstract, generic, theoretical deity but a Walking God who forms relationships, has a mother, dies on a cross, saves a world. This world, no less.
So we come to holy ground in order to touch the God of the particular. It can be daunting for the Western, cerebral, educated mind to entertain legends like the story of the Milk Grotto: That Mary, in her haste to feed her baby before the flight to Egypt, splashed a few drops of milk on the ground and now would-be mothers everywhere entreat her here to grant them children. But veneration isn’t a matter of history. History deals with facts. Story deals in truth. These disciplines aren’t in conflict at all. They acknowledge each other with a salute of respect. They are separate realms of apprehending.
In the Holy Land, it is customary for pilgrims to leave something behind. It could be your old self or your sins. It could be prayers tucked into rocky crevices, or alms given to the poor who haunt every shrine and backstreet. It could be your former certainty about who God is and what God wants. It could be your treasured illusions about who you are, about your vaunted invincibility.
But it’s also important to take something with you from this sacred place. Some take memories and photos, souvenirs for your loved ones, gifts for the children you teach or the church staff or the choir. Some take resolutions to pray more, to unclutter a distracting pattern of living. Some will radically claim a new goal: to be a saint and to settle for nothing less than a sanctified life.
I always leave some pride in the dust of Israel and return with a deeper sense of humility. There is so much more to know than what I think I know. I yearn for the grace to see clearly. “Lord, that I might see!”
To read more of Alice’s blog posts from the Holy Land, click here.
Image: Photo by Alice Camille