By Deacon BARRY MELLISH
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
pilgrim though this barren land.
We are all on a pilgrimage – our journey through life in a world which can be very barren, particularly if you are a refugee fleeing the wars that are raging throughout the world.
A pilgrimage is a journey a pilgrim makes to a sacred place for the purpose of venerating it or to ask for heavenly aid, and ultimately to come to know God better. Christian pilgrimages were first made to sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Shortly after, pilgrimages started being made to Rome and other sites associated with the Apostles, Saints and Christian martyrs, as well as places where there had been apparitions of the Virgin Mary. In the past, pilgrims would leave their homes, families, and comforts to walk for hundreds of miles with nothing but what they could carry on their backs.
The first and third readings in Mass today are the story of pilgrimages – how the people of Israel fled from their Egyptian oppressors through the desert and into the Promised Land. Jesus went into the desert on his pilgrimage where he was tested by the devil, came through and began his ministry
In her biography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day shares how, shortly after her conversion to Catholicism, she went through a painful, desert time. She had just given birth to her daughter and her decision to have the child baptized, coupled with her profession of faith, meant the end of her relationship with a man she deeply loved. She suddenly found herself alone. All her old supports had been cut off and she was left with no money, no job, few friends, no practical dream, and no companionship from the person she loved the most deeply in this world. For a while she just stumbled on, trusting that things would soon get better. They didn’t. She remained in this desert.
She made a one-day pilgrimage from her home in New York to Washington DC by train. On her return she found Peter Maurin, a Frenchman who became an American citizen, on her steps wanting to speak to her. That conversation led to many others and then to the founding of the Catholic Worker Movement. So her pilgrimage prayers were answered.
We are asked in Lent to make our own pilgrimage to God. To strip ourselves of all pretence to come before God as we really are.
As Pope Francis said: “The faithful are called to make a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door of Mercy, open in every Cathedral or in the churches designated by the Diocesan Bishop, and in the four Papal Basilicas in Rome, as a sign of the deep desire for true conversion.”
The physical pilgrimage we take to a sacred shrine is a symbol of the spiritual pilgrimage we are on throughout our lives. That is why we are making a Parish Pilgrimage to Aylesford in June; We will have the opportunity to encounter Christ through interactions with others, sharing our experience, praying together and the breaking of bread together, both in the Eucharist and in sharing our food. By taking what we have learned from this pilgrimage, we can put it into practice what we have learnt into our daily lives and come to a better knowledge of God.
The sacrifice in making this pilgrimage is not as great as those who walked hundred of miles relying on those they met en-route to feed and shelter them. We will be travelling by car or coach with all the modern comforts. We are being asked to give up a day of our time for Christ – but then he gave up his life for us.