by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
My recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land concluded with a two-day visit to Rome.
I had the opportunity to greet the Holy Father at his Wednesday audience on Oct. 27 and to extend to him the warm greetings and the prayers of the priests, religious and the people of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Pope benedict XVI asked me to communicate to all of you his gratitude for your prayers and encouragement.
The Holy Land pilgrimage was an extraordinary experience. I intend over the next months to share with you some of my experiences and insights gained from visiting the places where Jesus was born, lived, ministered, suffered, died and rose.
This past Sunday’s Gospel reminded me of our visit to Jericho. Jericho is one of the most ancient cities in the world that has been continuously inhabited. We visited a sycamore tree in “new” Jericho that certainly was not the one that Zaccheus climbed to see the Lord. Still, it helped to visualize the Gospel passage.
We took a cable car half way up a mountain that is popularly known as Mount Temptation. According to tradition, Jesus prayed in a cave on this mountain during his 40 days in the desert. Near the cable car station on the mount, there is a restaurant where we had reservations to eat lunch.
Near the summit of the mountain, there is an Orthodox monastery that is built into the side of the mountain. Our guide told us that the monastery is usually open to visitors until 1 p.m.
Several in our group decided to walk up the more than 150 steps leading to the monastery. The temperatures were in the mid to upper 90s. Hot and fatigued from the climb, we reached the monastery shortly before noon. One of our group knocked on the monastery door, but there was no answer. We knocked four more times, and the result was the same — a stony silence.
We had just come from Jordan, where there was a one-hour time difference from Israel. Jericho is just on the other side of the Jordanian border, so we wondered if perhaps it was actually 1 p.m. according to local time, instead of noon. Several from our group despaired and began heading back down the mountain.
The rest of us were about to follow, when I suggested, since it was by now noon, that we pray the Angelus together and invoke Mary’s intercession for us
to be able to gain admittance to the monastery. In my prayer leading up to and during the pilgrimage, I placed our spiritual journey under the patronage of Mary, asking her to use these days to lead each of us closer to her son, Jesus. When we completed the Angelus, I asked one of the pilgrims to knock again on the monastery door. Again, there was no answer. I had begun my descent, when one of the members of the group shouted: “Wait! Someone is coming!”
The monastery door opened and a relatively young monk invited us to enter. With characteristic Middle Eastern hospitality, he offered us some water
to quench our thirst. Then he showed us several chapels, each containing beautiful iconography. He led us to the one chapel that was revered as the cave where Jesus himself had prayed.
We treasured our visit to the monastery even more, because we had come so close to giving up on gaining entrance. We enjoyed some quiet moments of prayer before departing for our lunch. In my prayer, I thanked Mary for watching over our pilgrim group in so many ways and providing this special grace of opening the door of the monastery for our visit.
We do not have to journey to the Holy Land to ask Mary to lead us to her Son during our earthly pilgrimage. We can be certain that she gratefully and eagerly receives any such prayers. We can always count on Mary opening doors of opportunity for us to draw closer to Jesus.