Friday, May 26, 2023

My latest column: “Pilgrimage and the Month of Our Lady”

Our Lady of the Clergy 

May 18, 2023 in The Wanderer Catholic Newspaper 


Our life of faith is a pilgrimage from Earth to Heaven. From the moment of our Baptism, with our first steps, we begin that most important journey of each human life. That we remember we have here no lasting city is urged upon us frequently by Our Lord, who taught that His Kingdom is “not of this world.” So, we must each, if we would have part with Him forever in His Kingdom, begin now to live with the daily practice of detachment.

In our Church, the place of faith, processions and pilgrimages of various kinds symbolize and help us to reflect on the cosmic nature of our destiny with God after death and final judgment. Whether within the church building or only a few steps beyond its walls through the streets of the local neighborhood, these annual liturgical movements by foot enable everyone to experience liturgically in a more intense way a great truth necessary for all of us who have entered upon the road of salvation.

The movement necessary to undertake a pilgrimage, whether by one’s own bodily locomotion or otherwise, speaks powerfully of leaving one place, no matter how comfortable, in the search for the promise of something infinitely better. No matter where we find ourselves in the course of this present life, whether rich or poor, powerful or marginalized, pilgrimage of any kind should serve to remind us of, and increase our hope for, that place which the Lord has prepared for each of us in His presence which no man can take away from us.

We are saved by grace through faith. Faith must find expression in our words and actions. Processions of various kinds, whether for rogation days which mark the seasons, or which cyclically celebrate our Lord or the saints, or which plead for safety in the face of plague or natural disaster, give us a concrete and practical reminder of, and spiritual exercise in preparation for, our final journey that commences when we close our eyes on this world for the last time in death.

The greatest detachment, completed only when this life ends is, as with all challenges, best met with practice. We prepare through the processions and pilgrimages, corporate and personal, that express our faith in action. We each struggle to overcome our faults, confess our sins and grow in holiness as a supernatural journey.
Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament is Himself precisely our food for the great pilgrimage of life. Without His grace the distance would be too great for us.

Processions are prescribed liturgically at Corpus Christi, for example, when we bear our Eucharistic Lord with honor to the streets annually each June. The Feast of Corpus Christi proclaims and celebrates the Real Presence of Our Lord. Just as He walks with and in us by grace through this life, so we walk with Him and witness to our faith in the most wonderful mystery of God’s presence with us. The life of grace is most powerfully conferred by the Lord Himself, our spiritual food for the journey, which would truly be too long and difficult for us without divine assistance. The journey is undertaken by grace. The destination is in part already possessed by reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion. Thus, we also receive Him as the one Food necessary for the final journey as viaticum, “with us the way,” for the dying.

Children in Catholic schools and academics of English literature will be well aware of that monument of Middle English literature, The Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer takes us along for the jaunt of 31 pilgrims of various professions and none who travel from the Tabard Inn of Southwark to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury cathedral. His humorous and affectionate depiction of the foibles and faults, as well as the nobility of the faithful thrown together in seeking a common spiritual destination enable us to see ourselves mirrored in them. We can both chuckle in pleasure at their accessible humanity and embrace more fully what is true about our own pilgrimage of faith from Earth to Heaven which we share in common with them and with the faithful of all time.

The Holy House of Loreto was among the most notable Italian pilgrimage destination of the Middle Ages. Galileo may be the most famous pilgrim among the very many who considered the privilege of such a grace the opportunity of a lifetime. Many will already be familiar with the most legendary and demanding pilgrimage of them all, the lengthy commitment of 30 days traveling “the Way,” the Camino of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Completing the arduous route of nearly 500 miles to reach the tomb of St. James sets those who complete the challenge apart from the rest. Others can follow a less ambitious path and seek out shrines of local saints within their diocese or region. Denizens of the mid-Atlantic will already be familiar with the places dedicated to the memory of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in New York and Maryland and the Jesuit martyrs of Auriesville.

And each May in many locations Our Lady is honored throughout the month by various means, processions among them. The ubiquitous May crowning plays a central role by which we recognize her as Queen Mother, Queen of Heaven, and of all the angels and saints. 

Many of us retain cherished childhood memories of the May court comprising Catholic schoolgirls garbed in white and the honor bestowed on one of their number chosen to place the crown of flowers on Our Lady’s statue. In our parish on the first Sunday of May the girls are invited to come forward after Mass with flowers and present the crown which the priest places on Our Lady’s statue, positioned with honor in a central place on the high altar for the duration of the month.

I’ve challenged my parishioners to join me in a daily walking rosary to take our faith to the streets and beg for Our Lady’s intercession for ourselves and our world. Whether around the block, the parking lot at work or up and down the driveway at home, each of us can make the time to join our intentions to that of Our Lady through this simple form of pilgrimage so that we can join our intentions to her as we seek the triumph of Her Immaculate Heart.

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