“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
Happy Easter! He is Risen! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Welcome to Pilgrim Paths, 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. Encountering Christ and connecting with the Divine is part of what Pilgrim Paths is all about, encountering Him in the Eucharist, in the ancient stones of the spiritual sites we visit, in the “living stones” of faith including in each other.
Pope Francis, in his Easter Vigil Homily this year, spoke beautifully of rolling away our own tomb stones to encounter the “living stone, the risen Jesus”. He begins the homily describing the journey of the women carrying spices to the tomb of Jesus, fearing it is vain, since the entrance to the tomb was covered by a large stone.
The journey of those women is also our own journey; it resembles the journey of salvation that we have made this evening. At times, it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people. So too, in the history of the Church and in our own personal history. It seems that the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life.
Today however we see that our journey is not in vain; it does not come up against a tombstone. A single phrase astounds the woman and changes history: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5). Why do you think that everything is hopeless, that no one can take away your own tombstones? Why do you give into resignation and failure? Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside. God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus.
He continues in his homily challenging us to identify the stones in our lives and hearts, is it the “stone of discouragement” and/or the “stone of sin”? Do we keep looking for the living among the dead? It is easier and comforting to go down the same paths and revisit the discouragements, disappointments and this “tomb” ideology that we just can’t get out of it — succumbing to hopelessness. Sin is the stone that seals the heart and separates us from God’s light leaving only “solitude and death.”
The women upon arriving at the tomb, saw the stone rolled away, halted in amazement and then huddled in fear. As we often do today. Why?
…it is easier to remain alone in the darkness of our heart than to open ourselves to the Lord… The Lord calls us to get up, to rise at his word, to look up and to realize that we were made for heaven, not for earth, for the heights of life and not for the depths of death.
Just as the women had lost hope, so do we, over and over again — failing to remember the words of Jesus or failing to remember the encounters we have already had with Him, instead returning to “the dead, digging up regrets, reproaches, hurts and dissatisfactions, without letting the Risen One change us.”
Easter teaches us that believers do not linger at graveyards, for they are called to go forth to meet the Living One.
Pope Francis ended his homily encouraging us to put Jesus at the center of our lives, to encounter the “living stone,” our Risen Lord. In the busy-ness of these modern and confusing times, it is all the more important to take the time for deep reflection, identifying our tomb stones, rolling them away to let the light and love of Christ into our hearts and choosing to step onto a new path away from the tomb to live the abundant life He has planned for us.
The saints understood this. Ancient pilgrims understood this and underwent long walking pilgrimages to sacred sites seeking God to satisfy the need to grow closer to Him and gain greater understanding. It was an opportunity to disconnect from their everyday life 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.
One ancient pilgrim path, known as the Camino de Santiago, traditionally began at the pilgrim’s home in any of the European countries and ended at the Tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Today many of the routes from the different countries remain marked and traveled by modern day pilgrims. Many pilgrims choose to pilgrimage another three days along the Camino de Finisterre, starting in Santiago de Compostela and finally ending at the ocean. It is tradition to toss your walking shoes into the ocean symbolizing the casting off of your old life — or as Pope Francis so beautifully described, rolling away those tombstones covering your heart — and walking away in a new life, on a new path.
We, at Inside the Vatican Pilgrimages, understand this too. During our pilgrimages, we lead our pilgrims on a journey “into the heart of the Church” encountering Christ in the daily Mass, 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 or a Cardinal in the Vatican. 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 removing the tomb stones from our hearts and allowing the love and light of Christ in, and thus, grow closer to home.
Join the Pilgrim Paths and journey with us in this life’s pilgrimage back home …
Visit our Home Page for a list of upcoming pilgrimages.