Teresa Tomeo, Catholic radio host, author, and speaker, is currently on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Teresa works for Ave Maria Radio, one of my favorite Catholic radio stations. All of its shows are available online at www.AveMariaRadio.net .
Al Kresta, President and CEO of Ave Maria Radio has taken great interest in supporting and promoting the idea of Catholic pilgrimages and every year Teresa accompanies a group of Catholic pilgrims to Israel where they experience, firsthand, many of the sights and sounds that will make their time both memorable and a source of contemplation for years to come.
Along with such memorable pilgrimages, Mr. Kresta makes sure that Catholics understand that a pilgrimage can be a trip to a local Church as much as it can be a trip to the Holy Land. To this end, Mr. Kresta continues to encourage Catholics to understand and embrace pilgrimages as a way to understand and embrace their faith.
Indeed, journeying to a holy spot is something that our Jewish ancestors have always done. The Torah calls for three pilgrimages by Jewish males to Jerusalem: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Passover is the celebration of the Exodus of God’s people from slavery and bondage in Egypt. Shavuot is a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest and Sukkot is the autumn remembrance of the 40 years that the Jews wandered in the desert and depended solely upon God for their food and shelter.
Even today, Matriarch Rachel’s burial spot near Bethlehem is considered a sacred and holy place to which Jews make pilgrimages. Jews who journey to this burial spot spend time in deep contemplation about their history and the way in which God brought forth the 12 tribes of Israel from the Matriarchs Leah and Rachel. All such pilgrimages are meant to bind us to our Creator in unique ways and should always be seen as worth the time, effort, and sacrifice that may be involved to take such an expedition.
A pilgrimage is a journey in which there is a deep desire or interest in setting foot upon a place considered sacred and holy. Catholics have always venerated images and, in keeping with the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, should understand and be able to explain the difference between veneration and worship. As stated in CCC 2132, “The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, ‘the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,’ and ‘whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.’”
So, when a Catholic journeys to such places as the Holy Land, or even a beautiful Church in a nearby city, he or she is acting upon the way in which the Holy Spirit is able to use these places of veneration to create a deeper, more fully contemplative state than may not be otherwise attainable. In that way, a pilgrimage places a person’s whole mind, body, heart, and soul at the disposal of the Holy Spirit’s grace and mercy.
I recently attended a woman’s conference and was seated in the “spillover” room where those who could not find a spot in the main auditorium were sitting. During Mass a priest made his way to our area and as we were scattered throughout the room I was struck by the visual image as we all made our way towards him to receive Communion. It was very powerful and I thought of the way in which people would journey to see Christ during His life on earth and how they would somberly but with great anticipation approach Him. That small conference, about ½ an hour from my home, was a pilgrimage in both the way the day affected me but also in that moment in time as we all approached the priest from varying spots in the room.
Pilgrimages, near or far, heighten our realization of what it means to be a Catholic. As Lent draws to a close, we may find it both necessary and valuable to find time to journey to a place where our hearts will be more fully open to the message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.