The Journey of Faith

There’s been a renewed interest lately in pilgrimages with the release of the move “The Way.”  Directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen, it’s a story about The Way of St. James.  This pilgrim’s path has existed for more than a thousand years and is one of the most important Christian pilgrimages.  Travellers walk from any number of starting points in Europe and make their way to Santiago de Compostela on the coast of Spain.  Legend holds that the bones of St. James the Apostle are buried in a shrine on the city’s main square.  “Santiago” is Spanish for “St. James.”  The earliest records show that Christians were walking to Compostela as early as the 8th century and probably even earlier.  Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims spending months or even years walking through all kinds of weather and enduring many hardships just to get to a shrine–but why?  Why put yourself through all that just to pray in front of some old bones?
For Catholics, pilgrimages like this one can be an act of penance by which we show sorrow for our sins.  By giving up our own daily comforts, we can participate in the suffering of Christ and offer our penance for our sins.  We also want to be in the presence of holy people, like the Saints and so we find comfort in praying in the presence of their relics.  Just like we pray together with our earthly faith family each Sunday, we can pray with our heavenly family when we visit shrines like Compostela.  But mostly, pilgrimages aren’t about the bones or relics at all—they are about the journey.  And not only the exterior journey of sights and people along the way (although they can be amazing), but it’s more about the interior journey of the heart.  Being a pilgrim means being on the way to something holy, something life-changing.  More accurately, a pilgrim is on the way with some One Who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).  The first pilgrims were the Magi who travelled many long miles to see the baby Jesus and pay Him homage.  A pilgrimage always involves a journey, both the physical traveling and the journey of the heart towards God.  In the fourth century, Christians began making the journey to Jerusalem to visit the holy places of Jesus’ life.  Basilicas had been built on the sites of His birth, burial, and Resurrection and believers were drawn there to worship.  During medieval times, pilgrims began walking to Cologne in Germany, to Compostela in Spain and to Canterbury and Walsingham in England, as well.  Today, Catholic youth travel on the pilgrim’s way every two years when they meet with the Pope at World Youth Day.  This year’s journey led to Madrid and in 2013, they’ll meet in Rio de Janeiro.
Travelling to God and with God is an ancient practice.  From Abraham’s journey to Mamre and Moses’ walk up Mt. Sinai, we long to go and be close to Him.  We talk of our lives as “our Christian walk” and describe our faith as “our journey with Christ.”  Like the disciples that Jesus met walking on the road to Emmaus, there’s something about being a Christian that draws us out of ourselves and pulls us to a new place.  With Him, we leave our old selves behind and “put on the new man” (Colossians 3:10).  It was during Christ’s own pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover that He won for us our salvation.  We’re all on the pilgrim’s road, all of us walking our own way towards eternity.  But are we using our time on earth as a faith pilgrimage to bring us closer to God?  Maybe we need to ask ourselves—Where am I going?  Who is walking beside me?  What’s the purpose of this journey, of my life?  Who is leading my way?

“Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road.”—St. Clare


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Ed Tougaw
    Oct 17, 2011 @ 00:43:29

    From one pilgrim to another, thanks for sharing my journey.


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