Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 11, 2000
Why do we have pilgrimages?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Lots of people that I know went to the Holy Land this year. I couldn't go but I wondered about the meaning of pilgrimages for myself and others like me.
There can be a lot of meaning for pilgrimages for all of us and for all of our lives. Pilgrimages are frequently mentioned in the Bible. Abraham and Sarah journeyed into the unknown in complete faith. The Israelites left Egypt in faith but also pilgrimed 40 years in the desert due to their lack of faith.
The wise men travelled a great distance to find Jesus. In the Gospels, Jesus goes from place to place, sometimes hurriedly as in Mark, never staying long but moving on to complete his mission.
Pilgrimages have a long tradition in Christianity too. From the earliest years, Christians travelled to Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. There is an account of just such a pilgrimage by a woman written in about 400. Pilgrimages took hold because people wanted to touch the places where Jesus lived but also because pilgrimages satisfy a need in us.
The jubilee year has been a special time for pilgrimages. Many people made efforts to go on formal pilgrimages. Some went to the Holy Land, others to shrines in various places and many more to our local pilgrimage sites such as Lac Ste. Anne. Still others made pilgrimages to the mountains or lakes to rest and relax in God's nature, away from life's endless activities.
What do all these pilgrimages (and many others too) have in common? First, there is a goal to be attained, one which is strongly desired. This desire sets us in motion, gives us direction and propels us.
Second, there is the actual decision to set out in spite of probable discomforts and preparation required. Although travelling is much easier for us than it was for Abraham and for Moses, it nevertheless entails difficulties.
Third, the actual travelling is usually in the company of others and/or in meeting others. Life is not travelled alone and neither is a pilgrimage. It is in relating to others as together we pray with our whole bodies as well as with our hearts.
The pilgrimage is not limited to the physical activity but there needs to be progress in our lives, a movement towards someone, towards a deeper life in God. A pilgrimage is basically a faith journey built around the words: leave, walk, rest and return.
In other words, leave all behind, travel sometimes arduously, rest and pray, return home a changed person. It is in reality a conversion experience.
There are many parallels between pilgrimages and our own lives, both physical and spiritual. We continue without much thought on our part from birth, going through the cycles of growth and development and terminating in death.
Our spiritual lives as well are a pilgrimage from Baptism through growth in faith, hope and love to our eternal reward in Christ.
As Moses and the Israelites journeyed through the desert so Christians have undertaken the journey through prayer and penance to interior reform. A deeper prayer life and a fuller commitment to God should be the fruits of the jubilee year whether we were able to go on a formal pilgrimage or not.
But our pilgrim journey does not cease once this special year is over. This year has taught us the importance of journeying in good weather and bad, of enjoying the beauty of nature, of enjoying the company of others on our journey.
As our inward journey to God continues, so should our outward journey to others. As we take time each day to praise and thank God, we take time to share some of our gifts with others.
The spiritual and corporal works of mercy are not outmoded. It seems there are more needed than ever in our society, both young and old who have no one to help them feel worthwhile.
Our pilgrimage continues in our willingness to help the poor but also those with whom we live and work. A smile, an encouraging word, a helping hand is what Jesus asks of us at the end of this special year. Reaching out to others was the focus of Jesus' earthly life and must be ours too.
We are not meant to stand still. Jesus sends the disciples out "Go and preach the good news to the whole world." We, too, in our contacts with others continue to preach the good news by how we live the Gospel call of Jesus.
Let us not let this special celebratory year slip by without realizing the importance of pilgrimage that continues far beyond a specific trip to a holy site.