GREETINGS rom he oly Land! 

I write this article overwhelmed with gratitude to God for bringing me once again to the land of Jesus at the start of my sabbatical. This time, I’m spending my journey here not as chaplain of a pilgrimage but as a participant of a retreat organized by the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago. 

I never knew much what to expect except that the retreat is led by two distinguished Scripture professors, Fr. Leslie Hoppe, OFM and Sr. Barbara Reid, OP. Through these professors, I knew that I would have a deeper knowledge and love of the Scriptures and a more intimate union with Jesus.

What amazed me was the kind of group that I joined: 15 religious women, mostly in their retirement years, who have had long, fruitful, and successful ministries or careers in the U.S. and other countries; and a few younger ones from Mexico, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Japan; two couples, one in their mid 80s originally from Netherlands; and another from Mexico whose daughter is one of the Sisters; three other lay women from New Orleans and Chicago; and two other priests, one from Japan. So it is an interesting group, varied in age, experience, culture, and background. 

We’ve been together for four days now, visiting the holy places of Jesus and going to archeological sites in Tiberias, listening to lectures on these places, reflecting on the Scriptures, and sharing our insights with one another, particularly after dinner. These past days may have been exhausting, but the energy, excitement, and graciousness among us are palpable in the way we speak and relate with one another. 

The excavations that are going still on in the Holy Land and Father Hoppe’s brilliant explanations have been amazing.  Sr. Barbara’s deep insights into the Scriptures have also been inspiring and thought-provoking.  But I believe that the great “excavations” and revelations we’ve also discovered are also the places of Jesus deep in each of our hearts in the group.

One participant shared how she sees Jesus in his humanity when our Lord asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Another one feels strongly affirmed as a woman when Jesus invited not only men but also women to be his disciples. The 86-year-old man in the group, who is still full of energy, continues to keep asking why he is in the Holy Land with his wife at this point in his life. Most of the Sisters in their 70s are still zestful and zealous about ministry. One of them, an Australian, is still finishing her Masters in Systematic Theology so she can go back to Papua New Guinea to teach. All other insights from and about other group members made me realize how Jesus is alive, how he continues to walk among us, and how he continues inviting all to follow him — men and women, young and old. 

When it seems like some of us have done it all and just want to lead a quiet life, it’s fascinating to know that there are people who keep on hearing the call of Jesus “to feed his lambs,” “to pour their nets into the deep,” to get lost in the mission because after all, that’s where they have realized that they can “find” the Lord!

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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