By Frank Bienas
At our Knights of Columbus meeting in March, 2013, we began the meeting with the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary which set my mind a whirl. Five days earlier, I and Frs. Adam Mauman and Mark Walter and 12 other pilgrims had returned from the Holy Land. Every mystery took me back to Israel where I had just seen all the events and places that we prayed about. The Rosary was alive and dancing in my mind. I’ll try to describe our day by day experiences of our pilgrimage in the coming months. Many places will highlight the mysteries of the Rosary and stories of the Bible.
We landed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday mid-afternoon and drove to Natanya, a seaside resort on the Mediterranean Sea, to spend our first night. We left for Caesarea Maritima on Wednesday morning. Caesarea Maritima was built by Herod the Great and finished around 13 B.C. It was the home of Pontius Pilate. Pilate only came to Jerusalem when there were problems and during Passover.
When reading The Letters of Pontius Pilate, one learns Pilate derived much pleasure agitating the members of the Sanhedrin and the entire Jewish nation.
In the 1950’s and ‘60’s, archeologists uncovered a 5000 seat amphitheater, now renovated, and a stone called the Pilate Stone. This stone is only important because many non-Christians believe Pilate was a myth, a man who had never existed, a made up man in name only found in the Bible. The discovery of this stone proved the Bible to be true concerning the existence of Pilate.
One can also see the remnants of an oblong strip of land where chariot races were held and after the complete destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., 2500 Jewish prisoners lost their lives to the gladiators there. All the chariot races and plays at the Roman amphitheater were free entertainment for the citizens at Maritima, a city with a population of 125,000 although nobody is living there today. Why was the entertainment free? According to our guide, as long as the people were entertained without any cost of admission they never thought about politics.
Caesarea Maritima is where St. Peter baptized Cornelius, the centurion and his entire household and Paul spent two years in prision there as well as found in the book of Acts.
Our next stop was the city of Haifa, the home of Elijah’s cave at Mt. Carmel. There is a church built over the cave called Stella Maris which means Star of the Sea. According to our guide Haifa is the only city in Israel where Jews and Muslims live with each other interspersed throughout the city. They live together as neighbors peacefully.
On top of Mt. Carmel is where Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal competed to see whether Elijah’s God or the prophets’ god was really the true God. Our God not only burned up Elijah’s sacrifice in holy fire at Elijah’s command, but Elijah and the Israelites of the northern kingdom in attendance of this miracle slaughtered the 450 prophets of Baal.
Elijah was also the second man in the Bible taken to heaven by God without experiencing physical death in a fiery chariot. Enoch was the first as reported in Genesis 5:24. The feats of the prophet Elijah can be read in 1Kings Chapters 17-19 and Chapters 1-2 of 2 Kings.
Our final visit on Day 1 was the church at Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle. This is the second Luminous mystery of the Rosary. In the church courtyard, four of our pilgrim couples renewed their wedding vows. It was quite an emotional renewal for several of our brothers and sisters as evidenced by the tears in their eyes.
We all know the story of Cana. Jesus’ mother said, “They have no wine.” And Jesus replied, “My dear woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother looked at the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.” These are the last words spoken directly by Mary in the Bible and they apply to us – the brothers and sisters of Christ. Mary seemed to know that Jesus’ hour was to begin. It was time for her son to begin his ministry and bring salvation to all mankind.
Jesus changed maybe 150 gallons of water into wine which prefigured the changing of wine into His blood – an even greater miracle.
Weddings in those days were not like the Polish weddings I attended growing up where everyone was eating, drinking, dancing, and celebrating. Our guide told us that in Jesus’ day, men celebrated separately from the women.. A wedding would last 1 – 2 weeks.
After 16 years of teaching the Old Testament, I finally understood Genesis Chapter 29. Jacob worked for his Uncle Laban seven years to marry his daughter Rachel. Men and women celebrated separately for one to two weeks drinking much wine. When the celebration came to an end, Jacob entered, maybe staggered, into the darkened tent and consummated his marriage. Waking up in the morning, he found himself in bed with Leah the older daughter. Jacob ran out to Uncle Laban and yelled, what have you done to me? You deceived me. Laban replied that it was not the custom to have a younger daughter marry before the older. So after finishing the bridal week with Leah, he allowed Jacob to marry Rachel in return for another seven years of working for Laban.
Thanks to our Christian guides, when going to the Holy Land you learn many of the customs and cultures of the people in the time of Jesus which we don’t know of and the Bible doesn’t explain. The biblical writers were writing to the people and cultures of their generations, not to 21st century people.
We left Cana to spend the night at the Hospice of the Mt. of Beatitudes managed by the Franciscan Sisters. We walked the grounds and looked down the long hill ending in the Sea of Galilee. One could imagine hearing Jesus’ discourse in Matthew Chapter 5 beginning with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”, and ending with, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven for in the same way men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Living a Christian life is not an easy matter. The media and the world continue to persecute the Holy Catholic Church. Through this persecution, we know we are in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Council of Nicea in the Nicean Creed in 325 A.D. Thus we conclude Day 1 of our pilgrimage.