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Tuesday, September 21, 2010
An Eastern Rite Catholic friend of ours recently wrote that her family has a tradition of going on pilgrimage to a monastery over the Labor Day weekend. What a wonderful way to close out the summer!
Pilgrimage is an ancient spiritual practice. Although any vacation can take on aspects of a pilgrimage if approached with that intention, a pilgrimage is essentially different from a vacation. It means to go to a holy place, often suffering some inconvenience in the process, and be changed by the experience. It doesn't matter whether the place is near or far.
In Rome, there is a 400-year tradition of a pilgrimage to seven important churches. In the jubilee year of 2000, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati sponsored a seven-church pilgrimage on one day, May 21, 2000, in each of the three areas of the archdiocese.
In conjunction with the event, we produced a video in which we interviewed a priest, a rabbi, an imam and an academic expert on Hindu and Buddhist spirituality. One of of our priests was unhappy with this reminder that pilgrimage isn't just a Christian tradition. But I think it's important to recall that, even before God became one of us, human beings have always been infused with a sense that there is something deeply significant about going away and coming back.
And yet, pilgrimage is also distinctively Christian, from travelers to the Holy Land and the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain to the pilgrims to Canterbury telling their stories that make up Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
In a document on "The Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee," the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers called pilgrimage "a paradigm of the whole life of faith" for Christians:
"The departure reveals the decision of the pilgrims to go forward up to the destination and achieve the spiritual objectives of their baptismal vocation; walking leads them to solidarity with their brothers and sisters and to the necessary preparation for the meeting with the Lord."
At their destination, Christians are invited "to listen to the word of God and to sacramental celebration." Their return "reminds them of their mission in the world as witnesses of salvation and of builders of peace."
It was not without meaning that Servant of God Dorothy Day called the column she wrote about her daily life and observations "On Pilgrimage." We are all on pilgrimage until we return to our true home with God.
Posted by Doctor Dan at 3:26 AM