Thanks to all my readers who have expressed their gratitude for my Jerusalem Diary. I am now coming in on the home stretch of my two month sabbatical in Jerusalem. On Tuesday I fly to London to lead a ten day pilgrimage then I’ll have ten more days visiting family and friends in England before finally flying home to South Carolina.

Has the sabbatical been worthwhile and what have I accomplished/learned? First of all, I managed to research and write a little book called The Secret of the Bethlehem Shepherds. This will come out in time for Christmas from Sophia Institute Press. They are putting that in front of The Way of the Wilderness Warrior–my book on spirituality that I delivered before heading out here to Jerusalem.

Other than that, what’s the point? I have spent two months on what has been an extended pilgrimage/retreat. One of the blessings has been to live with and worship with a community of pretty fantastic Dominicans. Men from USA, France, Spain, Poland and Nigeria are gathered here to study, teach and immerse themselves in the world class library–not only the one here at Ecole Biblique–but also at the Franciscan house of Studies, Hebrew University and more. There has also been the chance to meet some very interesting visiting scholars from around the world: an American professor of ancient languages, a Danish expert in the Dead Sea Scrolls, a forensic biologist who works on skeletons discovered in archeological digs and folks here to study, complete doctoral theses and more.

The location itself has been a huge blessing. One of the greatest and deepest impressions when living and working here is the constant awareness of the reality of the incarnation and therefore the living reality of God’s work in the world. Here Christ was born. Here the shepherds had a vision of angels. Here Jesus preached and healed and made both friends and enemies. Here he was tried. Here he prayed in the garden. Here he was betrayed with a kiss. Here he dragged himself to a miserable, humiliating death. Here he rose again. The rocks and stones themselves literally tell the story as you visit the ancient sites.

This blessing helps to put so much into perspective. The political turmoil of the day, the quarrels and bitter division in the church and the world,  the insanity of a world increasingly in the control of antiChrist–all of these things fall into perspective as you learn the history and walk through the history here–for these bitter battles have been part of human history everywhere and in every time.

The life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ blazes out among these concerns like a searchlight in a dark and stormy sea. I’m reminded of the line from that great hymn: “In the cross of Christ I glory–towering o’er the wrecks of time.”

This truth is hammered home as I wander the streets of the Old City and it is hammered not only into my head, but my heart, for if the “cross of Christ towers over the wrecks of time” then it towers over the wrecks of my time–my failures, flaws and bad choices. This is why the most precious memory I have is celebrating Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Easter morning standing in the area of the church that we Catholics occupy which is the chapel of Mary Magdalene. To stand there on Easter morning where she stood was simply overwhelming, and through my own tears I saw so many others–young and old from around the world–similarly over come. One young man next to me simply sat down and leaned against the wall with his face wet with tears. Next to me a little nun from the Philippines full of joy. That along with the gift of celebrating Mass on the fifth Sunday of Easter in the empty tomb itself is something I will never forget.

What have I done this week since returning from Greece? I finished that little book on the shepherds, I relaxed. I re-visited some of my favorite spots in the Old City. I tried to find some gifts for family and friends that were not too expensive, tacky or dumb. (I am not a good or enthusiastic shopper!)

Tomorrow I will have my final day here at the monastery. I’ll say my morning offices, celebrate Mass, meet a friend–a young Jewish woman who has converted to the Catholic faith, then go one last time to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and join the Franciscans in their daily procession around the church.

I don’t know if I will get back to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. My friends Steve and Janet Ray seem to have boundless energy to lead pilgrimages here. I might just tag along with them and let them do all the heavy lifting.