The gospel says “Seek and you will find” and one of the ways of seeking is to go on a treasure hunt. This is how I’ve come to regard the ancient Catholic tradition of going on pilgrimage.
You set out from home to visit some holy place as if you are an adventurer going on a quest to find some great treasure. Think Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant. On the pilgrimage you’ve got certain clues to follow and a path to pursue, but you’re not quite sure exactly what you’re meant to find. You know it will all be revealed as you set out on that journey.
I used to be cynical about pilgrimages thinking that they were no more than expensive holy holidays, but last summer I helped lead a pilgrimage to England and continued on my own private pilgrimage to Italy to venerate the Holy Shroud of Turin. The two weeks were filled with so many unexpected blessings and serendipitous connections that it would take a book to record them all!
This is what happens when you go on pilgrimage: you open yourself up to new experiences, new friendships and new perspectives. You literally leave your ordinary world and set out on an adventure. Sure, you might have hotels lined up for you and transportation provided, but there is an inner adventure and a new step of faith. Your life is transformed and your spiritual life is deepened.
The Jubilee Year was established to help pilgrims to do exactly this. Across medieval Europe hundreds of thousands would set out on pilgrimage to Rome to enter through the Holy Door. Pope Francis has opened the Holy Door today to launch the latest of Jubilees, and pilgrimage is an important part of the experience. Thus pilgrimage connects us with the ancient Jewish traditions of Jubilee in which debts were forgiven and people were given a fresh start by God.
The pilgrimage spirit extends not only to pilgrims going to Rome, but also toe the Holy Doors established around the Catholic world. Make sure you take time to plan your own pilgrimage to the Holy Door in your area. If your Holy Door is local why not organize a walking pilgrimage to the church where your Holy Door is located? Arrange a bus pilgrimage or a biking pilgrimage with the youth group. Get the pilgrimage spirit, be creative and use this opportunity to deepen your faith and draw closer to the Lord of Mercy.
For those who have a real spirit of adventure, I invite you to join my pilgrimage to Poland in April. We’ll be visiting sites associated with Pope St John Paul the Great, St Faustina, the Divine Mercy, St Maximillian Kolbe and more. You can be in touch and download a brochure for the tour here.
However you celebrate the Year of Mercy make sure you include an element of pilgrimage. That’s what the Jubilee is all about. It’s not only important, it can be the experience of a lifetime in which you find that spiritual treasure for which you have always been searching.