Pilgrimages and Holy Places
The familiar Bible story of the Magi portrays
the ideal pilgrimage. It is a story of a
specific journey; yet it is also symbolic
of our own pilgrimage and encounter with
Jesus. The Magi recognized and followed the
star to the newborn King. They had a guide
and a goal on their journey. For us, our
guide is the Holy Spirit and our goal is
an encounter with the Savior. As the star
led the Magi, so too does the Holy Spirit
go before us until we reach the goal of our
journey - Lord Jesus. When we reach our goal
after an arduous journey, we share in the
same joy and worship as the Magi: "They
were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on
entering the house they saw the child with
Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves
and did him homage." (Matthew 2.10-11)
On a spiritual pilgrimage, the time spent
on the journey itself bears much spiritual
fruit. Advent is a time of preparation for
the coming of the newborn King - a time to
prepare the heart to receive Him with humility
and complete acceptance. Lent is a time to
follow Christ on His way of the cross - a
time to allow our hearts to join in His passion
in the hope of the resurrection. A pilgrimage
at any time of year is an opportunity to
prepare our hearts for receiving Christ.
When our hearts are truly on the road to
Christ, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith,
upholds our hope, and builds our charity.
"Happy are those who find refuge in
You, whose hearts are set on pilgrim roads."
(Psalms 84.6) Scripture and the Eucharist
sustain us as we journey.
Our lives are also a journey, with time as
the pilgrimage and heaven our goal. "For
here we have no lasting city, but we seek
the one that is to come." (Hebrews 13.14)
As we journey, it is as if we are travelling
through a foreign land on this earth. "Our
citizenship is in heaven, and from it we
also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
(Phillipians 3.20) The Church herself is
on a pilgrimage through time as the Kingdom
of God is gradually coming to fruition in
creation. The sum of the pilgrimages of her
members is itself the pilgrimage of the Church.
For Jesus, the Temple in Jerusalem was often
His destination on pilgrimage. The Temple
is a holy place, like the cathedrals and
shrines of our day. Holy places offer us
the opportunity to experience a pilgrimage,
and to encounter Jesus within the context
of the holy place. At Marian shrines, we
encounter Jesus united with the heart of
His mother Mary. At shrines dedicated to
the Saints, we encounter Jesus through the
example of their holy lives and the intercession
of their prayers.
Holy places are found, not only in pilgrimage
destinations, but also in our local churches,
our homes, and in our hearts. The Real Presence
of Jesus in the Eucharist, ever present in
the Tabernacle, awaits us in silence. The
journey to Mass can be a time of pilgrimage
to prepare our hearts to receive Him. The
place of prayer in our homes, perhaps adorned
with the Cross, the Bible, and an image of
the Lord Jesus, are a holy place to encounter
Him in individual and family prayer. Truly,
as St. Teresa of Jesus put it: "we need
no wings to go in search of Him but have
only to find a place where we can be alone
and look upon Him present within us."
(Way of Perfection, 28.2) In prayer, we encounter
Him within our hearts. Each prayer in itself
is a pilgrimage and holy place.
This poem expresses the importance
and holy places in our lives of prayer.
The Magi journeyed by the star:
Pilgrims, led by the Spirit's grace,
Seeking the Lord, they came afar -
Rejoicing when they saw His face.
Their hearts were prepared on the way:
Through trials, their faith and hope
As charity grew with each day -
In prayer and joy, their hearts excelled.
In time, our hearts sojourn onward
Towards heaven - our truest home;
Held by this hope, our hearts are spurred
To be prepared and not to roam.
Holy places call the pilgrim:
To encounter the Lord anew,
To rejoice upon greeting Him,
And receive the grace He'll imbue.
As He dwells in our hearts by grace;
We have become a holy place.
Holy Spirit, please lead the way
Unto the Lord, our journey's end;
Hold our hearts close, so we don't
You are our Guide, Teacher, and Friend!
St Teresa Of Jesus, The Way of Perfection
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph
769, 1419, 1438, 2101, 2685, 2691
(c) Paul Buis, 2005