One aspect that strikes me about our formation in the Fraternity is the importance given to history—not only the history that can be studied but also the story of each one us. I think this insistence on narrative derives from the fact that it is impossible to love that which is not known.
Last September our superiors proposed something that had never been done before (in our seminary, or in the history of our formation): a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with all the seminarians and many of the priests who follow our formation, in order to see and get to know the places where Jesus lived. There were about forty of us, just enough to fill a touring bus. We were guided by Fr. Vincent Nagle and Fr. Lirio Di Marco.
Through his reflections and the readings from the Gospel, Fr. Vincent helped us to enter and experience in a profound way the various places we visited. In him, we recognized a man in love with the history of that land, not only because of the seven years passed there in mission, but primarily because it speaks about Christ.
One of the places that struck me most was the basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. As we waited outside the basilica I experienced a strange tension. On the one hand, I felt unworthy of presenting myself in that sacred place were the Word was made flesh, and on the other hand, I wanted to wrap my head around the exceptional fact of the Incarnation. We celebrated Mass at the main alter of the Basilica. After listening to the readings that recount the Annunciation and watching Fr. Francesco during the consecration of the hosts, this thought dawned on me: what happened two thousand years ago to the Virgin Mary was happening again in front of my eyes. God asked of Mary something that was unique and unrepeatable, and yet, the mystery of the Incarnation remains present in the Eucharist and was being offered to me. The anxiety of comprehending was transformed into gratitude for the possibility of seeing and contemplating the place where the Mystery became flesh, where the Mystery entered into history. This kind of experience repeated itself in many different ways during the pilgrimage. Whether in Galilee, Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, it was always possible to touch something historic, and at the same time not only historic (like the grave of Julius Cesar), but present, something that we continue to live.
The disproportion between what happened in those holy places and what surrounds them today, full of conflict, at times was shocking. But day after day, this disproportion became a sign of the gratuitousness of God: He wanted to enter into the concreteness of our lives, despite the imperfections and rejections. In Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land, in the Memores Domini who are present there, and in the other Christians me met, we witnessed, in a beautiful way, how God’s gratuitousness remains. It is present like an underground spring, which is discreet, yet real, and continues to generate fruits in those lands.
Being in the Holy Land was a wonderful occasion to look together at the core of what unites us, at the communion that was lived in precise places between Christ and those who followed him, which now reaches us in a concrete way in the Fraternity.