Pilgrimage of Life

The time-honored Catholic tradition of making a pilgrimage dates back to before the Middle Ages. Stories such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales depict the practice of making a pilgrimage. Unlike modern-day pilgrims who often have the luxuries of motor coaches and four-star hotel accommodations, pilgrims of old traditionally made the journey by foot (or by horse, if they could afford it).

While this week’s Gospel passage presents Jesus giving specific directives to the Apostles as they prepare to make their missionary journeys, it has also served as a master plan for Catholics preparing to make a spiritual pilgrimage.

Every pilgrimage serves as a reminder of our life journey back to the Father’s house. In other words, pilgrimages are symbolic of our lives, with all of their joys, sufferings and trials. Some of the directives given by our Lord to the Twelve contained within the Gospel passage deserve our attention since they imply certain attitudes that we ought to possess in order to make our life journey spiritually fruitful.

Jesus sends the Twelve in pairs. This arrangement suggests that our Lord wanted the Apostles to avoid the isolation that breeds spiritual pride. Traveling in pairs meant that the Apostles would maintain a sense of accountability for one another and check each other’s pride if they enjoyed success in their apostolic endeavors. Pilgrims in the Middle Ages would rarely travel alone. For the practical reasons of safety and the pooling of resources, in addition to providing mutual spiritual support over the duration of a long journey, pilgrims would travel in groups. As Catholics, we are called to seek communion with one another, akin to how each person of the Trinity enjoys interpersonal communion.

Our Lord also instructs the Twelve that they are to carry a walking stick — a sign of authority and also a means of protection and defense against robbers and wild animals. Pilgrims in the Middle Ages also carried a walking staff for the same reasons. It was a practical tool and also served as a constant reminder of the Church’s authority, upon which pilgrims relied for legitimacy in their travels. If pilgrims looked for assistance in a town along the route, they could invoke their status as pilgrims as a means of securing food and shelter. Similarly, we need to take proper spiritual precautions and grow in the virtue of prudence in order to ward off temptations and sin and use our resources in cooperation with God’s grace to complete our journey unscathed by moral challenges.

Jesus commands the Apostles not to take any food or sack or money for the road. While they are permitted to wear sandals, carrying a second tunic was prohibited. Jesus also provides the Twelve with a specific directive not to move from house to house whenever they arrived in a town to perform their works of teaching, healing and exorcising demons. Pilgrims in the Middle Ages would often have to rely upon the generosity of others to sustain them in the journey. Often they would have to beg for food and other provisions. This is a reminder for us to place our full trust in God’s providence — not only for those things that we want, but for those things that we need. How often do we find ourselves feeling dependent on God for things that may be difficult to attain, all the while maintaining a spirit of self-sufficiency in regards to things that come to us easily? In reality, all that we have comes from God. Moreover, our Lord inculcates a sense of contentedness and detachment from creature comforts that so often cloud our moral judgment and numb our sensitivity to the needs of others.

For centuries, pilgrimages have served as a rich source of spiritual growth. The disposition toward the virtues of humility, prudence, poverty and hope (trust) in divine providence find their roots in the very directives our Lord provides in this week’s Gospel. Let us pray that as we sojourn through the pilgrimages of our lives, we will find ourselves growing in these virtues daily.

Fr. Magat is parochial vicar at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Colonial Beach, Virgnia, and St. Anthony of Padua Mission in King George, Virginia.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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