Pilgrimage, Footsteps of Paul and John

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

October 27, 2007


            My body is physically in Maryland, but it is still on Turkish time. So I am awake in the middle of the night, thinking about our parish pilgrimage to Turkey and Greece.

            If you ever get the chance to make the same trip --- go. It will change the way you read the Bible. It will give you a personal connection to the apostles and the early Christians.

            For 17 days we followed the places associated with the letters of Paul and the writings of John, including the Book of Revelation. Gradually these scriptures began to make some sense in their own setting.

            In the past, especially Revelation had seemed an impenetrable private vision, better off left out of the scriptures because it is too confusing and too open to crazy interpretations.

            But as we traveled across the ancient Roman province of Asia Minor known to Paul and John, I began to see Revelation as a letter of encouragement and criticism meant to help besieged communities persevere in the faith. Not unlike our own situation.

            The details came alive.

            For instance, at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22), we saw how the water from the hot springs at Hierapolis and the cold water of the Lycus River met at the wealthy city of Laodicea. There they became the “lukewarm waters” referred to in Revelation that the apostle would “spit out.” Their water was a metaphor for their tepid spiritual lives.

            We also understood the irony of the fact that a city famous for the eye salve it produced could be “spiritually blind.” The irony that a city so rich it refused help after an earthquake could be considered spiritually impoverished.

            In Laodicea we also saw evidence of faithful Christians. On the back of one of the ancient pillars, where no one but the carver could see it, was a menorah with a cross above.  A sign of faith still speaking to us two thousand years latter.

            But it was not always the physical ruins that made the greatest impression. Sometimes we could feel a certain presence of the persons who had gone before us.

            This happened with two women. At Ephesus, in Turkey, we felt the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus. At Philippi, in Greece, we felt the presence of Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, who became the first Christian in Europe.

            In Ephesus, we really have no good historical evidence of where “Mary’s house” was located.  But a strong tradition says she came to Ephesus with John, because Jesus entrusted her to John from his cross.

            At the site, we know that there was a first century house. There we celebrated mass outside on a mountain top. There we could feel Mary’s calming presence.

            In a world torn by religious division, this Jewish woman, the bearer of Jesus, is revered by Catholics, Orthodox, and Moslems. Maybe she could be a path to peace among her many children.

            At Philippi, we also had mass outside. It was near Lydia’s river, just down the road from the ruins of the ancient city where Paul preached to the Philippians.

            There by flowing water this ancient place of baptism made the spirit of Lydia come alive.

            We could see a little band of people clustered by the river. There were Paul and Luke, Timothy and Silas, who had come with Lydia and her family. Away from the city, this good woman, the protector of the apostles, took a huge risk to embrace the gospel. She affirmed us in our commitment even today.

            After 17 days of travel we are glad to be home. But our faith community now knows its roots among the ancients. We really are linked to all those who had gone before us, marked with the sign of faith.