“Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a visitor, a pilgrim traveling along the road, making his way to the desired destination.” — Pope Francis
pil-grim-age (noun) [pilgrimij]
- a journey, esp. a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion
pil-grim (noun) [pilgrim]
- any of the English Puritans who founded Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620
- one who goes on a long journey to a holy place for religious purposes
“We are all pilgrims progressing from time to eternity, and our goal is the Father himself. He constantly calls us beyond what is familiar and comfortable to new paths of faith and trust.” — St. John Paul II
Welcome to This Pilgrim Life, a new community of pilgrims each on a journey home, back to the Father. As we travel on this earth, I am reminded of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, where He said, “be perfect as my Father is perfect”, meaning, be whole and complete, mirroring His character — becoming fully human by imitating the loving qualities of God. The best example to follow is Christ, how he lived and taught these radical views of love. Following Christ and connecting with the Divine is part of what This Pilgrim Life is all about.
Recently in our offices, the staff along with Dr. Robert Moynihan, engaged in a conversation regarding the current situation in the world, the level of confusion and fear in which people live. The mis-understanding of their purpose or who they really are and the idea that identities can be created by doing things such as tattoo art, piercings, sexual re-assignment surgeries — actions that only bring short term satisfaction followed by the next descent into despair and confusion. The extensive list of terms now used to identify a person’s sexual orientation is another example of the depth of desire to have an identity.
What I believe is happening is a growing disconnect from the divine. Generally, man has lost that knowledge of what we really are: spiritual beings whose journeys here on earth in these physical bodies is part of a longer journey — one in which we grow in relationship with and in which our ability to mirror the qualities of our perfect Father grows. This disconnect from the Divine exists is so many forms. Whether it is due to atheism or this trend of “spiritual but not religious” or just plain ignorance of the spiritual. Many live their lives insulated from contact with the Divine by either not attending a place of worship or by not spending any time in nature. They spend their time in man-made buildings, traveling in man-made machines and walking on unnatural surfaces connected to a virtual digital world where much is altered or distorted and news is dished out in short, emotionally-driven, sensational snippets. No wonder there is so much fear and confusion.
We were not made to be here eternally, we were made to live eternally with God in Heaven. The journey on earth allows us to participate in the salvation story to redeem our souls and those of others through redemptive suffering and allow our sufferings to be transformative. There is much to learn about this human experience and how to allow God’s love and grace into our humanity, to experience the pain, to let it pass through us and more importantly, to change us, perfecting us, bringing us closer and closer to the Divine, as Christ suffered. With each suffering, we need the transformation to continue on the journey. If not transformed, we will only transmit the suffering and the journey will stall.
The saints understood this. Ancient pilgrims understood this and underwent long walking pilgrimages to sacred sites seeking God and need to grow closer to Him and gain greater understanding. It was an opportunity to disconnect from their everyday life of busy-ness and focus on their interior spiritual life. They felt this deep desire to honor, to pay homage to, those vessels of grace, both human and inanimate, that God in His wisdom and generosity gave to His people, and to be brought into living contact with them. For many pilgrims, the motive to pilgrimage is also to fulfill a vow or obligation, to do penance, to be rejuvenated spiritually, or to feel the release of spiritual catharsis. A pilgrimage is, finally, transformative. It is a physical journey that brings about an interior change of heart, a stirring of the spirit created by the rich experiences of our journey. And then, this greater understanding and this new spirit comes back the pilgrim, to further their life’s journey.
Today, this sense of pilgrimage continues, in different forms. There is the growing community of long-distances hikers who set out for months to hike long trails like the Appalachian Trail (2100+ miles), the Pacific Crest Trail (2600+ miles) and the Continental Divide Trail (3600+ miles) in the United States, the El Camino de Compestelo in Spain (600+ km), the Te Araroa (1800+ miles) in New Zealand and other trails all over Europe and South America. Visit your local book store and you will find numerous memoirs written by long distance hikers and the spiritual renewal or redemption that many of them find on their treks. Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca. Our Jewish brothers reverently speak of visiting the Holy Land and many pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. There are also the designed pilgrimages or tours designed by companies to bring pilgrims to sacred sites all over the world.
Here at Inside the Vatican Pilgrimages, we lead our pilgrims on a journey “into the heart of the Church” encountering not just the ancient stones of sacred sites — learning of the history of our Faith — but the “living stones of faith” as well — the people we meet along the journey. That “living stone” may be a real Swiss Guard, a guardian of a first-class relic of St. Padre Pio, a monk, a cab driver with a particular devotion to a relatively unknown saint, a caretaker at a shrine, a Cardinal in the Vatican or the welcoming hostess in a local family restaurant. We never know what gifts await us in these encounters….we just know that these pilgrimages always effectuate a change in us, in the pilgrims that join us and in those we meet along the way. It is in this spirit of pilgrimage, the process of exterior journey that prompts an interior journey, that is one way of re-connecting or increasing one’s connection with the Divine — of growing closer to home.
Join us in This Pilgrim Life and journeying in this life’s pilgrimage back home …