A Word in Season
Each pilgrimage brought a special blessing and learning to my life at the time it was undertaken. Today I know several people preparing to pilgrimage to Rome for John Paul II's beatification in May, and to meet Benedict XVI this summer in Madrid for World Youth Day.
I am grateful for the opportunities to travel to these pilgrimage sites. And yet, long before such occasions were afforded me, I learned the core of that pilgrimage idea from the Church: that even if we never get to go to one of these magnificent places, we are still on a journey with the Lord.
Spiritually, there have been many less formal pilgrimages-in-kind that have borne great fruit in my life. All it took was asking Jesus to accompany me on these "journeys" . . . pregnancy, retreats, periods of illness, liturgical seasons, coursework, and moving to a new home or a new job, just to name a few.
While the predominant focus of a pilgrimage is on its end—the destination—it is important to remember that the very act of journeying is often beneficial. We must not scorn the struggles or hardships along the way. For the joyous conclusion truly informs the time spent, and the lessons learned, en route.
After all, Jesus Christ, the "Alpha and Omega" (Rev. 21:6; 22:13), our beginning and end, also declared, "I am the way . . ." (Jn. 14:6.) Jesus longs to be invited to walk alongside our every step.
The next liturgical season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (March 9, 2011). The Church calls us anew to pilgrimage together. Lent's weeks of penitence and prayer comprise a pilgrimage of faith that we don't necessarily have to travel far from home to complete! We might thoughtfully consider preparing for our Lenten journey by asking ourselves a few questions . . .
Where does our heart wish to go?
What or whom do we seek?
Is God calling us to something new, or to something we may have been avoiding?
What are we packing?
What should we leave behind?
What shape are we in as begin the journey?
Are we open to God? Or closed? Perplexed, nervous, or bored?
What would it take to make us excited about this journey?
And so, from one sojourner to another, I have only one recommendation: have a go at asking Jesus to be your trip planner, your travel guide, and your road map during Lent. Then watch where he takes you.
We pilgrims are searchers seeking, wayfarers wondering, and travelers trusting. The beauty of a pilgrimage is that we don't need all the answers to our quandaries when setting out. We simply make the journey in faith toward a hoped-for destination, leaving the results to God.
The key to any successful pilgrimage is keeping one's heart well disposed to him.
We needn't fear such journeys. Generations of pilgrims have come before us. I imagine Abram from ancient Ur. God spoke to him and Abram responded with a willing obedience to the God who not only changed his name to Abraham, but also changed his life, leading to a larger family, a promised land, and a future kingdom legacy beyond Abraham's dreams (Gen. 12-25). (Not only that, God set Abraham on his pilgrimage at an advanced age: we are never too old to make a journey that the Lord bids us on!)
Abraham's willingness to make the journey had lasting effects, leading to successive covenants through the centuries. These covenants drew God's people deeper and deeper in relationship with him, until one day they would come to meet him face to face in the Person of Jesus Christ.
So that one day, too, a couple millennia later, a hobbled middle-aged woman and her only daughter would entrust their own ways to Christ, as they gazed at him from below the monstrance set on a high altar in Paris.
Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press. Subscribe to “A Word in Season” via email or RSS.