devotional thought of the day
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you and make you clean from all your idols and everything else that has defiled you. 26 I will give you a new heart and a new mind. I will take away your stubborn heart of stone and give you an obedient heart. 27 I will put my spirit in you and will see to it that you follow my laws and keep all the commands I have given you. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors. You will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from everything that defiles you. Ezekiel 36:25-29a (TEV)
Insofar as we can trace its history at all, pilgrimage is one of the primordial impulses of humanity. Man sets out again and again to find escape from the customary daily humdrum, to gain distance from it, to become free. This impulse is still active today in the more recent profane brother of pilgrimage, namely, tourism. Its continued existence accounts for the hordes of wanderers who incessantly make their way through our continent, feeling that they are not completely at home there. But pilgrimage must be more than tourism. I mean: it must realize more truly, more fundamentally, and more entirely what the tourist only hopes to experience.
I have to admit, I was tempted to put the entire devotion from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger into today’s blog, and leave it alone. It is one of the most brilliant pieces I have ever read. When we go on vacation, what we are, in the bottom of our hearts looking for, is a retreat, a pilgrimage, and encounter with something that will restore and give us rest.
Instead we often try to move so fast, see so much, experience it all.
A few years ago, my wife and I were given a gift – a vacation to Italy. We tried to see it all in the ten or eleven days we were there. Having read this, I thought back to the trip, and what made it special. I asked her, and it was the moment I thought, as it was for me.
It was in a church; Santa Maria de la Pace, that was located in a place called Villa Tevere. The church was built in what we might call the basement of a very ordinary building. It wasn’t ancient, it wasn’t even old by American standards, never mind Roman. It wasn’t a large cathedral or a majestic major basilica. It was a place where we were able to pray, given as much time as we wanted by the man who showed us around. It was a place that invited such prayer, even begged for it.
It was the place where a vacation turned into a pilgrimage.
We could then identify two other places, much more humble, yet even more incredible and precious than the huge places that surrounded them. The chapel/sanctuary where St. Francis was buried, under to other incredibly beautiful sanctuaries in Assisi. And the pantheon, a place once dedicated to destroying life to appease gods and re-dedicated as a church, a place where people came spiritually alive as they heard the Word and received the Eucharist. We came back from this trip not exhausted, but fulfilled, rested and aware of the grace of God because of those moments kneeling in prayer.
I don’t think either would have meant as much without the church inside Villa Tevere. Thirty minutes, simply quiet and on our knees. Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict ) later wrote in the devotion why this is so critical; Those moments were amazing, a taste of heaven in a way words cannot explain.
The purpose of pilgrimage is ultimately, not an object of interest, but a breaking through to the living God. We attempt to reach this goal by seeking out the scenes of salvation history. Its interior and exterior ways do not follow the direction of our whims. We enter, as it were, into the geography of God’s history, where he has set up his directional signs. We journey toward a goal that has been designated beforehand, not toward one that we invent for ourselves. By entering into his history and turning toward the signs the Church gives us out of the fullness of her faith, we go toward one another. By becoming pilgrims, we are better able to attain what tourism seeks: otherness, distance, freedom, and a deeper encounter.
It is a chance to get a sight of what Ezekiel describes, a foretaste of what we will have for eternity, a time where we realize the reality of walking with God, we see the fellowship, the communion that is life changing, that leads us deeper in faith.
If you can’t go to Italy, I can recommend two other pilgrimages. The first is to travel in time, to go back to your baptism, to meditate on what was given there, promised there. The promise God made to you, an eternal promise of life, an eternal promise of His presence. The second is also sacramental, the time at the altar, on our knees, as we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. As we realize we are one with Him, as we gain what we really desire, the sense of otherness, distance from the world, freedom from sin and Satan and so much else. It is that moment where we arrive at a deeper encounter, a transforming and transcending moment where all we are aware of is God presence and the presence of His family. So in a very precious and real way, every Sunday becomes a pilgrimage, a real vacation, a real time of restoration and rest.
Come and rest, come and leave your burdens behind, come and know that God is indeed with you. AMEN.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 335). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. devotion for 10/22