By Frank Bienas
Day 2 of our pilgrimage began in Nazareth at the Church of the Annunciation, the first Joyful Mystery. Since the year 427 A.D., five churches have been erected over the grotto of Mary. This grotto is in the lower level of the church encased by a small Crusader church. Here the Word was made flesh as prophesied by Isaiah:
“Behold the virgin will be with and bear a son and they shall name him Immanuel,” which means God is with us.
We read of the Annunciation in Luke 1:26 – 38. The population of Nazareth in Jesus’ time was 100 – 200 at the most. Today’s population is about 65,000; 16% Christians and 83% Muslim. The Church of the Annunciation is where 7000 Roman Catholics celebrate Mass weekly. Adjacent to the Church of the Annunciation is the Church of St. Joseph which was built over a cave where it is believed the Holy Family lived.
In a village with a population of 100 – 200, where could St. Joseph find enough work to provide for his family? Four miles away, about an hour’s walk, was the city of Sepphoris. This was an extremely wealthy city being rebuilt by Herod the Tetrarch, son of Herod the Great. Only the very wealthy could afford to live there. More than likely St. Joseph earned his living working in Sepphoris with its robust growth and expansion.
Leaving Nazareth, we headed for the Mount of Transfiguration, the location of the fourth Luminous Mystery. But first I want to reflect on my second trip to Israel and the third Luminous Mystery, the Proclamation of the Kingdom. The proclamation of the faith is based on many of Jesus’ sayings.
Here are a few:
Matthew 4:17 Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
John 18:36 My kingdom is not of this world.
John 3:5 Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Luke 5:32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
My last example and there are a least a half dozen more, began in Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi is over 26 miles north of Capernaum. In Matthew 16: 13 -19, it was there that Jesus asked the apostles, “Who do men say the son of man is?” and they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Christ traveled to Caesarea Philippi located at Mt. Hermon, where there is a huge rock at least 75 – 100 yards long and 90 – 100 feet high. This is also one of the headwaters of the Jordan River flowing from the base of Mt. Hermon. In several places carved into the rock, the back walls of pagan temples can be seen. Around these back walls are niches where statues of the god Pan were placed. Pan was the god of sheep and shepherds; half man with horns on his head and legs of a goat. These temples were abundant with prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and animals. Caesarea Philippi was the gateway to hell. On top of this large rock was a large shrine built to honor Tiberius Caesar and Herod Philip thus the name was derived. This name also distinguished itself from Caesarea Maritima.
Why did Christ take His apostles to Caesarea Philippi, 26 miles north of Capernaum? Why couldn’t Peter receive the keys in Capernaum? Why? Because Jesus wanted to provide a background for the apostles to understand the significance of one of His most important teachings – the establishment of a Magisterium. Christ is telling His apostles the church He will build on Peter – the Rock – will be a church filled with the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit.
Pagans will attempt to overthrow Christ’s Church, but they will not prevail. The Church is standing 2000 years later and it will always be under the attack of Satan and his demons. From this pagan rock Jesus and His apostles began their journey to Jerusalem for Jesus’ crucifixion. His days on earth would soon be over.
Leaving Caesarea Philippi, Jesus and the apostles began the journey to Jerusalem for Jesus’ crucifixion. After walking for six days, they reached the Mount of Transfiguration.
Now back to Day 2 and the Transfiguration: Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the high mountain where He was transfigured before them. Jesus’ face shown like the sun and His garments were dazzling white. As the three looked on, Moses and Elijah appeared too. Why did Jesus take Peter, James and John with Him? I believe Jesus wanted to give them a glimpse of the radiating beauty which man would be endowed with in heaven.
Then a bright colored cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The apostles fell on their faces filled with reverence, admiration and fear until Jesus touched them saying, “Rise and have no fear,” and they saw no one but Jesus.
The Church of the Transfiguration is built on Mt. Tabor. To get to the top of the mountain there is a winding, wooded road filled with hairpin turns 1952 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. This site has been honored since the fourth century and mentioned in the writings of one the early church fathers, Origin, in the third century. The present church was finished in 1924.
In building this church, human bones were found from sacrificial offerings to pagan gods. The Franciscans building the new church gave them a proper burial. I learned of the sacrificial burials on my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Fr. Peter Vasko.
In addition to the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him on two other occasions; the healing of the synagogue leader Jairus’ daughter and at the Garden of Gethsemane, which I will talk about later. We then headed back to spend our night at the Mt. of Beatitudes.