When I begin my weekly column I take a look at the Catholic Sun schedule and the particular topic assigned for the week. Pilgrimage is the suggested theme for this week. I immediately thought about recent pilgrimages I have made with some of you. I recalled last fall’s pilgrimage to Ireland and earlier pilgrimages to Italy and Ireland.
A pilgrimage is more than a trip. It is a journey, often a long one, made to a sacred place as an act of faith and devotion. A pilgrimage usually includes some hardship and challenges. A schedule has to be observed which often includes demanding transportation schedules, waiting for luggage, adjusting to a different time zone, inclement weather, extended treks by foot, and so on. Of course visiting, praying at, and enjoying the sacred places during the pilgrimage compensate for the challenges along the way.
Lent is a sacred pilgrimage. We began the journey on Ash Wednesday. Hopefully, we committed ourselves to this holy journey by taking up the age-old practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In addition, given our diocesan initiative to bring a measure of hope and healing to those affected by the sin of sexual abuse, I hope you will join me in praying and fasting for those affected by this sin.
When we make a pilgrimage we are attentive to bringing the essentials. What are the essentials for our Lenten pilgrimage? Allow me to suggest three: Sacred Scripture, silence, and a spirit of repentance.
Take time to read the Sunday Gospel and consider its meaning for your life. Come to Sunday Mass a few minutes early to read the Gospel before Mass begins or remain a few minutes after Mass to reflect on it.
In this Year of the Family, I encourage parents to introduce their children to the Gospel passage. Read it with them, explain it, and listen to them. Children and young people are often eager to share their understanding of a Gospel passage or ask questions about it. There are many resources for children that can assist you as you introduce your children to the Gospels. Ask your pastor or parish catechetical leader for assistance.
“Let it be our chief study to meditate on the life of Jesus” (Imitation of Christ). This good advice comes from the 15th century writer Thomas à Kempis. It is timely advice for all of us on our Lenten journey. Where better to begin our study of the life of Jesus than with the Sunday Gospel?
Reading the Sunday Gospel or other scripture passages bears fruit when we learn to listen to the words and spend time thinking about them. This listening requires silence. In our world, silence is a precious commodity. There is so much chatter, so much talk and reporting, so many sounds begging for our attention. The psalmist tells us to “Be still and know that I am God.” Our Lenten journey will benefit from times of silence when, like our Blessed Mother, we ponder and treasure God’s word, turning it over in our hearts and minds so its richness and grace seep into the fabric of our lives.
“If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God. He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew” (Pope Francis, Lenten Message, 2018). Surely along the way of our Lenten journey we will encounter our sins and recognize our need “to begin loving anew.”
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we encounter Jesus. He comes to meet us, not to punish or to scold, but to forgive us. His steadfast love and mercy endure forever and are available to us when we approach Him for healing, pardon, and peace. Sometime on your Lenten pilgrimage this year be sure to stop along the way and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Pilgrims keep their sights on the sacred place toward which they are journeying. They endure the hardships and challenges along the way because the sacred place is before them. Lenten pilgrims should do the same. We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. During the journey we will see how He is misunderstood and rejected. We will hear and witness the hostility of the religious leaders of the day as they plot against Him. We will watch Him wash the feet of the disciples and tell us we must follow His example. We will hear His words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” and believe that the nourishment of His body and blood are eternally present to us. We will see Him die on Calvary. Moreover, we will meet our personal weakness and shortcomings. The sight that leads us on, the sacred place that ends our pilgrimage, however, is the empty tomb and the words of the angel: “He is not here. He has risen and goes before you into Galilee” (Mk 16:7). Yes, indeed the Lord’s glorious resurrection and His gift of new life and new hope for all of us are what keep us going on our Lenten pilgrimage. Let’s pray for each other during this special time.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.