Where God pitched his tent

"What were you expecting, lady?” asked the gun-toting Israeli soldier of the late Maeve Binchy. “A Renaissance table set for 13?” Maeve was visiting the bare church at the site of the Last Supper in Jerusalem and was stunned to find that it didn’t resemble what she had imagined. Her belief in the “special Irish God” of her childhood and all she had been led to believe was shattered at that moment. 

I made my first visit to the Holy Land last week as part of a Year of Faith pilgrimage with the Presentation Brothers. Maeve’s experience was on my mind so I knew not to expect a Catholic Disneyland.

Before going I’d read the Scripture scholar, Bargil Pixner, who said that “Five Gospels record the life of Jesus.  Four you will find in books and one you will find in the land they call holy. Read the fifth Gospel and the world of the four will open to you.”

Fresh way

After a week spent between Galilee and Jerusalem, the Gospel stories, so familiar since childhood, have certainly been opened in a fresh way. 

It is an experience like no other to sing Silent Night in Bethlehem, or to pray the Angelus in Nazareth, where the angel of the Lord once did “declare unto Mary”, or to travel across the Sea of Galilee with only the gentle lapping of the waves to disturb the silence, or to kneel in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, or visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the spot where love triumphed and death was defeated.   

Romantic images

Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth are busy places filled with the noise of everyday life. Perhaps that surprises those who are expecting these places to resemble the romantic mental images formed during an Irish childhood. The busyness of these places though shouldn’t be a distraction from the story that unfolded there – in a way it’s the whole point of the Christian story.  The beauty and challenge of the mystery of the Incarnation is that God entered right into this, into the noise and ordinariness of the world.

The Word was indeed made flesh in a particular place, at a particular time, in the middle of the noise and busyness of human life and living.

It’s said that if you can’t find God at home then you won’t find him in the Holy Land and the challenge of the Christian life is to find and serve God on our very own doorstep.

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is not about visiting sites where something happened at a distant point in history. The excitement of Christianity is that this story is alive and real today. And we are all a part of it.



A cheer for Nano

We were on our way to the Mount of Olives when the news arrived that Nano Nagle, foundress of the Presentation Sisters, had been declared Venerable by Pope Francis.

The announcement was greeted with a hearty cheer. The Presentation Sisters in our group were congratulated as though they had managed a team to All-Ireland success.

The news about Nano might give fresh encouragement now to the promotion of the causes of other great Christian Irish women and men.

The Legion of Mary’s Frank Duff, Alfie Lambe, and Edel Quinn, as well as Matt Talbot and the founders of several Irish religious orders, have an army of faithful devotees. As one observer noted, had they been Italian they would all have been canonised a long time ago.


The mission continues

On our travels we met Sr Shopa and Sr Silvia, two Presentation Sisters from India, who have established a new mission in the city of Jenin at the invitation of the Latin Patriarch. Jenin, which lies in the West Bank, is overwhelmingly Muslim. The mission of the sisters will be to support the tiny Catholic community of about 70 families in the area.

Another two sisters, from India and Zimbabwe, are currently studying Arabic in Jordan as they prepare for the Jenin mission.

The changing face of mission is reflected in the fact that this is the first time that a Presentation Sister from Zimbabwe has been missioned for service there.

The charism of Nano isn’t just an episode from history. It’s finding fresh expression today in places far from her home in Cork.