From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Making a Pilgrimage without Leaving Home”

As some of you know, I had planned to lead a pilgrimage next October to both Lourdes and Fatima, in part, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearances at Fatima. Unfortunately, not enough people signed up, so I had to cancel the trip (and arranged for those that did sign up, to go with another group).

It might turn out to be for the best because my doctor told me this week that my knees are in bad shape. Imagine this, a doctor told me to stop doing so much walking. I had been trying to walk for 60-90 minutes each day. For me, walking was not just for exercise (which I clearly need) but it was also a spiritual practice. I would pray my Rosary as I walked, and I had just gotten to praying all 20 decades of the Rosary (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries) during my walks. It was as if I was walking with Jesus, through His life.

The Church is often described as being a pilgrim Church. It is a reminder that we are suppose to be following Jesus, walking where He walks, and that we are just passing through this world for our true home is in Heaven. This is one of the reasons why a pilgrimage has been an ancient spiritual practice for Christians. In Europe there are several famous pilgrimage routes that have been traveled by the Faithful for centuries. The most famous Christian pilgrimage destinations include Rome, the Holy Land, and St. James Compostella (a.k.a. Camino de Santiago).

The practice of a pilgrimage is common in other religions as well. The Jewish People were expected to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem several times each year. One of the tenets of Islam is for the believer to make a pilgrimage to Mecca sometime in their life.
There is a spirituality in the practice of making a pilgrimage. First, it is a journey to a holy place, but it is not merely for vacation. The purpose of the trip is to encounter God, and through the encounter to learn more about oneself. Secondly, the pilgrimage should lead to the transformation of the pilgrim. In other words, the person making the pilgrimage should come back a different person than they were before they went. A pilgrimage is suppose to be difficult. Sometimes it is physically, psychologically, financially, or spiritually challenging. To go on pilgrimage is to welcome these difficulties as an opportunity to look more like Jesus. Finally, a pilgrimage requires disconnecting from the routine. Pilgrims leave work, friends, responsibilities, and media behind for a time.

In addition to wanting to go to Lourdes and Fatima this year as a pilgrimage, a friend of mine asked me if I would join her and her husband in 3 years when they plan to walk the Camino de Santiago; something I have always wanted to do. It looks like my knees might make me back out of that pilgrimage as well.

So, what is an eager pilgrim with bad knees to do? One option, from the Middle Ages and which I did during my retreat this year is to walk a labyrinth. Think of the maze in that one Harry Potter movie (Goblet of Fire, I think). It was very meditative, but I would need to build one here to do it regularly. We have the land at the Holy Name site, so that is a possibility. However, I was thinking of another possibility — a book club.

Specifically, I am inviting you to join me in reading, Hinds Feet in High Places, by Hannah Hurnard. It is a spiritual allegory about a young woman’s pilgrimage to the “High Places” where the “Chief Shepherd” lives. We can join “Much-Afraid” (the young woman) as she journeys with her two companions, “Sorrow” and “Suffering”, as they travel to see Jesus. I know that we have at least one copy of the book in the parish library, and it can be ordered from Amazon for about $7.50 (they even have a Kindle version for $7). I am proposing that we meet on Mondays at 12:30 PM, starting on June 19. We will bring our own lunches, and we will meet for about an hour. I don’t know how many weeks we will meet; until we finish the book. I suggest that anyone who is interested call or stop by the office to sign up, just to give me an idea of how many people to expect so I know where we should have it. Plan to have the first chapter read for the first meeting. I hope that you join me for this “stay-at-home” pilgrimage.

About Fr. JC

Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Trenton, NJ, in 2004. Currently the Pastor of Resurrection Parish in Delran, NJ.
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