The desire to travel to the very streets and houses and churches where the saints have stood, to see the visible miracles of our Faith where they first occurred, is not just a product of idle curiosity. It is a desire to honor, to pay homage to, those vessels of grace, both human and inanimate, that God in His wisdom and generosity has given to His people, and to be brought into living contact with them. That’s why the centerpiece of a pilgrimage is often a place that is associated intimately with particular holy men and women, their lives, the toil of their hands, their joys and sorrows.
We need a time and a place of respite, of peace and of “filling the emptiness”
“The purpose of a pilgrimage is about setting aside a long period of time in which the only focus is to be the matters of the soul.”
— L.M. Browning
The pilgrim’s motives, in fact, have always been manifold: to pay homage, yes, but also to fulfill a vow or obligation, to do penance, to be rejuvenated spiritually, or to feel the release of spiritual catharsis. Modern life is busier, more distracting, more stressful and less spiritually enriching than, one suspects, any other period in human history. Something terribly vital is missing in all this — we all know it, and we all feel it — and it is the ritual act of pilgrimage that aims to fill that emptiness with God’s presence, made tangible in the holy places and special people we meet along the way. We yearn to retreat from the world, to refresh, renew and recenter ourselves in Christ, who is our spiritual nourishment. This desire calls us to act, to leave the comfort of our homes to embark on a mission of renewal to deepen our faith, which brings life and joy.
The journey of life is, itself, a pilgrimage. We are called to be in the world, yet not of the world as we progress ever to our true home, which is heaven, and to our ultimate destiny, which is union with God.
Bringing about a “metanoia” — a change within
“Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.”
― Abraham Joshua Heschel
A pilgrimage, finally, is not only inspirational, but transformative. It is a physical journey to sacred places that brings with it a spiritual enlightenment: we come to know God better through our travels and discussions and meditations, and bring back with us into our daily lives a brighter flame of love for Him and for our fellow children of this loving Father. Our hope is that the pilgrimage experience will bring about a “metanoia” — the Greek word for a “change of heart,” a stirring of the spirit created by the rich experiences of our journey. And then, we hope, we may bring this greater understanding and this new spirit back with us, into our own life’s journey.