To the places
Where the Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us
Day 3: Capernaum – Mount of Beatitudes – Cana
I know this looks just like a lot of old stones but when you hear it was the house where Jesus lived you look twice and your imagination awakes. Capernaum is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and became his homebase for the walking expeditions he took with his disciples to preach the kingdom. It was also Peter’s home where Jesus cured his disciple’s mother-in-law (Lk 4:38-40). As the early Christian communities expanded it became a very early house-church like the ones that spread widely after the late first century.
We discussed this in the shade of a large tree with respect to the church today. Since Covid many Christian meditation groups have only slowly retuned to physical meetings – often held weekly in churches – and many have become hybrid. We wondered whether the Christian of the future might be primarily a member of a house-church: as in the early days of Christianity but with the additional element of supporting a regular contemplative practice. Will it be normal again one day to find a meditation room or worship space in people’s homes?
When Jesus taught on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount he focused, in a universal and radical way, on the deep and disciplined practice contemplation. In this, too, he was ahead of his time. The full meaning of this spiritual teaching, and of his other teachings on human society, was superficially recognised but the point was often missed. It did not truly register in Christian life for many centuries. Under the spreading branches of the tree, we sat and shared on what it might mean for the world if his Word were to touch and awaken more of us.
This is why many feel now that they are re-discovering Jesus and meeting him again for the first time. A young Jew I met told me how his studies surprisingly led him a fascination with Christianity a wisdom for our time.
Pope Francis issued his new exhortation on the climate emergency today, the Feast of Francis of Assisi. This is a sharp call to immediate action, titled ‘Praise God’ because, as he argues, the alternative to praising God is for us to fall into the self-delusion of self-praise. I started to read it by the house where Jesus lived and from where he travelled to sow the seeds of a never-ending revolution in consciousness.
The transparency of time and presence felt in pilgrimage grounds the eternal in history and shows God on a human scale. Until we can welcome the next era of human consciousness and germinate the seeds sown but still dormant, we will waste time, tinkering on relatively minor re-forms. But reforms tend to keep things essentially as they are. When seeds of new consciousness grow we leap into trans-formation.
The Capernaum synagogue was a short walk from the house of Peter and his family where Jesus stayed. There he had been rejected as he had been in his other hometown of Nazareth. The synagogue is a noble ruin today and I found myself wondering, if these seeds don’t grow, when it would be that visitors are show around what is left of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome or the Capitol Building in Washington.
The church on the Mount of Beatitudes is an octagonal building in honour of the eight short, timeless truths of true human blessedness and happiness. From its height we could see most of the places where Jesus delivered his teaching and worked his healings before he made his fateful way to Jerusalem, as we will tomorrow. We slowly read one of the Beatitudes at each of the windows that overlook the Galilean countryside down to the great blue lake. Then, as masses were being said around us at small chapels, we formed a circle and did a slow contemplative walk in the shade of great trees.
After a lunch of ‘Peter’s fish’ we left for Cana. The second chapter of John describes the sign performed in ‘Cana of Galilee’ with which Jesus opened his ministry, by turning water into wine at a wedding feast. The mystical marriage of God with Creation is at the heart of this story and of his insight into the Kingdom. It contains the seed of boundless hope and delight in the goodness and beauty of things. Once it begins to be experienced, the watered-down view of life that we have sadly settled for, is turned into the best wine of love.
We celebrated mass in Cana and the marriages of four couples in our pilgrim group, ranging from five to fifty-three years. Each described simply, humorously, and joyfully what marriage had taught and how it had changed them. Their love for finding each other and gratitude for their faithful love were very transparent. In a specific way, it dawned on me why Jesus so often speaks of the kingdom of God as a wedding feast.