The Pilgrimage of Life
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick - no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them." So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
The time-honored Catholic tradition of making a pilgrimage dates back to before the Middle Ages. Unlike modern-day pilgrims who often have the luxuries of motor coaches and four-star hotel accommodations, pilgrims of yesteryear 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 Twelve Apostles as they prepare to make their missionary journeys, it also has served as a master plan for Catholics in their lifelong pilgrimage to heaven.
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 infer certain dispositions that we ought to possess in order to make our life journey spiritually fruitful.
Jesus sent 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 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 rarely would 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 instructed the Twelve that they were 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 would carry a walking stick 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 a pilgrim came into a town along the route looking for assistance, 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 failures.
Jesus commands the apostles not to take any food or sack or money for the road. While they were permitted to wear sandals, carrying a second tunic was prohibited. Jesus also provided 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 often would 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 in all things. 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 are gifts from God. Moreover, Our Lord spurns a sense of contentedness and attachment to create comforts that so often cloud our moral judgment and inure us to the needs of others.
For centuries, pilgrimages have served as a rich source of spiritual growth. Some of the dispositions toward the virtues of humility, prudence, poverty and hope (trust) in divine providence find their basis in the very directives Our Lord provides in this week’s Gospel. We pray that as we sojourn through the pilgrimage of life, we will find ourselves growing in these virtues daily.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index