Every month, we suggest a Faith Practice which you and your home, school or parish community might like to take on as part of your commitment for the Year of Faith. It is our hope that these simple practices will stir in us the ‘renewed conversion of the Lord’ that Pope Benedict XVI calls for in Porta Fidei (n. 6).
Faith Practice of the Month for May: Pilgrimage
‘At the goal of true pilgrimage
our sense of fellowship is strengthened,
our perception of things is broadened,
our awareness of mystery is deepened,
our identity is renewed,
our wounds can be healed.’
Michael Drumm, The Meaning of Pilgrimage
Ireland has a long history of pilgrimage and sacred journey reaching back as far as megalithic times, and it seems remarkable to many that this faith practice continues to be popular. Every year, without fail, Irish people travel abroad to Marian sites like Lourdes and Medjugorje, or make the climb barefoot up Croagh Patrick. The Camino de Santiago de Compostela has become an increasingly popular pilgrimage site in recent years.
In his book, Worship, Prayer and Ritual, Tom Gunning explains that there is something very physical about the act of pilgrimage. Hindus wash in the river Ganges and Jews place prayers in the cracked walls of their ancient Temple in Jerusalem.
Muslims journey to Mecca to walk around the Ka’ba and enter the sanctuary to touch or kiss the famous black stone. Irish Catholics go barefoot and climb to the mountaintop.
It appears that there is something powerful in touching the sacred place. Touch is the most evocative of the senses, and, whilst the spiritual and the transcendent remain removed from our everyday senses, on pilgrimage we can walk on, touch or kiss the sacred.
||The physical sense of pilgrimage also finds expression in the belief that cures and miracles happen at the sacred place. A pilgrimage site is often associated with a special presence of the divine, which can be manifested in healing those afflicted with sickness. Often those who go on pilgrimage use it as an act of prayerful petition for someone who is sick. Alternatively, the pilgrimage can be an expression of praise and thanksgiving for a prayer that has been answered.
People who visit pilgrimage sites report how they were overcome by the peaceful and prayerful atmosphere. These are sacred places and it is perhaps because it is so difficult to find sacredness in contemporary life that people are drawn up the mountain, across the wilderness or down to the sacred well. Stress, deadlines, progress and achievement characterise Western urban society, and it is understandable that many venture for miles to taste something of the inner quiet that marks the presence of God in the contemplative tradition. Since the earliest traditions of the Church, fasting, hardship and abstinence have been prerequisites for the spiritual journey, and the popularity of this tradition marks the ongoing need to find places of regeneration and spiritual renewal.
|Pilgrimage can be seen as a particular ritual act whereby people separate themselves from the familiar in life so as to immerse themselves in a religiou s experience. One of the characteristics of pilgrimage is the fellowship that emerges between the pilgrims. People talk to strangers about the wonder, hardships, worries, blessings and friendships in life. Contemporary religious experience is becoming privatised and individualistic as people turn away from traditional religion to pray in their own private sacred spaces. Yet pilgrimage offers the opportunity to share our sense of the sacred with others, to pray as one and realise that, together, Catholics constitute a pilgrim Church.
As summertime approaches, perhaps you can make time plan to make a special pilgrimage during this Year of Faith. Some of the following websites might help:
Previous Faith Practices of the Month:
April 2013: Supporting Catholic Education
March 2013: Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation
February 2013: Lenten Practices
January 2013: Performing Corporal Works of Mercy
December 2012: Enthroning the Christmas Crib
November 2012: Praying for those who have died
October 2012: Pray part of the Rosary every day