Pilgrimage Reflection

Pilgrimage Walk in the Spirit of Fr Tom Dunlea from Sutherland to Engadine.

(These introductory reflections come my interpetation and adaptation to our situation, of a book by Edward Hayes – called "Pray Always".   There is a chapter in there entitled: ‘How to Pray with Our Feet’)

The coming walk can be seen at a number of levels.  An historical adventure, a gathering of friends, or even a pilgrimage!   I will say something about the possibility of this being a pilgrimage, which takes nothing away from the other levels of the walk. 

As a form of prayer, a pilgrimage is an incar­national prayer, a prayer of the body. A pilgrim is a person who prays with their feet.   Christ Himself was often a pilgrim, traveling from His native Galilee to the Temple in Jerusalem for the ancient festivals. Even as a youth He took part in this religious expression. The Gospel story of the child Jesus being found in the Temple records one of these early pilgrimage experiences (Lk 2:41-52).

The prayer of the feet, the pilgrimage, is one of the most ancient and universal of prayers; it is prayer for the Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu and Jew. Part of the religious duties of a devout Moslem is the pilgrimage to Mecca. For Hindus, the holy journey leads to the river Ganges where one's sins are bathed away or it may involve climbing high Into the Himalayan Mountains to find the source of the holy Ganges. Buddhists may pilgrimage to Sarnath in North India where the Buddha preached his first sermon. The Western Wall, the Wailing Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, is the sacred destination of Jews coming to Israel. For the Christian, it is the city of Rome and St. Peter's, Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and shrines such as those at Lourdes, Fatima and Guadalupe that call the pilgrim from his or her home.

While pilgrimages may lead to a variety of places and objects, each points to the same mystery: the Holy!  The shrines that are the final end of the journey seem to radiate a special type of energy which we have in the past called grace. Regardless of what name we give to this power, its reality is felt today by millions all over this earth. Part of the reason for taking a pilgrimage is to take in some of this energy or grace, for centuries of history seem to verify that those who visit holy places come away radiating the energy-grace of those shrines. Further, physical, emotional and spiritual cures and cleansings have been and still are associated with many pilgrim shrines.

In Australia, a young country, we seem to lack those famous sacred mountains, rivers and places to which we might pilgrimage.    Toward what holy place shall we set our feet? As we begin to look closer, we can see that it is not necessary to cross oceans or journey through deserts, for there are shrines of the Holy close at hand. One of the more beautiful aspects of the pilgrimage is that the "new" is not always the best and that the "old" is not always useless and unexciting. For the pilgrimage is always directed toward some historical place where humanity has met the Divine Mystery. Could we not begin our pilgrimage by journeying to the place of our birth as a community?  What is important is not so much the where as the how of our pilgrimage. Whether we journey to Mecca or around the block, we should journey in the spirit of the ancient pilgrim.   The purpose of all trips, as G.K. Chesterton used to say, is to come home. So, the purpose of the pilgrimage is to come home - but to come home with new eyes and a new heart. If we return home the same as when we left, then the pilgrimage has not been successful and perhaps has just been an historical or social thing, which is nice – but not a pilgrimage.

The rules for pilgrimages hold true not only for the time our feet are on the road but for our whole life-journey. The first rule for the pilgrim is to travel simply. The pilgrimage should help in discern­ing that which is essential in our lives and that which is not. We should take with us only those possessions we really need, and experience teaches us what sort of possessions tend to become a burden: those things we are forced to carry only to protect. The journey can help us to learn how to live more simply and single-mindedly - what things to value and what things to regard lightly.

Secondly, the pilgrim leaves home, saying good-bye to loved ones and to the familiar, to travel to the unfamiliar, the unknown. In our case it might just be trusting the orgnaisers will take us on a route that is safe and interesting.   We place our trust in them as we are called to place our trust in God on the journey of life.

And when the journey is only a short dis­tance from home, we can travel in the spirit of seeing the familiar- as the unknown - which it essentially is because of existing within the Divine Mystery. In leaving behind the familiar, the pilgrim often travels alone and yet travels with others who are bound for the same shrine. Each pilgrim, whether on the way to Rome or the Holy Land or to Engadine, is on the larger road of following Christ as the "Way."                                                                                                               .

