Emmitsburg Council of Churches

On Making Pilgrimages

Father John J. Lombardi

To be a pilgrim (from the Latin-perigrinata, meaning stranger) means to go from being a stranger to God to being a friend of God--and deepening one's spiritual life. A pilgrimage usually includes a prayerful intention, penance and practicing the presence of God along the way-whether encountering Him in churches, adventuresome places, in prayer or thru other pilgrims. Weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, along with two other Baltimore priests--Fr Farmer, pastor of St Thomas Aquinas church, head of Pro-Life for the Diocese, and Fr Sal Livigni-chaplain at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and priest with the longest hair in the Archdiocese! Simply put, as Fr Farmer said during our pilgrimage: "Each day is better than the one before." We had a beautiful, spiritual time-and adventure. I learned that pilgrimages have many meanings: not just the main goal of the place of pilgrimage, but also all the subtle spiritual lessons God provides along the way. Here are some of the lessons, meditations and spiritual messages (included after "M") we learned…

Intercession: Just before leaving BWI we went thru a checkpoint and a young man engaged us in conversation-Anthony. Dressed in black clerical attire we musta' looked like "men in black-on the fly". Anthony asked us what church we belonged to and said he was active in a nearby church. We told him where we were going- Lourdes, a place of healing and pilgrimage. Not being Catholic he was intrigued, and then asked prayers for one of the church members who was very sick. On our pilgrimage we remembered Anthony and his sick friend throughout in prayer. He made a favorable impression on us, and we therefore remembered him and his intention in prayer, as we had the privilege going to Lourdes to pray intercede-few others have this opportunity. One of my fellow priests remarked how nice Anthony was and that he possibly would not have asked for our prayers if we were not dressed as priests (full disclosure: I don't go overboard and dress as a priest when: showering, swimming or surfing!)… M: How can you be open to, and pray for, "strangers" and thereby become "friends" in God? Consider carrying a cross or rosary or some sacramental that will help introduce others to the Faith.

Jesus is First: Once in France we were enamored by the art and spiritual beauty of the "Eldest Daughter of the Church". Clovis -king of the Francs, in the 400's, converted along with the whole country, the first to so in the West as a country, and thereby France gained this title. At each beautiful church and cathedral along the way it is easy to get inspired, gawk and simply forget just why the Church was built in the first place-for Jesus. Each and every time we visited some church my fellow pilgrims -Fathers Sal and Jim, would enter the church and, while everyone else would be admiring the stained glass windows, ornate statues and high clerestory windows and walls, my pilgrim-priest- friends would make a bee-line to the tabernacle-where Jesus was truly Present in the Holy Eucharist, to kneel and pray: God was more important than ornate stones. They did this in every church, every time. Then they would go through the church and enjoy the earthly splendor with a heart full of Jesus…M: Keep Jesus first in your life. Cultivate devotion to Him, esp. in the Blessed Sacrament. Lead others to Him by your prayerful example! Before the pilgrimage Fr Farmer said: "I don't care what we do each day as long as we have Mass and a Holy Hour." We all kept faithful to that with each other's help.

Holy Silence: In Paris one of the famous churches is Sacre Coeur, Sacred Heart Basilica, which stands upon a hill overlooking the City of Light. It is impressive and inspiring. What is inside is even more-so: Christ. They have continual Eucharistic Adoration in the Church. Now, people being people, they talk and sometimes ignore Jesus-especially while on tour. Well, I was struck by-and am in gratitude to-two men who were quite assertive in promoting silence. This was their job. They were unashamed to walk up to people and tell, or motion to them to be quiet. They were unabashed about it, with a big, assertive "Shssh" anytime someone began talking. And people complied; then silence reigned. It's so easy for our churches to become parlors or museum halls and lose the sacredness....M: Am I silent and still in my own church to help others pray- so that Jesus may penetrate into the deepest recesses of my heart to make it one with His Sacred Heart?

Silence and Stillness: In one of the world's most famous churches-- Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris-there is lots of action, but there is little time-or space-to stop, be still and silent, and attune to God's glory thru the amazing art and architecture. There are crowds, the selling of religious items, candle lighting, tour groups, and the general din of human traffic milling about a gigantic church. I realized: you just have to desire and work to get out of the general stream of traffic-off of a main aisle, sneak into a pew, drift away from the crowd-and then focus on God's manifestations, perhaps on the beauty of the high altar, the amazing stained glass windows, on the towering walls inlaid with celestial beauty, or upon the rose windows. One has to make a conscientious effort to stop and be still to "breathe it all in"-otherwise you will just get swept up in the treadmill of human traffic. It takes a conscious effort. It's amazing how much silence and stillness will help you in the spiritual life!... M: Take twenty minutes a day (at least, and then increase) of meditation time-"Within: think about, thank Him." Practice stillness, silence.

Travel Light: Baggage-always baggage. After may trips abroad I am still learning: I always pack too much for trips and still own too much. From train stations to airports to hotel staircases-I lugged around my luggage and sometimes thought: less is more. I met some camping pilgrims in Lourdes and was edified by their witness and simplicity-all they had were backpacks. They were like walking spiritual messages-Travel light-focus on the Lord…M: What baggage- physical and/or mental-weighs your down? What can you get rid of?

