Summer is the time that many of us travel, leaving home for vacation. When I traveled, my eagerness was at its peak when I started out, but by the end of my trip I was just as eager to return home—and to my own bed.
A few decades ago I would spend summers backpacking the Rockies or Tetons, or portaging with a canoe through Canada’s Massasauga and other Provincial Parks. As I aged, backwoods excursions gave way to less strenuous trips.
For the past five years I’ve travelled with Ann Lewis of the Catholic Writers Guild to their conferences. These excursions—like the wilderness trips—lasted ten to fourteen days and were more of a pilgrimage than a vacation. An article by Daria Sockey in the summer issue of Catholic Digest explores the idea of a pilgrimage and how it differs from a vacation. She writes that “A pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place, undertaken with the intention of becoming closer to God…” whereas a vacation is more about us and our desire for pleasure and ease. I was—and in a few weeks will be again—a pilgrim seeking God among other writers at the conference.
My traveling will be brief this year. I will take a train to Chicago and be away four days. Two years ago Ann and I drove to Texas and back in eleven days. I love being with Ann; her kind nature and gentle ways make her the perfect companion on our trips. Texas was no different except that it was a very long drive from Michigan. The distance had an affect on me. Before the conference ended I was homesick. I knew there was still a three-day drive ahead until I could finally rest in my own bed.
What brought all this to mind this week was the Feast of the Ascension. In Scripture (Luke 9:58) Jesus said that foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head…no place to call home. He also tells us repeatedly about His, and our, heavenly home. I can imagine that Jesus felt like a pilgrim on this earth. There are times during the days following His resurrection when he seemed exasperated with the Apostles. It was as if Jesus were saying ”Will you guys please get a handle on this so I can go and send the Holy Spirit to take over?” At Mass for the Ascension I thought about Jesus’ human side and wondered if he too may have been homesick. I wondered if after all that he had been through and done, if he felt like he couldn’t rest until he rested with His father.
Some of us may see our pilgrimage as a long journey from childhood, especially for the consecrated or the abused. We may not realize how near its ending is until the distance to death is shortened. In the end, we all long to feel that embrace and rest fully in God.