Thirdly, by its very nature, since it is a journey away from the familiar toward the unfamiliar, the pil­grimage is an adventure. Yet the pilgrim must be on guard lest the adventure of the pilgrimage steal his attention away from the "inner-venture," the inner journey of the Spirit that every person in this world is making toward God. Thus it is necessary that the goals of the journey be always kept in mind so that the temptation to turn the vocation of a pilgrim into the vacation of the pilgrim is realistically faced.   In our case to merely a social gathering.   A good pilgrimage allows time for prayerful attention ­to be aware of the movements of the "inner-venture."

Fourthly, though serious about the intention of the journey, the Christian pilgrim knows that joy is also part of the pilgrimage. We should enjoy our journey, as we should enjoy life, God and holiness.  The Christian pilgrim is rev­erent, but this does not imply being downcast and grim, but rather being filled with a sense of awe, wonder and a childlike interest in all that is met on the journey.

This childlike awe brings us to the next point: that we are to travel with a new set of eyes and ears. For the pilgrim is a person who sees and hears differently than one who lives at home. The pilgrim takes nothing for granted, explores each person, place and thing; open to the hand of God, the voice of God, the face of God in all that is met on the holy road. Therefore, the fifth rule of the road suggests that we arrange our journey so that we have time to see, smell, taste and feel; time to be one with all that we encounter. This is necessary so that our prayer of the feet be not only incarnational - one of the body - but also contemplative, the type of prayer where we are able to become one with the holy-place rather than simply walk around it. Contemplation is a way of getting lost on the pilgrimage: lost in the beauties, the wonders and the mystery of the shrines.

Once on a pilgrimage an old holy man in northern India said: "You are the most unusual pilgrim I have ever met. You do not have a camera or a wristwatch!" Since we are usually in such a hurry, not only on the pilgrimage, but in life as well, we have no time to get lost, to absorb the things around us. The ever-present shortage of time, the long list- of places we wish to visit and things we wish to do, all make it necessary for us to rush about, our cameras clicking, while we say to ourselves: 'When I get home I will sit down with these photos and really enjoy this place!" The truly wise pilgrim knows that the sacred cannot be captured on film but only in­vited into the heart. If we wish to bring back the "holy" from the holy-place, then we must bring an open, "exposable" heart rather than just a camera.

Sixthly, the pilgrim is historically a person who has had to face danger. This has always been part of the tradition of the road. . . the holy road to Rome or Jerusalem. The pilgrim has had to be prepared to face thieves, highwaymen, bandits and even death. Besides these, there have always been storms, plagues and pirates on the high seas - not to mention the danger from one's fellow pilgrims. At one time, in ancient days, Irish monasteries had the custom of sending monks on pilgrimage for the slightest infrac­tion of the Holy Rule. It was also the custom of civil authorities to send criminals on pilgrimage to make restitution for their crimes. These two groups often met and traveled together, as is the custom of pilgrims. But the dangers of any pilgrimage should not fright­en away the potential pilgrim, for the danger is part of the prayer.  Maybe our danger will be walking close to the road – but be aware of this element in a pilgrimage.   The ideal pilgrimage is one that includes a profound trust: the incarnational expres­sion that the Lord is indeed our shepherd and guide and that our reliance is on Him and not merely in our own personal defenses. At the heart of the prayer of the pilgrimage is experiencing the overwhelming providence of the Father.

Every person who reads this is invited to be a pilgrim.  We are called to be pilgrims, for that is what we really are anyway; all our life is but a journey to the Holy, whom we call God. It is a journey to be made in holy simplicity, and each pilgrimage is but a dress rehearsal for our own death when we shall close the door of our life upon our loved ones, family and possessions, and leave in total poverty on that journey to our Father. We are indeed pilgrims by birth; as J.D. Salinger has said: "All we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of holy ground to another. "

 A Blessing Prayer for a Journey

        Blessed are You, Lord, my God, for You have created a wide and wonderful world in which I may travel.  
Be my ever-near companion, 0 Holy Guide of Travelers, each time that I journey, and spread the road before
me with beauty and adventure.

        May all the highways ahead of me be free of harm and evil.  May I be accompanied by Your holy spirits, Your angelic messengers, as were the holy ones of days past.    On each trip may I take with me, as part of my traveling equipment, a heart wrapped in wonder with which to rejoice in all that I shall meet.

              Along with the clothing of wonder, may I have room in my luggage for a mystic map by which I can find the invisible meaning of the events of this journey­ of possible disappointments and delays, of possible breakdowns and rainy day troubles.

              Always awake to Your sacred presence, to Your divine compassionate love, may I see in all that happens to me, in the beautiful and the bad, the mystery of Your holy plan.

May the blessing of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be upon us whenever we venture out on a journey and bring us home again in safety and peace.