As Christians, we know this world is not our home. We are all sojourners, pilgrims on a journey with our final destination being, God-willing, heaven. In the meantime, Pope Francis says we shouldn’t let any spiritual grass grow under our feet. In addition to being on a life journey toward reunification with Christ, we need to take another road trip of sorts: a pilgrimage within our lifelong pilgrimage, so to speak.
According to Pope Francis, there is no time like the present to choose our pilgrimage destination. And he is quite serious — so serious that he made a very strong statement about the need for Catholics to take such a journey, specifically during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy, which begins Dec. 8 and concludes Nov. 20, 2016. The statement came in his April 11 Bull of Indiction announcing the Jubilee Year.
“The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim traveling along the road, making his way to the desired destination.”
Before you start to grab for the panic button wondering how you can afford the time or the money that is often involved in taking a pilgrimage to Rome or the Holy Land, don’t worry. The pope is not expecting families to add to their financial responsibilities by footing the bill for a 10-day trip overseas with their children in tow; nor is he expecting the already overbooked parents to add to their intense frenetic schedules. He gets it. But at the same time, he also is asking us to get moving.
“Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion.”
Notice the phrase, “everyone each according to his or her ability.” That means each of us is expected to make the effort; no matter how much is on our plate, he is reminding us of the importance in carving out a special place for God.
It’s my hope that the pope’s call for pilgrimage will get Catholics to take a closer look at the idea. Oftentimes, when we are smack in the middle of a busy and challenging life, we might think a pilgrimage is a lofty bucket list item that will most likely never be reached. But that’s putting limitations on the concept and, more importantly, on God. A pilgrimage is defined as a “journey of exalted purpose or moral meaning.”
Who among us, given this crazy upside down world we’re living in, couldn’t use some reminders of what’s really meaningful and purposeful in life? And that’s exactly the pope’s point. How will we ever really recognize and appreciate the mercy of God if we don’t stop to ponder, pray and get to know God better? And a pilgrimage, no matter how long or how far, is a great way to do just that.
Still not convinced? Well, if you look around, there is most likely a shrine or basilica in your diocese you’ve always wanted to visit. While my first choice for pilgrimage will always be Italy, even for a frequent flier like me, that’s not always possible. So why not take a few hours at a holy site in your own backyard (or close to it) and use that as your pilgrimage destination? Is there a retreat you’ve been thinking about making but keep putting off? With the official start of the jubilee still months away, there is plenty of time to make arrangements and make a weekend or even weeklong retreat a pilgrimage reality.
So take the pope’s directive. Dust off the suitcase and get packing. You’ll be glad you did.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.