The Altar Where Earth Is Touched by the Heavenly Jerusalem

THE PILGRIM has an insatiable pull to finding an answer to the disturbing homelessness in his own heart. Like an infant, nothing quite satisfies him. Neither the temperature, nor the food, nor the good company with whom he is surrounded by can finally appreciate the weight of his being, of his unique existence and appetite for God, and of God’s own singular pull towards him. Nothing, that is, except for the Eucharist.

Pilgrimage 3Each step of the sojourner, each twisted ankle or arthritic knee, bent at the direction of this divine attraction twitches the thread that connects the human child to the Almighty Father who is in her heart. There is nothing quite like the ache of a Christian in whose soul neither faith nor reason alone can satisfy. Neither the beauty of harmony, that of nature and the human body, nor the beauty of achievement, that of wealth and admiration, nor even those higher requisites for happiness, of art and music and poetry, or sacred architecture and leisure or even the comfort of modern and ancient things, can sequester the heart of a child who is crying out for her dad or for his mom.

In the final analysis, I see now how great a need it is to be like a child in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 18). The pilgrim is like such a child. She is not in control of the itinerary. He can’t even shop when he wants to, nor eat and sleep as he sees fit. The comfort of the day is to rest the blisters on his feet or to grow in excitement for what may come next as a surprise to her. Life is new again; the experiences of the day are those of an newborn child: stunned, perplexed, awed, tired, strangely energetic, and always hungry. Heaven is the great surprise. There’s no room for bored and boring adults in there. The heart of the saint is inevitably the joyous heart of a youthful God.

Pilgrimage 4Why is it that we attribute wisdom to older faces and joy to youthful ones and attribute the same human qualities onto God? I’d rather say that God is far more like a fine wine: the more aged it is, the greater ability it has to gladden the heart. The world seems to discard God, because he seems to be a thing appropriate only to the “past,” to those ancient days when humans were more naïve and when the new god called modern science had not yet been born to explain away all the Christian myths that led to its own genesis. Far be it from being boring, the God whom I worship inebriates me more exquisitely the longer He ferments in my blood. And the more I notice His loving gaze towards me, the more I realize that nothing else can satisfy. All other lovely things are icons, or windows to Heaven, and pale in comparison to the wild wind of that which lingers in me after God has blown through myriads of beautiful Liturgies.

The closest culture to which this reality can be expressed on earth is the Holy Mass. Having celebrated it in the dust and heat, in the unlikely altars, or even in the great basilicas and cave enclosures, I can say without any hesitation, that despite my own meandering feelings and distractions, aches and comforts, it is all the same-self heart of God, which breaks open the limited symbol of bread and wine to the transfiguring presence of Heaven. It is the only truly infallible form of beauty that we share with God.

As I close these three articles, I have only one final reflection worth sharing. In my final days in Jerusalem, we visited many amazing sites, but at the end of the day only one place really stuck out to me and still does. The altar. It is the altar where earth is touched by the Heavenly Jerusalem. This reality is as true in the Holy Land as it is right here on the altar of St. Theresa in Palatine. The love of God for his children cannot be outdone by time or place. His romantic gesture to his Church cannot be replaced by alternative forms of itself. The Mass is the privileged place for this encounter. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38).

–Fr. Matt Jamesson


Feature Image (above) – Photo courtesy of Jim Zmich

Pilgrimage 7 - altar tomb bed of Christ

Above: Altar atop the marble encasing within which is the tomb bed of Christ.

Pilgrimage 5 - Church of the Transfiguration

Above: Church of the Transfiguration atop Mount Tabor.

Pilgrimage 6 - Mass at airport in Spain

Above: Celebrating Mass at the airport in Barcelona, Spain.

Pilgrimage 8 - Calvary

Above: Site of Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified.

Pilgrimage 1

Above:  Fr. Matt and his traveling companions.

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