The idea of taking a pilgrimage came up twice today in our homeschooling readings. First, in Matthew Kelly’s Decision Point Program, he defined a pilgrimage as a “spiritual journey to a holy place” and list the top ten Catholic Pilgrimages.
The second mention was in the YouCat–the Youth’s Catechism of the Catholic Church–where a pilgrimage was defined a “a prayer with your feet”.
Both definitions intrigued me, partly because it was odd that we read about it twice in one day and partly because the idea of taking a pilgrimage seems out of fashion. Both of these books are recent publications–within the last 10 years, but so rarely–okay, never–do I hear of people taking a pilgrimage. I’ve known professors and scientists who will go on sabbatical. I wonder if that’s similar. But no, a sabbatical, while sounding like a Sabbath, is really more of a vacation from the duties of work so one can explore and research a specific interest related to that work.
Images of the Canterbury Tales come to mind. Stories of the stories people told during their pilgrimage toward a holy place. The movie, The Way, detailing one man’s walk on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, is another. I could go to the Vatican, Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, or Jerusalem. My question is this: in flying, taking a train or taxi to any of these places take away from the journey of praying with my feet?
Part of the beauty (because there can be beauty in conflict) of a foot-styled pilgrimage is the obstacles that one must overcome in order to reach that Holy destination. If it is sped up, simplified, and too easy, would that take away from the potential of my holy experience? Has going on a pilgrimage been traded down for tourism? I don’t want to be a Christian tourist–buying the knick-knacks of faith, photographing the cathedrals, and staying in my faith only long enough to be caught on film smiling and tanned. The pilgrimage of true faith seems like it would be gritty and difficult. Not like Jesus’ pilgrimage to Golgotha–nothing like that. But is a pilgrimage truly a pilgrimage if I don’t suffer a bit?
I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I can worry about taking a month to walk the Camino de Santiago or flying to Rome to visit the Vatican, I must first afford such luxuries. Because that’s where my abilities are limited–or at least my beliefs in the ability I have to take a month, or even just a week, away from my life as a mother. Sure, I could take the kids. That would likely increase the potential for holiness. How would Bill manage a month away? As a self-employed business owner, if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid.
All that brings me to this question: Until I can afford to steal Bill and the kids away from our life for a month, can I find a way to make a pilgrimage? How can I pray with my feet as I walk through the grocery store, behind the vacuum, or between the sink and the refrigerator? Where can I go to seek a holy place that will get me there and back on one tank of gas?
That is my new mission.
And the answer to that is found in scripture–of course. Pray always. Pray unceasingly. That means that in everything I do, in every step I take, I do everything with the intention of bringing my thoughts, words and actions to God as praise for his mercy. It means that every meal I cook, every dark hour I’m not sleeping, every book I set down to help someone else, I’m offering up my tiny sacrifices to God. It also means that when I accomplish my dreams, that the glory of that accomplishment goes to God. The more I learn about Him, the more I realize I can’t do a thing without Him.
Until I can set foot in Italy or Spain or Portugal, until I can take a vacation that has a purpose, I will make my daily tasks my pilgrimage.