Confessions: One of the main aspects of a pilgrimage is renunciation of sin .Yes, it is nice to travel, meet new people and encounter God in beautiful scenery. But: we need greater and deeper conversion in our souls and need to reconcile to God in a concrete way. I was amazed and inspired at the confession- lines at Lourdes-always somebody, somewhere making a confession. I myself heard a confession at the Grotto late in the night. Pilgrimages and holy places inspire conversion and, really, if we admit it and fathom the depth of our Sacred Tradition, conversion comes thru heartfelt continual Confession and Communion …Ars: When touring the world's most famous parish priest's house-St. John Marie Vianey-I noticed a display by his bed, which showed how frequently he heard confessions (people from all over France and Europe went to this country pastor to confess sins). The display-"clock" showed that just about every other hour of the day and night he heard confessions. The "secret" of this man's spiritual success, popularity and sainthood: Confession. "Confess your sins to open another and you well be healed" (Jas. 5:16).He knew that sacramental reconciliation was the Medicine of the soul. When in the church we priests actually sat in the famous confessional of St John Vianey. I made a confession there and then Fr Sal asked to make a confession. I was going to remain where I was (in the penitent's seat) when Fr Sal suggested we change places so that I actually sit in the confession priest seat of St John. He said, somewhat assertively, "It's important." Sacramentals-rosaries, candles, holy water, confession seats (!), are helpful and important-God works thru them and bestows grace.. M: When was your last confession? Do you have sacramentals in your life, home, at work?

Service: Part of holiness is service. I met a priest in Lourdes who was seventy-five yrs old, "Fr Ed," who was from Detroit. Big deal? He was so kindly and unremarkable; you could miss the "subtle living sermon": He joyfully and lovingly gave of his time, talent and treasure -in his retirement-to travel to Lourdes to hear confessions. Imagine that as a vacation! He showed us pilgrimaging priests the way of sacrifice, fortitude and service…M: How can you sacrifice and serve Jesus and others?

Beautiful Rubble: On pilgrimage we visited one of the most famous monasteries you've perhaps never heard of-Cluny, in Burgundy. In the 1100's a certain abbot, "Hugh" and monks began building the largest church in Christendom (until St Peter's in Rome). Still, today you can catch a whiff of the austere beauty of what once was. In later centuries it was neglected, and then demolished during the French Revolution. Apparently, according to one interpretation, its earthly success became its downfall. Walking thru the ruins-and seeing an occasional well-preserved column (soaring way high into the French sky), and inspecting the various sections of the mammoth church, I thought-What happened that it went to ruins? Cluny became decadent-too successful and rich, losing its focus-Christ, and saving of souls. Perhaps we need such "beautiful rubble" to remind us of what can happen to us Catholics… M: How can I keep my eyes fixed on Christ and be His missionary?

Annecy: This is the town of St Francis de Sales. It is simply stunning, in SE France, just on the edge of the Alps. If there's one "jewel of a town" to visit in Europe-this would be it. It is quaintly small yet with an urbane air; it is clean, it is tres belle-very beautiful. Gigantic mountains peer over a pure blue-green alpine lake, and the town's elegance, and mixture of medieval-old, and cosmopolitan-new is enticing. But, what is more beautiful is the life of St Francis (1567-1622), who helped laypersons become holy when it was not too popular or acceptable. Thru prayer and deepened understanding of the spiritual life, he helped souls to embrace a serious spiritual life just where they were, without inappropriate practices. Coming upon his grand church we were hoping to say Mass at his tomb and were inspired by the helpful and joyful Visitation Nuns. We were then overawed at celebrating Mass right there, by his body. After Mass we met a humble son and mother who were visiting Annecy for medical attention. Upon later reflection, I thought, this layperson's simple, sincere love of Jesus, the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary-and of our Church-were just as touching as any of the buildings and history in Annecy. In a way, the fruits of St Francis, his "spiritual children," appeared to us…

M: How can you increase your Faith and witness it to others? …

Like all Pilgrimages, To Be Continued…

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi  

Briefly Noted

The Gospel and Liberation: Regarding the world, Pope John Paul recently described the "diffusion of the weakening of the sense of sin and, therefore, of the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation in contemporary society." He also described "the mystery of the Cross, mystery that brings into the light the tragedy of sin and, at the same time, proclaims the liberating and healing force of divine mercy." This Sunday's Gospel is the heart of the Good News-Mercy. Our Heavenly Father is Mercy and Love. St Luke's Gospel, Chapter 15 is a series of pictures and parables about God-He loves sinners, and goes out after them- Us! In St Timothy's stresses that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners". Who can you help out of Darkness into Light: people lying, fornicating, contracepting, hoarding possessions. But the Father will never give up on us, on any sinner. The Gospel Parable about the "lost (Prodigal) son" is often called, by early Fathers of the Church, the Story of the Prodigal Father". Why? Because the Sacred Story accentuates the (Heavenly) Father's role in Mercy and Love more than it does the son's waywardness. The "Mystical Dimension" of the Forgiveness is expressed by St Isaac of Stella: "And as all that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son because by nature they are one, so also the Bridegroom (Christ) gave all he had to the Bride (The Church) and he shared in all that was hers. He made her one both with Himself and with the Father…Therefore she (the Church) has the prerogative of to forgive sin, which is the reason for the command: Go, show yourself to the priest. The Church is incapable of forgiving any sin without Christ, and Christ is unwilling to forgive any sin without the Church…Do not destroy the whole Christ by separating head from body, for Christ is not complete without the Church nor is the Church complete without Christ."

Remember the choice--Conditioning by Sin or Mercy's Freedom.