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The Holy Land isn’t really that far away from us

Jérusalem, ville sainte, terre sainte, Israël, Palestine

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Vue aérienne de la vieille ville de Jérusalem.

Valdemar de Vaux - published on 02/15/24

Not everyone has the joy of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. However, God manifests himself here and now to each and every one of us who listens to him.

Christian literature is full of magnificent and illuminating texts on the mystery of God, starting with the masterpiece Confessions by St. Augustine. In it, the Bishop of Hippo describes his experience of discovering God. He sums it up in these famous words:

Late have I loved you, beauty ever old yet ever new! Late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside. There I sought you, as I rushed about among the beautiful things you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. The beautiful things of this world kept me far from you. You called. You cried. You burst through my deafness. You scattered my blindness. I breathed your fragrance, and now I pine for you. I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I burn with desire for your peace.

It’s a beautiful prayer that reveals the main discovery of the holy Doctor of the Church. God is present in our midst, and shows himself to us in our concrete existence: in the places we frequent, in the people we meet, in the nature we admire, in the consciousness we explore. And, most importantly, in the Eucharist, where Jesus is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine. 

Like many Christians, St. Augustine never went to the Holy Land, but that didn’t prevent him from savoring the presence of Christ. Certainly, walking in the Judean desert, admiring Lake Tiberias and the remains of the city of Capernaum, praying at the tomb of the Son of God — all this is good and stimulating for the faith. Above all, it allows us to literally touch the fact that God made himself present as a physical man in a specific place and at a time. 

Accessible here and now

The logic of the incarnation is valid for us, even if the presence of Jesus is not the same as in Jerusalem in the first century. Some saints, though initially eager to live close to the holy places, gave them up to serve the Lord elsewhere. St. Ignatius visited Jerusalem, but was sent back to Europe by the Franciscans due to the dangers pilgrims faced at the time. St. Charles de Foucauld lived for some time in Nazareth before establishing his hidden life in Argelia. 

The Holy Land where God’s love is revealed today is the very environment of every human being. And salvation history, the story of God’s interaction with his creatures, is being woven with each of us in the events of our lives. Here and now, the Creator is accessible to those who open their hearts to him. Even in the kitchen, as St. Teresa of Avila reminded us in the middle of the 16th century: “When obedience occupies you with external things, do not be distressed. If it employs you in the kitchen, understand that Our Lord is there, in the midst of the pots and pans, helping you both inside and out.”

Side note: Nevertheless, the wonders of modern technology can bring the places of the Holy Land very close to us. You might consider a virtual retreat, such as this Lenten one.

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Holy LandJerusalemSpirituality
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