"On any pilgrimage observed well we must recognize the need to change our course where sin is involved and to turn more faithfully to the Lord and his ways. Our steps on pilgrimage are certainly penitential as we endure difficulties and even pain. But pilgrimage is also joy and hope..."
Fr. Stephen Hamilton, S.T.L., Pastor and Three Hearts Pilgrimage Spiritual Director
In The Spirituality of Pilgrimage
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26). We come from God; we are meant for God. In the Christian spiritual tradition metaphors abound that communicate movement: ascent, steps, degrees, ways, paths, ladders, mountains to ascend, deserts to cross, and holy places to visit. Life itself is a mystery that unfolds and involves movement and motion. Since spiritual life is life it, too, advances and develops through movement and growth.
The description of spiritual life as a journey is a constant theme in tradition. On our spiritual journey we follow a lifelong process of moving to deeper communion with God and incarnating in all aspects of life the consequences of that deepest truth of our being: that we are made in God’s image.
Gathering in pilgrimage we experience in an incarnate fashion the journey and movement of the spiritual life. We take our steps toward a goal, but only because God first beckons us. We pass through the obstacles of this life, smooth passages and rough patches alike, enduring joys and sorrows (even physical pain), to arrive at our destination. Along the way we receive the support of others and we likewise support them in their needs.
Consider the prominence of journey stories in the Sacred Scriptures -
In the first pages of the Bible the story of creation recounts the emergence of the heavens and the earth in movement from chaos to order (cf. Gen. 1:1-2:4). Abraham, our father in faith, is called by God to journey in obedience from the familiarity of his home to a place that God would show him (cf. Gen. 12:1-2). Only by that obedient journey would Abraham become a great nation. The story of the Exodus is the pilgrimage story par excellence. It is the decisive event of salvation in the history of Israel. The term exodus itself refers to a departure, a passage, or a way out. The prophets recall time and time again Israel’s desert wanderings as a way to call God’s people to remember God’s deeds and to rekindle Israel’s desire to move toward God. The Psalms themselves are often song-prayers for use on the journey, especially during the ascent to the Holy City Jerusalem.
It is no surprise that God the Son, arriving in our flesh as a pilgrim among God’s people, engages in the journey of faith. At the start of his public ministry he goes out to the desert where he is tempted. He moves about from towns and villages preaching the Kingdom of God. He calls his disciples to “Follow me.” St. Luke picks up this theme in his Gospel as he sets the Lord’s public ministry in the context of one large journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Our journey as Christians is nothing more and nothing less than following Christ. We imitate him. We are called to intimacy with him. We are called to identify with him, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Baptized and made one with Christ as a member of his Body, we participate in the journey to the Father that he followed as he walked the earth. So prominent, in fact, is the theme of motion and journey that one of the earliest names for those who follow Christ is “The Way” (cf. Acts 9:2).
On any pilgrimage observed well we must recognize the need to change our course where sin is involved and to turn more faithfully to the Lord and his ways. Our steps on pilgrimage are certainly penitential as we endure difficulties and even pain. But pilgrimage is also joy and hope as we have the support of Christian fellowship, prayer and song, and as we know ourselves to be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses in heaven (cf. Heb. 12:1) urging us on to victory.
A pilgrimage is a time of great fellowship among the pilgrims and it can certainly be filled with laughter and inspiration. Yet on pilgrimage we do not fill the time with idle chatter, or by listening to secular music, or engaging in messaging or social media, or any other mundane activity. Rather, we should engage in prayer and penance and hymns to lift our mind and heart to God. We should not miss the opportunities for sacramental grace either, especially by making a confession and worthy Holy Communion. We should not forget the generous offering and opportunity for the indulgence associated with Three Hearts Pilgrimage.
Ultimately, pilgrimage is not merely or only about an earthly destination; rather, we must never lose sight of our heavenly home. And for this, the most important lesson of pilgrimage must be noted: we are called on a journey of transformation and not only a journey of movement from place to place. Rather, we must leave sin and godless life behind as we move to deeper friendship with the Lord who has walked the way in our flesh and who remains with us by his power as God.
In his Church we know ourselves to be pilgrim people. We follow in confidence the path to heaven that our Blessed Lord has opened before us. The pilgrimage is part of that path and it symbolizes that larger pilgrimage to heaven. What hope we have on pilgrimage: The Lord beckons us to our true home and he has opened the way before us!
Rev. Stephen Hamilton, S.T.L, Pastor
Three Hearts Pilgrimage Spiritual Director
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