This past week, several members of our community were given an opportunity to take a pilgrimage to the Shrines of Ireland. Now, some would think that this idea is a particularly Catholic thing, and they would stop reading the article and continue in a different section. However, this is furthest from the truth. Pilgrimages are a part of every religious experience and sites for these sojourns are not very far away.
Pilgrimages started with our Jewish brothers and sisters, though the idea can be dated back to the early pagan traditions as well. In Deuteronomy 16:16, we are given three times when the People of God were to journey to a place of the Lord's choosing. This place was later revealed to be the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and the three days are during Festival of the Unleavened Bread (Pesach), Festival of Weeks (Shavuot) and Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot). In addition. the pilgrims were to bring an offering from the blessings which God provided them. Thus accentuating the sacrificial and thanksgiving motifs of the pilgrims' journeys.
Later on in the Christian tradition, pilgrimages took off for much the same reason. Arguably the first pilgrimage recorded was in Luke 24:13-35. The Road to Emmaus shows us two pilgrims who are shaken by the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ironically they are walking away from Jerusalem and leaving behind the faith they have come to know. However, the Risen Lord intervenes, and through the explanation of Scripture (Hebrew Scripture) and the Breaking of the Bread (Eucharist) they are enlivened and recognize the burning of their hearts. For Catholics and Orthodox Christians, this is celebrated every time they gather for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. For Protestant Christians this is celebrated, in varying degrees, every time they gather for worship.
After 630 AD, our Muslim brothers and sisters adopted these practices for their own. Any able-bodied Muslim man who can afford it must make the pilgrimage known as the Hajj to Mecca at least once in his lifetime. It also is in the direction of Mecca that a Muslim must pray five times a day. Muhammad established these traditions and made it part of the pillars of Islam to promote unity across the world and also rooted the practice in the Jewish roots of Islam. Already a popular pilgrimage site for the Arab world in the day, Mecca was the traditional location where Hagar and Ishmael lived after leaving Abraham. Thus, this also is a place of repentance and healing for the people of Islam.
In whatever tradition one follows, there is a need for pilgrimage. During these summer months many people take to the roads in order to travel to visit family and friends, for rest and relaxation. However, during these summer months why not take some time for a pilgrimage. One does not have to travel to Mecca or the Holy Land or Rome in order take this pilgrimage. All you have to do is sit in silence, pray to God, and allow His grace and presence to take you to Himself.
Every pilgrimage is a journey inward as well as outward. Every pilgrimage is a journey where unity, sacrifice, thanksgiving, forgiveness and healing may come to bear fruit in a person's life. Every pilgrimage begins with one step of the heart and soul along with a change in the direction of one's life. Everyone is on some sort of pilgrimage. All one needs to do is to make the direction of that pilgrimage intentional. So where will you be going this summer?
- Van Fossen is the pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Roman Catholic Parish in Williamsport.