Many of us will remember, from recent times, a clever advert on the television, which was promoting a particular brand of car. I always remember the slogan which was used: “Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride!” It may be a memorable slogan, but I think that all of us know that this is not the true story of life. We can indeed describe life as a journey, and we cherish the happy times and memories of when life ran smoothly, or when we have known times of great joy, and peace and contentment. But we also know the truth that not all parts of the journey of life are enjoyable. There are, for all of us, times too of struggle and sorrow, times of anxiety and uncertainty, periods of illness and financial insecurity, experiences of grief and failure. So, life is certainly more complicated than to see all of it as just an enjoyable ride!
Perhaps a more fitting description of life, certainly within the context of our Christian faith, is to describe our faith journey as a pilgrimage. This understanding of our faith has existed within the tradition of the faith from the earliest days of the Church. And the point of seeing life as a pilgrimage, rather than simply a journey to be enjoyed, is that it highlights for us that our journey through life is a pilgrimage, where we are constantly being invited more and more deeply into the mercy and love of God. So our life is a pilgrimage with an end in view, which is not simply one of enjoyment, but rather of being invited to eternal life in the love of God.
Because we are a community of believers, we are also on pilgrimage together. None of us travels alone. Each one of us is called, through the particular events and circumstances of our life, to recognise that our faith is built on all those who have gone before us and already finished their pilgrimage, and that we share our pilgrimage together as individuals, as families, as a parish, and with the whole Church.
We are primarily inspired by the witness of Jesus, our Redeemer, who himself made His own pilgrimage, from His birth and His Life to His Death and Resurrection. As His disciples, we are strengthened and encouraged spiritually, that Jesus has first made His own pilgrimage to the Father, in order to offer us the gift of eternal life when our own pilgrimage is over.
As we make our own pilgrimage of faith, we are daily invited to unite our journey with that of Our Most Holy Redeemer. That is why we come together to celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist each week: to be strengthened on our journey. And in the Eucharist we offer tangible witness that we are all on the same pilgrimage to God, sustaining one another through prayer and love and service.
In this year of Mercy, we recognise too that our own pilgrimage is forever lived under the merciful gaze of God. He looks on us, no matter how often we have been lost along the way, with compassion and love and forgiveness. A significant part of the spiritual pilgrimage of each of us is that we also come to reflect the loving mercy of God to one another. In a true sense, therefore, we are each called to be pilgrims of mercy to one another: to the lost and the broken, to the wounded and the searching. Indeed, we have been given a wonderful life. But it is a life forever on pilgrimage till we all reach our final home in the eternal presence of our loving God.
Fr Gerard, CSsR