Walking in the Footsteps of Christ: Lent as a Pilgrimage Print this post

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Pilgrims in Christ,

Bishop Frank J. Dewane

Lent possesses certain rich spiritual themes that speak powerfully to us today.  One important theme is that of Lent as a journey towards God. In many respects this spiritual journey of 40 days towards Easter resembles the ancient tradition of going on pilgrimage.

The role of pilgrimage remains an important spiritual tool for Christians, as is seen in the thousands who annually trek the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, Saint Patrick’s Footsteps in Ireland, or the Route of Saints to Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland. In our own locale, many in the Year of Mercy traveled to walk through the Holy Door of Mercy as a symbolic gesture to open their hearts and lives to the grace of the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to be a pilgrim? How does it help us grow in faith and move closer to God? Becoming a pilgrim involves leaving our regular routines behind, packing only that which is essential, and setting out on a journey to some holy destination with the hope of interior transformation and deeper union with God. Each of these aspects are worth reflecting upon.

First, we leave behind our regular routine. In today’s society, we often look to a summer vacation or holiday “to get away from it all”. But how often have we returned from our break needing a vacation after our vacation? A pilgrimage is similar to a vacation in that it gives us a break from the ordinary, but different in that it is a quiet time of purification, a time to examine our lives and our priorities to see if they are attune with what God wants of us, and a time to grow in union with Christ. St. Augustine famously said, “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

For this reason, it is important to read Scripture and stay close to the sacraments throughout Lent, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which both heals and strengthens the soul. Simple meals, silence, the Liturgy of the Hours or other forms of prayer may also be helpful. “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me….” (Jn 15: 4-9).

Second, we pack only that which is essential. Just as a backpacker, carries only the bare minimum to reach the summit of a mountain, so too in setting out on a pilgrimage, we adopt the spiritual practice of detachment so as to reach new spiritual heights.  Not that God wants us to shun the world. On the contrary, we are meant to be “leaven” and transform it. But too often our focus shifts from Our Creator to His creation and we fail to put Him first. So just as Jesus spent 40 days in the desert and time away in prayer, so too in an effort to be more mindful of His presence, we spend time weeding out unnecessary things that distract us from God or carve out time for prayer and embrace our share in the cross of Christ. 

In particular, during Lent, we put into practice the words we hear as ashes are signed in a cross on our brow on Ash Wednesday,  “Reject sin and embrace the Gospel.” Also we respond to Christ’s invitation to the crowd with his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). As a general penitential practice, almsgiving has always been embraced by the Church as well at this time as a sacrificial way to give more of ourselves to Christ among us in the poor. “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

Third, we set out on a spiritual journey to a holy place. In Lent that place or “event” is Easter. Having faithfully made a 40-day spiritual pilgrimage with the Church towards Easter, we are now open to the generous love and graces God wishes to give us, and ready to enter more deeply into the mystery of the resurrection. When the definitiveness of redemption through the risen Christ permeates our whole heart, that knowledge becomes joy, transforming our lives and our relationships and inspiring us to give of ourselves without reserve.

In its totality Lent emphasizes that we are a pilgrim people following in Christ, our Savior’s footsteps with heaven, our eternal home as our ultimate destination. The season invites us to dispel the darkness in our lives and walk toward the Light– the Resurrected Christ– who breathes new life into our lives and makes it possible to finally live forever as one family.

May God bless us all as we journey with Holy Mother Church and each other through this Lenten Season towards the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

+Frank J. Dewane

Bishop of Venice in Florida


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