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
Devotional and Discussion Thought of the day:
A post on Facebook this morning brought memories of our trip (dare I say our pilgrimage) to Rome last year.
We were walking down a street – just trying to get a feeling for the city. An amazing city, and dare I say it had a sense of both home and holiness. It is hard to explain – but it was there, not just in the churches, but among the very streets. We came across this building from the back, obviously a place that was old and needing more restoration. As we rounded the front – it was the Pantheon – the incredible temple built for sacrifices to be offered to the pantheon of Roman Gods – its oculus – the hole in the center of the dome – even on an overcast day lit this ancient magnificent structure incredibly. The huge iron doors, amazing.
Yet what astounded me the most, this incredible building, built to worship false gods, built as a place to appease them, was transformed, sanctified, set apart centuries later to be a place of like transformation, a place to celebrate the Light pouring into lives.
What I never read of, what I never realized – is that this building is now a church – an active place where people are baptized, and transformed by the Love of God. A place where the Body and Blood of Christ is the only sacrifice that matters, the only one that could be used to redeem and revive and restore.
A place that was redeemed, that was set apart (sanctified) to be a place where redemption and sanctification of man occurs, because of the love of the One, True God, who does that which we cannot. He buys us back, He redeems us, He cleanses us, He sets us apart….for Him.
As I walked into the Pantheon, as I saw the altars, the paintings, the incredible dome, the oculus, a sense of awe overtook me – much different than the awe at the forum, or at Triumphant Arches, or looking at the wall, or even as we walked through the ruins of Pompeii. It wasn’t just a historical reminder of our past, of the culture we’ve lost.
It’s a place where faith is strengthened, where life in Christ begins, where redemption is seen and known.
A place where God has come.
A place where I have hope – for if God can transform such a place – I realize that I too can be transformed – and that I too can be a place where God dwells, where He abides, where with other believers, we form a temple not made with hands… and our sacrifice is not to die, but to live. Where as this building gains the identity of being a place of God, such is my vocation and life. Yours as well.
Such is the wonder of walking with Christ.
He makes all things – whether ancient temples dedicated to man’s glory, or men themselves…new.
May our lives praise Him, and may people glorify Him more as they see His work in and through us. AMEN