Many of us have been on pilgrimages. I have been blessed to travel on a sacred journey to the Holy Land, Rome and many Marian shrines. These sacred trips are blessed and grace-filled. They open our hearts to encounter God. Being a tourist or taking a vacation is nice and needed at times; however, it is not a pilgrimage. This year of mercy is an invitation for all of us to be on a special pilgrimage of seeking God’s mercy.
A pilgrimage is a journey inward as well as outward. Pilgrims seek to strengthen and renew their faith in God through some form of travel. This does not necessarily happen when being a tourist or taking a vacation, as these do not require any soul searching. Vacations do not call forth any of the inward changes needed to grow closer to God.
We are all pilgrims of faith in the Church; however, many of us act like we are tourists. We are on a nice journey, taking in the sights, collecting some memorabilia along the way and marking the places we have been. I am sure you have heard the expression, “Been there done that and have the T-shirt to prove it.” Hopefully we desire more of our faith and our relationship with God than just receiving a T-shirt. God desires more of us than this; in Exodus 20:5, God says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” He is jealous for us his chosen people and desires all of us for himself. We are called to reject all other gods and come to serve with our body, minds and souls this great God of mercy.
So we as a Church set out on this pilgrimage in a purposeful time of travel to seek God and allow God to seek me. And there lies the key to a blessed pilgrimage: a seeking heart. When was the last time you went out to seek a deeper relationship with Jesus? Any attempt to seeking the Lord I know blesses the Lord’s heart. This is what our Holy Father is asking us as a people of God to do in this Year of Mercy: Seek the merciful heart of our God.
In this Year of Mercy the Holy Father opened the Jubilee Door of Mercy for all to come and receive blessing, graces and indulgences. Since many of us cannot make a pilgrimage to Rome we can make a pilgrimage to the holy door in our diocese at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock.
This is an invitation from God through our Holy Father and Bishop Anthony B. Taylor to come and receive God’s gift of mercy. Make plans in this special year to come visit the holy door as a Pilgrim Church, as youth or senior group, RCIA or Little Rock Scripture Study group, charismatic, Cursillo or Latino group, Catholic schools and faith formation classes, Anglos or Hispanics, black or Asian; come all who are part of the diocesan family of Little Rock to receive this special opportunity of favors from the Lord.
That’s what makes being a pilgrim different from being a tourist. For a tourist, travel is an end in itself. For a pilgrim, travel is a means to an end. Pilgrims travel with a clear intention, to draw closer to God. They make their journey with a heightened expectation. This is what makes this a special Year of Mercy.
Pilgrimage is sacred travel, and as we set out in this prayerful travel we become a living pilgrim church of God. In a way we become a sacrament. You may know the definition of a sacrament: “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Our travel to historical and scenic sites is the outward part; our drawing closer to God is the inward part.
And thus we expect to return transformed or changed or converted from the person we were when we began our journey. We will not return the same as we were when we left. Pilgrims return from their journey with something good that will enrich their lives in the everyday world back at home.
In the book of blessing there is a prayer for pilgrims taking a pilgrimage: “Brothers and sisters, as we set out, we should remind ourselves of the reasons for our resolve to go on this holy pilgrimage. The place we intend to visit is a monument to the devotion of the people of God. They have gone there in great numbers to be strengthened in the Christian way of life and to become more determined to devote themselves to the works of charity. We must also try to bring something to the faithful who live there: our example of faith, hope and love. In this way both they and we will be enriched by the help we give each other.”
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