Friday, September 18, 2020

Ein Kerem

Written by  Fr. Gerard Cooper

They say that once you visit the Holy Land the bible is never the same. I have to admit that after visiting the Holy Land for the first-time last September the Scriptures have a new home in me. During my sabbatical last year, I had the opportunity to spend a month with the Sisters of Sion at their centre for biblical formation in Jerusalem. The sisters offer monthly studies on different books of the bible out of their Ecce Homo convent in the heart of the old city right on the via dolorosa. The sisters have put together a wonderful month of in house study with a biblical scholar, and weekly excursions with knowledgeable guides that take you on pilgrimages of learning and prayer throughout the holy land.

One of the more memorable journeys we made was to the outskirts of the city, to the village of Ein Kerem. In biblical times this village was the half way point between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and famous already in the second century as the place where Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth. Even the journey was memorable as we rubbed shoulders with locals on public transportation, rather than taking the cushy “tourist” bus, the sisters know what they are doing to make you feel at home in the holy land less you be tempted to become a tourist. It was a typical fall day of high humidity, sunny skies and 30 degree temperature, in fact while I was there I don’t think the conditions changed unless you went into the desert where the temperature jumped to a sweltering 45 degrees.

We read in the gospel of Luke that Mary went with haste into this Judean hill country, and she entered the house of Zechariah. It was absolutely amazing to traverse the steps of Mary through the Judean hill country, now granted perhaps the mode of transportation has changed a little from a donkey to a bus, but the walk up the hill was exactly the same. As I walked up the hill to the Church of the Visitation all I could think about was Mary, walking with haste up this hill to get to her cousin as soon as possible to care for her, as she was just informed by the angel that she too was with child in her old age. What moved my heart is this closeness of God to our humanity, the story of our faith is woven in the mystery of the incarnation, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Upon reaching her cousin Mary rejoices with this beautiful prayer called the Magnificat, that the Church has memorialized in her evening prayer. I now understand why Mary’s Magnificat is precisely situated here after her journey. It recounts the blessings of God’s favor upon His people who have waited in longing for the coming of their Savior, and God’s meeting them in His Son through the ups and downs, sorrows and joys of life. That now through Mary’s fiat we have this meeting face to face with our salvation. Indeed, God has made straight the pathway to meet him. For he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. I always thought those divisions were diametrically opposed, now after traversing that path with Mary, I feel her maternal haste to make them meet in her Son, who is reconciling the world to Himself. As I remember the burning in my legs as I made it up the hill to this place of meeting, I encounter the purifying of my heart of the divine love that journeyed for me.

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