Pilgrim Spirit


 By Orlando Hernández
     Both the Gospel for the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the one for the Second Sunday, tell the story of the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River. In both Gospels the Spirit of God is seen descending upon our Lord in the form of a dove. It is a supernatural event where the Holy Trinity shines before the eyes of John the Baptist. (Mt 3: 13-17, Jn 1: 29-34)   

 Most religious tours to the Holy Land take their pilgrims to a place where they can prayerfully remember this moment. The site that years ago was used by all tours was a small dammed-in reservoir at the source of the river, very near the Sea of Galilee, all stocked with bathrooms, showers, rental of white gowns, restaurant, and souvenir shops. It was losing its popularity because it seemed so commercialized and artificial. So the Israeli government created a national park much farther south along the river bed, near Jericho and the “Mount of Temptation”, closer to the area where Jesus was probably baptized by John.

The place has a new Visitor Center, which charges for the showers and gowns for Evangelical Pilgrims who want to go into the waters of the small stream where the Israeli army allows water to flow just for this purpose. There are platforms and stairs leading into the water. It is a rather lovely place in the middle of the Judean desert. The Jordanians on the other side have a similar facility, with an Orthodox Church at the site.    

 Young, Evangelical Christians were having a ball sloshing around in the river. We Catholics would not dare go into those brown waters, but Fr. Charles poured  a small amount over each of our heads, and we renewed our Baptismal vows. It was a very solemn experience. Then, everyone went off to take pictures.    

 I had to sit down by the water. I could not leave the spot. I was overwhelmed by being there, and so was my wife. Perhaps it was the hot desert sun, but I sensed a shimmer all around. My Lord was once there, and still is now! I felt our Abba leaning over us. Was He well-pleased with us? One of our fellow pilgrims, Felicia, a Nigerian-American from the Bronx, stayed with us. She is Catholic Charismatic like us, and somehow we found ourselves standing up, holding hands, and praising God at the top of our lungs. We did not care how crazy we looked. It felt so right. I lost all sense of where I was in the dazzling light. I ran out of things to say in either English or Spanish, and starting praising in words that I did not understand. We sang, we cried, we laughed like children. The tour guide had to come and tell us that it was time to go.  We went back up to the bus “like men dreaming,” big smiles on our faces. We looked into each others’ shining eyes, lovingly.  

   The Baptist said, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, He is the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 1: 33b)  That’s what the Baptized Prince of Peace had done to us that day, no one can tell me otherwise. The Lord gave us a “Baptism of the Spirit” right then and there! The beauty of our Faith is that we do not need to travel thousands of miles to have this experience. Our beautiful Father can open up the clouds of our distraction and doubt, and look lovingly upon His “Beloved Son” right within our hearts. Their Living Spirit is constantly “coming upon” us if we just invite Him in prayer.    

 That day in Palestine, on the way back to the bus, we saw a spot where it seems someone leaves bird seed, and white pigeons come to feed. They were so wonderful to see, symbols of the Spirit of Peace. A few feet away, behind the barbed-wire fence,  the desert is still littered with unexploded land mines left there by the retreating Jordanian Army back in 1967. The Israeli Army has just left them there, a reminder that after all, we live in a very dangerous world. One could say that 2000 years ago, on that blessed day at the Jordan, Jesus’ pilgrimage would begin: His long, holy journey to the Cross, so that today I can dare to pray:

                                                    Holy Spirit, Beloved of my soul, I adore You. You enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me.  Thank You precious God! Let there be peace on earth. 

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