To Go On A Pilgrimage...
What a silly idea! Silly people! Why are they going on a pilgrimage? Why so far from home, far from material comfort, why to go walking on dusty roads, under a burning sun, before arriving exhausted at an uncomfortable camp site, going to sleep quite late, shivering for a few hours because the temperature has dropped, before getting up before dawn to hit the road again… To pray? But can't we pray everywhere? Don't we pray every day without having to go very far?
Moreover, physical fatigue, lack of sleep, body aches, sore feet are they not obstacles to a well-concentrated prayer. After a good rest, in the calm and comfort of a beautiful church, kneeling before a majestic altar, prostrating before the Blessed Sacrament surrounded by flowers and candles, with the beauty of Gregorian chant and the scent of frankincense…here are circumstances much more favorable to a well-made prayer! Why are we going on a pilgrimage? The answer is quite simple: because it is tradition.
For 2000 years the Catholic faithful have been going on pilgrimage. If our fathers in the Faith did so, we must imitate them. An old French proverb says "there is no point in reinventing hot water..." The Saints showed us the way to get to Heaven, let's not go on an adventure to discover other roads that lead we don't know where. Let's take the old roads, the ones that are certain. I can tell you that I don't know a single Saint who has never made a pilgrimage. Even the little Therese de Lisieux, who died at the age of 24, had time to make the pilgrimage to Rome. But not just this one: she did the pilgrimage to Rouen - place of the martyrdom of her dear St Joan of Arc - that of Notre Dame de Pitié, of Notre Dame de la Couture, of Mesnil-Herman - to St John Eudes - as well as the Grand-Pardon of Granville. The list is not exhaustive… So many pilgrimages made by this young girl before she entered Carmel at the age of 15… We could mention all the Saints, but it will be a little bit long… Why then do the Saints have this attraction for pilgrimages? Because they like to imitate our Lord. As a child, our Lord went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem… And his last three years on earth were only one long pilgrimage. Isn't the Christian supposed to imitate their Master? To go on a pilgrimage is to respond to the call of Christ: “Come and follow me”. To leave is to renounce material comfort, it is to detach oneself from material goods: in a word, it is the first of the beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Our ancestors left their homes, giving up all their material possessions for a long time - sometimes even forever - to conquer Jerusalem. On a much smaller scale, we renounce the goods of this world to go - much less far, and much less dangerously - to conquer heavenly Jerusalem. To go on a pilgrimage is to imitate Abraham in his reverential fear. "Deus vult!" God wants it! The Crusaders had the same Faith rooted in their hearts, the same fear of God which led them to this beginning of sanctification - or blessedness - which is the poverty in spirit. Once on the way, we will measure our incapacity to arrive alone: we do not save ourselves alone. We need the neighbor. From the inhabitant of the place, to show us the way, to give us water, to offer a scrap of bread... We also need our pilgrim brother to help each other, to drag along each other. But above all, we need God. It's all for Him, and we can't do it without Him.
A pilgrimage is not a sporting challenge, a training march for a Marines ’s battalion… It is here that one reaches the second degree of spiritual life, the second beatitude: Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. And with it, the gift of Piety. Apart from the battles, where the Crusader armies faced the Muslim armies, the Crusader pilgrim was gentle and patient towards the population. So, he conquered the Holy Land. Unfortunately, this was not always the case, and he lost the Earth. If you read the history of the Crusades carefully, they turned tragic when Crusaders were brutal and unjustly violent. They were a real success when the Crusaders were meek. (Virtues of Meekness and Gentleness in no way prevented them from fighting like lions when necessary. Quite the contrary.) This Virtue of Gentleness is the fruit of the second Gift of the Holy Ghost: Piety. Piety towards God increases Charity: the Love of God. And the more we love God, the more we will love our neighbor for God's sake.
