Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting Into the Deep
February 21, 2014
The Christian faith is fundamentally dynamic. Jesus never commanded his disciples, “Stay exactly where you are.” Rather, he was constantly saying, “Come, follow me!” and “Go,” sending them even to the ends of the earth.
Since his election Pope Francis has been trying to get the entire Church to grasp that as disciples of Jesus, we’re called to be on the move, leaving our inertia and excuses behind, heading out to encounter Christ and with Him going to the peripheries to care for those suffering or lost on the journey of life.
In his very first homily as the Bishop of Rome, when he returned to the Sistine Chapel the day after his election with the cardinal electors, he said, “Our life is a journey, and when we stop moving, things go wrong. [The Christian] is always journeying, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with the blamelessness that God asked of Abraham.”
Since then, he has returned repeatedly to theme of the Christian life as a journey of faith.
He compared the work of the Church to accompanying people along an Emmaus Walk and making their hearts burn with the love of Christ.
He summarized salvation history as a pilgrimage that Jesus entered precisely to “share our journey.” Along the way, Jesus “walks with us, he helps us, he leads us and he teaches us to journey on.” That’s a journey, he said, that begins on the day of our baptism and has “as its ultimate end our full encounter with God.”
He reminded teenagers whom he was about to confirm to “remain steadfast in the journey of faith,” knowing that “the journey of the Church and our own personal journeys as Christians are not always easy.” He added, however, “In his mercy, Jesus never tires of stretching out his hand to lift us up, to encourage us to continue our journey. … This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins.”
Jesus gives us that assistance, he said on another occasion, as we meet him “every day in prayer, when we go to Mass, and when we do good works, when we visit the sick, when we help the poor, when we think of others, when we are not selfish, when we are loving.”
The Church is a people on the move, a “pilgrim Church on earth,” as the Third Eucharistic Prayer phrases it. The very term “parish” is meant to remind us of this journey. It comes from the Greek word, paroikos, which refers to someone who is journeying through someone else’s land, a stranger, a pilgrim. Using the term, St. Peter urged the first Christians to maintain their identity as “aliens and sojourners” (1 Pet 2:11) as they trek through life.
The fundamental identity of parishes, from the earliest days of the Church, has been as spiritual “hostels” where foreigners and pilgrims can find rest and obtain nourishment to continue the travels. The pastor is meant to be the chief paroikos or pilgrim, guiding others along the holy expedition of life.
Throughout the history of salvation, God has been summoning his people to pilgrimage. He had Abraham make one to an unknown destination with all his family, animals and goods when he already was a card-carrying member of the AARP. He had Moses and the Israelites make a 40-year pilgrimage through sea and desert. He had the Jews make three annual pilgrimages a year to the Temple, pilgrimages in which Jesus himself participated with Mary and Joseph. Later, Jesus was constantly guiding the apostles on journeys by foot and by boat, and, upon his pilgrimage to the Father’s side, sent them on a pilgrimage to all nations.
Nevertheless, we can sometimes lose sense that the Christian life is both a physical and an interior journey. We can stop moving. We can stop growing. The hostel can become a five-star hotel with things so familiar and comfortable that we don’t want to budge.
In order to prevent that spiritual stasis, one of the things I’ve always done as a disciple and as a priest to go on pilgrimage. I’m convinced nothing reminds us better that all of life is meant to be an exodus toward the celestial Jerusalem than such spiritual journeys.
Pope Francis agrees, urging all Catholics last May to make personal, familial and parochial pilgrimages. “Journeying together toward shrines, bringing along your children and engaging other people,” he said, is a great “means to bring others to Christ so as to journey together with him.”
May 1-5 I’m going to be leading a pilgrimage to French Canada and I’d like to invite you to join me.
We’ll start in Fall River and head first to the tomb of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, just south of Montreal. Then, on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, we’ll visit St. Joseph’s Oratory, the largest shrine in the world to Jesus’ foster-father. We’ll also have a chance to pray there at the tomb of the great saint who built it, St. André Bessette, “God’s doorkeeper,” who has many connections to our Diocese.
The following day we’ll journey to the most beautiful Church in our hemisphere, Notre Dame Basilica, as well as to the Cathedral of Montreal, a must see one-third replica of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
On Saturday, dedicated especially to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we’ll make a Marian pilgrimage to Canada’s national Marian Shrine, Notre Dame du Cap in Three Rivers.
From there we’ll move to North American’s most historic and European walled metropolis, Quebec City, where we’ll visit its beautifully restored Cathedral celebrating its 350th anniversary as well as have a chance to spend half a day at the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupré, where the relics of the arm of Jesus’ grandmother are enshrined.
Along the way, we’ll stop at the tombs of several other French Canadian saints who have successfully finished the pilgrimage of life and can therefore serve as able guides and intercessors to spur us on to the same destination.
It will be a great time of friendship, fraternity, fun and faith — as the pilgrimage of Christian life is meant to be.
If you’re interested in joining me on this spiritual sojourn, let me know.
(And for a flier, visit: http://www.catholicpreaching.com/?p=5754)