August 12, 2011

Pilgrimage - visible travel and spiritual journey


Pilgrimage has an arduous physical dimension but the prayer with which it should be imbued is even more demanding.  The great teachers on prayer remind us that prayer is not something that naturally comes to us.   It is a gift from God which one must ask for and it requires great effort and determination.  It is a pilgrimage of faith.  Just as a great journey is normally embarked upon after acquiring sufficient provisions and often many of these are gifts from those who love us, prayer also involves undeserved gifts of love and concern, and a lot of commitment. 
  
In this pilgrimage, riding in a bus from central Europe to Madrid, there are no physical challenges.  But spiritually, there is always a need for effort, for vigilance.  Pilgrimage requires the discipline of a constant readiness to be flexible with changing circumstances and opportunities to help.  Sometimes God permits you to meet someone with a real need, someone who can really use some help.  A pilgrim needs to be just as attentive to these moments as he is to the interior movements of the Holy Spirit in prayer. 

The owner of a hotel we stayed at in Krakow told a story about a pilgrim priest he observed in the mountains.  The priest was hiking along his way and saw an elderly woman trying to dig up potatoes by herself.  The priest stopped, asked for her shovel and began to help her.  There was a little commotion when his entourage caught up with him – it turned out this pilgrim was the bishop of Krakow – Karol Wojtyla, the future pope who would institute World Youth Day. 

This story is an example of how we are to encourage each other in prayer and pilgrimage, how we sustain one another in our journey to the Lord.  Our journey is not simply to some physical destination.  The goal is a spiritual – because we are on a search for God.  God is found in a place of humility and patience – a place where we live with the truth about ourselves and find the courage not to be overcome by sorrow. This is why many of the great mystics sometimes voiced concern over any preoccupation with physical travel that might distract from the spiritual journey.  The visible journey is always to be subordinate to the spiritual one - 

Let others go to Jerusalem, but you as far as humility and patience.  So doing you leave the world; in the other manner they enter it.  Guigo the Carthusian, Meditations #262.

Seek God, and do not seek in what place he dwells.  What is most important in order to find him is to remain silent and to be humble.  Abba Sisoes, as cited by Dom Andre Poisson in Personal Prayer, Grande Chartreuse 1976, 1998.