I expected things to be different. I expected me to be different. I expected to be in the Holy Land and feel different. I thought I would be breathless with each footstep, completely enamored by the magnitude of the places where I stood.
But I wasn't. Not constantly. Not even mostly.
Please do not misunderstand: I love the experience I had in Israel. In fact, yesterday, for the first time, I had an intense longing to again walk along those streets.
But the chills and the speechlessness I expected were not part of my experience.
Being in Israel was hard. Not because of a culture or spiritual shock. It was hard because it is so very different from the place it was over 2000 years ago. The people are different. The streets are different. Churches have been built everywhere.
When I imagined the trip, I imagined wandering around the places where Jesus walked, talked, and prayed. I imagined being lost in thought and prayer, captivated by the scenes which Christ my Savior saw.
Then, it turns out that Mary's Well was built 10 years ago, the guide on the "Jesus Boat" on the Sea of Galilee will have everyone doing wedding dances, Biblical Cana was discovered in the valley below the site that has long been revered as that of the first miracle, and the visual stimulus of the images that Christ saw are blocked by the walls of Byzantine and more modern churches. It was hard to convince my mind that I was in the Holy Land, not merely in some church in the United States dedicated to things like the Agony in the Garden.
While it is true that my memories will serve me well in future reading of the Gospels, those moments that I spent walking there were hard. They didn't change anything. At least not any of the things I expected to have changed.
Perhaps that is the beauty of the Catholic Church. She is universal. Jesus is just as present in every mass, everywhere in the world, as He was in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Galilee, Capernaum, and Cana back then.
Whether I am there or I am here the Truth remains the same. And the Truth provides me with a good life lesson. Throughout my life God will continue to bless me with external potential instruments of His grace in my life. Whether those instruments be my friends here in the U.S. or the very land that supported the weight of Christ Himself 2000 years ago, the fact remains the same. At the end of the day, no matter what instruments He has the potential to use, if I'm not open to His love, if I do not listen for His voice, if I do not allow my heart to be converted, I will not grow. I will not love Him more. I will not have greater joy or greater peace. I will remain unchanged.
The challenges of living the Christian life exist everywhere the Christian exists. I have to beg Him (there as much as I do here) to change my heart, to cultivate within me true conversion.
Here or there, I'm still me.