On a recent pilgrimage, my daughter and I took a detour to see if we could find the hospital in which I was born. The map was confusing, the traffic was pressing and we waived off for lunch. There, over our meal, we looked up to see the building we sought across the street, with its sign hidden by the surrounding trees. We just smiled at the irony, finished eating and headed home.
The decades between that first drawn breath and now have been complicated in ways, and yet remarkably straight-forward in others. The first maternal embrace and swaddled welcome gave way to an unforeseen abyss as death intervened, and the essential motherly tasks were undertaken by others. God provides, and yet the yearning for a reliable sanctuary has ever been with me, for those who are deprived feel keenly what others may take for granted.
God is good, and in His almighty plan the perfect sanctuary endures even when the smaller icons of it slip from our horizons. Thus if a person needs a mother, father, food, shelter and a lamp to light his path, then such things can be found — in both concrete expressions and the supernatural echoes that point their true meaning.
When it comes to the essential tasks of motherhood, the Church — the bride of Christ — stands ready to scoop up the wayward souls in search of peace and order, and to swaddle them in truth and love. The door is open, her arms reach down and she gives freely from her storehouse of nourishment to all who ask. The fact that this bride first “drew breath” in Jerusalem should draw special attention to the pilgrimage that the Holy Father is making to Israel this very week — for supernatural echoes abound in that holy place.
Benedict will see many things during his visit, and three faith communities will parse his every word and gesture. Interestingly, while all three look to Jerusalem as a city integral to their worship of God, only Catholicism puts weight on the maternal dimension of that place.
Layers of the mystery unfold when we recognize that the temple built by Solomon was precursor to both the bride of Christ and the heavenly Jerusalem to which all our churches here on earth point. There are also deep implications tied to Mary, the mother of God, who is herself related to that city. “Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells” (CCC 2676).
While Benedict XVI is privileged to walk in the footsteps of Our Lord, we must remember that every Mass is itself a pilgrimage. “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God” (CCC 1090). In each Mass we’re privileged to glimpse the wedding feast of the Lamb, which will take place at the consummation of the world.
Benedict has described his journey as a pilgrimage of peace — “the lasting peace born of justice, integrity and compassion, the peace that arises from humility, forgiveness and the profound desire to live in harmony as one” — and we pray that it bears fruit. Only through the blood of Jesus is lasting peace possible, and to that end Holy Mother Church offers her sanctuary of ordered love and humble service. She is the true witness — a signpost to the tranquility of heaven.