August 26, 2016
Pastor's Points: Pilgrimage and Perseverance
In late July, sixteen teens and adults from our parish traveled to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. They joined an estimated 2.5 million Catholics from around the world for this pilgrimage of faith to be in the “presence of Peter” and to celebrate what makes us one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
Upon their return, the participants shared stories of their experience at a breakfast following the 9:15am Mass on August 14. A pilgrimage is a journey to discover God more intimately, and in turn, to discover more truths about ourselves. As I listened to our young people and adults tell of their stories, one word kept coming to mind: perseverance. This trip was no vacation. It was hard on the body, mind and spirit and this became more evident as they continued speaking. They walked everywhere they went. They sometimes did not have adequate food. Bathroom facilities were sparse along the journey and the hotel had no air conditioning. Despite the 90+ temperatures, our pilgrims forged on with little complaint. They knew the trip would be sacrificial in nature and physical challenging, so they were ready to offer up any inconvenience. But they were still surprised at the toll it would take on them overall. In addition to daily 10+ mile hikes, the round-trip walk to and from the all-night vigil gathering before the Papal Mass was more than 20 miles. Participants spoke of walking in the heat, humidity and torrential rain storms. Once at the Papal Mass site, they slept on the ground using inflatable pool rafts for padding, shared food, exchanged encouraging words, and prayed. After the Mass, they started their trek back to the hotel. They spoke of exhaustion, fear, anxiety and uncertainty about whether they could continue. But as one crowded mile turned into the next, someone came along and encouraged them to continue. They passed the time by singing hymns, cheering, praying the Rosary, walking in silent reflection and some even confessed their sins to a priest along the way. Everyone made it back in one piece. Happy, tired and wet, but forever changed.
Bishop Caggiano, who attended WYD in Krakow, summed up the experiences of the pilgrim: “A pilgrimage is all about allowing the Lord to sow spiritual seeds which will grow over time.”
As I listened more and more to the presentations, I started to think about faith and, in particular, perseverance in faith. Life is very hard sometimes. We don’t know what the journey will bring. We don’t know what obstacles will be put in our path. While we may wish that the journey were easier and that we did not have to deal with the troubles of life, we know it’s not the way life works. It is not the way a life of faith works. When trouble, despair, distress and hopelessness come our way, God places people around us to pick us up and to help carry us. But most of all, we have Christ. We have the One who has gone before us and who walks with us. We have the One who lifted Peter from the stormy sea, who gave the woman of Samaria new life and who encountered two hopeless disciples on the road to Emmaus and revealed himself in the breaking of the bread.
Sometimes we let life get the best of us. Sometimes we think we cannot go another mile or even another step along the pilgrimage. But then somehow, we summon the strength or feel the arms of Christ lifting us up and carrying us. We find a way to persevere. We find a way to say, “I can go on.”
Our World Youth Day participants wanted to stop along the journey and felt they were too weak, too tired, too exhausted to go on. Yet the destination was always before them and they knew they had to get there. Our pilgrimage will, by God’s grace, take us to our happy home, the new and eternal Jerusalem. We may falter sometimes as we try to get there, but we will always have companions on the journey in the Church community and the One who says, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.”