Traveling to the Holy Land has never really been on my dream to-do list. My grandparents were blessed to go there before they passed on and had a wonderful time and my dad was even recently talking about a trip, but it’s never held much appeal for me. I think of it as a dry, barren place with much conflict, and while I wouldn’t mind seeing the places where Jesus walked, there were just too many other beautiful places I’d rather go.
Recently, I was asked to review a new book entitled “The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage” by one of my favorite priests, Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J. Father has led almost 60 trips to Israel and is an expert on the Holy Land and its Catholic significance. I love to listen to him on Catholic Answers radio, because he is such a humble guy and he is wonderful at explaining the complexities of the Catholic faith in terms that make sense to me. So I was delighted to take a look!
As soon as I opened this book, I was entranced! It’s a lovely hardcover book full of heavenly photography that gives you a wonderful sense of place. It didn’t take too many pages before I realized why I should care about visiting the Holy Land: You can’t truly understand the Bible without an understanding of the context in which it’s written.
Don’t you gloss over all the names of towns and mentions of geographical places and details when reading the Bible? I do! I thought, “Eh, that’s not important, it’s WHAT Jesus is saying that is important.” But after reading Fr. Mitch’s book, I realized I was missing a giant component that could greatly help my comprehension of the scriptures.
Let me give you an example. In the Bible when “The Visitation” is described, it says “Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judea.” As we meditate on this mystery during the rosary, we should consider how Mary felt as she made this journey. You can only truly do this with a knowledge of the time and place where this occurred.
In Fr. Mitch’s book, he takes you to the actual “hill country” that is referenced and explains how “hilly” it really is. Says Fr. Mitch in his book, “The climb up the driveway [to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s property] is a bit strenuous, causing one woman on a pilgrimage to say, ‘You mean she came up here pregnant?'” Can you imagine Mary pregnant, riding a donkey and climbing up a hill — in haste no less? How’s that for food for thought?
In his book “The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage,” Fr. Mitch leads you step by step through each geographic region of the Holy Land, taking you to all the key landmarks. In his wonderfully conversational writing, he explains the importance of each location, takes you on a verbal tour of the area and offers a prayer or bit of scripture for reflection. Each section is also accompanied by beautiful photography so you can imagine what it’s truly like to be there.
In many places, Father cleared up some facet of Catholicism I didn’t understand or revealed to me some obvious connection I’d never made by explaining the geographical importance. But he’s just good at that :).
This book is the next best thing to actually traveling to the Holy Land, because let’s face it, for many of us, budgets just don’t allow for it. Maybe someday… but this is as good a start as any. It would also make a great companion if you really are traveling to the Holy Land. You could read the scriptures at each place, learn about the location, reflect on his words and pray the prayers Father has composed.
Guess what? Now, I’m dying to travel to the Holy Land! Thanks Father Mitch :).
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