Finding the grace of healing in the Holy Land

An image at the Basilica of the Annunciation, above, and the altar, below.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola advised pilgrims to ask God for the graces they needed before beginning their journey. As my wife and I prepared for our pilgrimage to the Holy Land with America Media, led by Father James Martin, SJ, I prayed for the grace of emotional and psychological healing. This grace of healing was something I urgently needed.

This past summer, I experienced a sudden and seemingly permanent loss of a friendship that I had valued so much. The abruptness with which it ended took me by surprise and, honestly, it broke my heart. I began a long downward spiral into depression that had a significant impact on me.

As a mental health therapist, I counsel many clients with depression. I’m keenly aware of how devastating this mood disorder can be. But this was the first time I personally experienced this feeling. I felt a huge weight on my heart and my psyche. I couldn’t sleep and didn’t eat. The pain was so intense that tears came readily and spontaneously. All the joy was sucked out of my daily life. A social worker colleague said, “Depression is a time and life stealer.” Worse, I hid this from family and friends, which made the depression more intense.

By the time we were preparing for our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I was better but still in emotional pain. I so much wanted to get back to my normal self. So I asked God for the grace of healing.

After landing in Tel Aviv, our first stop was to the Mount of Beatitudes. The beautiful guest house where we stayed for three nights was right on the Sea of Galilee where tradition holds that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. It was readily apparent to the 106 pilgrims that this pilgrimage was going to be blessed and full of many grace-filled moments.

Father Martin addressed us and told us that Jesus lived hic. Here. This Latin word would be repeated dozens of time. Hic. Jesus taught hic. He healed hic. He was born hic.

The Sea of Galilee and the surrounding environment is breath-takingly beautiful. The rolling green hills completely envelop the Sea which is about 200 feet below sea level. The Gospel story of the sudden storm that took the Apostles by surprise, when they had to awaken a sleeping Jesus took on a new meaning for us. We were on a boat on the Sea of Galilee for an hour and the weather changed many times—sunny and clear, then windy and overcast, then sun, then rain. Jesus calmed the stormy sea hic.

We took a short bus ride to Nazareth. Biblical scholars estimate that in those days, this poor town had 200 to 400 residents. It was an obscure village and the recipient of a joke from Nathaniel in John’s Gospel when he said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In my depression, I wondered if anything good could come from me. Irrational thoughts bedevil the depressed psyche.

Nazareth was Mary’s home. In the Basilica of the Annunciation is an altar with this inscribed on it: VERBUM CARO HIC FACTUM EST. On this spot, Mary said “Yes” and the Word became flesh here. And I was there. Hic. I prayed for a friend at the diocese who was going through a rough time herself and I continued to pray for my own healing. I prayed for Mary’s maternal love and grace. Surrounding the Basilica of the Annunciation are various representations of Mary from cultures and countries from all over the world. I found La Virgen de los Angeles, the patroness of my ancestral home of Costa Rica. I felt Mary smiling at me.

Fewer than 200 yards away is the Chapel of Saint Joseph. As the father of our Lord, Joseph has a special place in my heart. Joseph taught Jesus, not only the carpenter trade, but like any good father, his prayers, his manners, his values. The Holy Family lived in Nazareth. And I was hic.

Each night after dinner, we had faith sharing. As each pilgrim shared how he/she was moved by something that day, it was amazing to see how the Holy Spirit works in so many different ways, touching each of us in the way that we each needed to be touched.

It is possible I may never know why my friend ended our friendship, but the severe pain is lessened and the healing has begun. Jesus heals in Nazareth, in Capernaum, in Jerusalem. But he heals hic in my heart, in my soul and in my mind. I pray he heals in yours, too.

Rod J. Herrera, LCSW is director, Office of Child & Youth Protection, Diocese of Camden.