"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! From him who brings good news, publishes salvation to him! Of him who said to Zion: Your God reigns! ". (Isaiah 52) But after a few hours of walk - or a few months for the longest pilgrimage - those feet aren't so beautiful anymore... They start to swell, they bleed... That's when you start to "pray with your feet." Necessary step in the spiritual journey: Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. The Gift which is conjoined to it is that of Knowledge. “This gift is a light of the Holy Spirit which enlightens the soul to know human things and to judge them with certainty, in relation to God and insofar as they are the object of Faith. The gift of Knowledge makes us see quickly what we must believe or not believe, what must or must not be done; the middle that must be kept between the two extremities where one can fall in the exercise of the virtues; but all this in general, because, for all that concerns particular cases, in the occasions where one finds oneself, and when one wants to decide to act, it is for the gift of Counsel that it belongs to prescribe what must be done… Because the science that the Holy Ghost gives us teaches us to know our faults and the vanity of earthly things, and it shows us that we should only expect misery and tears from creatures, the third beatitude is attached to it.” (Father Lallemant - in La Doctrine Spirituelle)
And the hours pass… The miles accumulate… A temptation arises: to stop… To lie there in the green grass in the shade of the trees… Fortunately for the pilgrim, the Holy Ghost watches: by the gift of Fortitude, He dissipates without delay our laziness, and ardently excites the powers of our soul to act. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. Indeed, St. Augustine writes, “Strength befits those who are hungry and thirsty; for they work, those who wish to enjoy true goods and who wish to distance their love from earthly and corporeal things.“ We want to reach our destination. No matter the pain, we will not falter. We will not slow down. We will not surrender. We will conquer. But the demon is still there: beaten by our holy obstinacy, he does not give up. Another trap is being prepared… Many fall into it… We close in on ourselves. We bend our backs under the weight of our bag, and we no longer think of anything other than our own pain. In the difficult situations of life, we usually follow the advice of the World; combinations of human prudence. “I don't have enough breath; I must save it…” We forget too much to have recourse to the Holy Ghost, whose counsels, guiding us surely, always establish peace in our souls. This Counsel of the Holy Ghost is the following:
Blessed are those who are merciful, because they will be treated with mercy. God does not fail to help those who charitably assist others in their needs. The Gift of Counsel powerfully suppresses avarice - and selfishness - and leads us to acquire treasures for Heaven. “Follow the counsels of God; their perfection is such that the world cannot understand or know them.” (Saint Bonaventure.) The pilgrim - and the crusader - approach the goal of their pilgrimage. But the devil still lurks: the old enemy never sleeps. He prepares his next attack: it is not new: “Peter, then speaking, said: Behold, we have left all to follow you; what will be our reward?“ Self-interest is coming-back… We had left for God alone… but human nature is coming back. What will be my reward? I didn't do all of this for nothing. I have a right to something. To have walked with God, to have offered Him our sorrows is not enough. The purity of intention has disappeared: we no longer really know if it was for God or for ourselves... Vain glory that erases all the accumulated spiritual merits. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Fortunately for us, the Holy Ghost is watching. “As soon as the Holy Ghost enlightens, He changes human affections: one ceases to be what one was, and one becomes what one was not.” (Saint Gregory.) “The gift of Intelligence puts a violent curb on our gluttony and nourishes our soul with celestial delights. Intelligence suits those who are pure in heart, and who with their purified eye can see what the bodily eye has not seen.” (Father Lallemant - in La Doctrine Spirituelle)
Finally, we see it: the abbey! - Jerusalem! Chartres! Santiago! - whatever the destination: we have arrived. A sigh of relief escapes from every chest. The eye is moved. The body is at peace despite the aches: we enter the house of our Father. Mass is about to begin, what a delight! “When one has the Holy Ghost the heart expands, bathes in divine love. There are those who find religion boring: it's because they don't have the Holy Ghost.” (St. John Marie Vianney.) “The gift of Wisdom inspires us with a courageous contempt for lust, subjects us entirely to the yoke of chastity, and thus restores our freedom.” (St. Bonaventure). The beatitude which responds to the gift of Wisdom is the seventh. Blessed are the peacemakers; or because Wisdom orders everything according to God, and peace consists in this good order; or because Wisdom means that one is no longer touched by things that could trouble the heart.
After this spiritual and physical journey, you will have to return home. Return to the small daily routine of daily duty of state in life. What will be the consequences in your daily life? What to expect? For all, expect to limp for a few days. The feet are swollen, the legs sore, the shoulders sawn off by the weight of the bag... That's the physical consequence, but what will be the moral and spiritual consequence? There are two possibilities:
Those who unfortunately have made a bad pilgrimage, for them, nothing will change. They will quickly fall back into their imperfections and vices… It will be very different for those who have had a real spiritual journey: they will come back transformed. They will act virtuously, following the promptings of the Holy Ghost - the Seven Gifts - and as a result they will be blessed - in other words holy - according to the degree of the beatitudes they practice. And this bliss that they will possess here below, no one can take it away from them. Certainly, the Devil, the World and a part of themselves will strive to destroy their happiness. Upon returning home, do not expect peaceful, Eden-like comfort. No, not in this world. Instead, expect to be persecuted for justice' sake. Without persecution, would we be able to follow Christ until the Cross? Without the Cross, there is no Resurrection.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Expect to be insulted, persecuted, mocked, accused of all crimes…because of Christ. The closer we are to Him, the more we will be attacked because He is the center of the target, and the closer we get to Him, the more we will suffer from the attacks made against Him. The more it will be difficult, the more we shall rejoice: we are getting closer.
If you were expecting at your return a beautiful life: a life without pains, difficulties or hardships, a life of care bears amidst pinky clouds and unicorn's glitter: I am sorry to disappoint you: Fake news. We are on earth to follow our Lord and Master until death, and the death of the Cross. It is a spiritual warfare which will last until our death. Sursum Corda! Up lift your heart. ‘’In God's name, the soldiers will fight, and God will give the Victory.’’ (St. Joan of Arc).
So, pray and fight; rejoice and be glad - for your reward will be great in Heaven!
- Canon Pierre Dumain, Vicar
St. Francis de Sales Oratory (St. Louis)
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Three Hearts Pilgrimage today!