This week beginning Sunday, September 28th, a number of parishioners and I will start our perigrinatio por Christo – our wandering for Christ – into the heart of Franciscan Italy. It is not a tour, but rather a pilgrimage. Of course we will tour many places, but what is it that makes a tour a pilgrimage?
Perhaps the title “tourist” reveals something. The word is derived from the Old French word tourn, a turn and a circling of something. It is not a word that implies to deeply enter into or within. It may be that the tourist is primarily concerned with an experience of the place — not entering into the mystery of the place itself. In such a mindset certain questions that arise: “Is this original?” “Am I really seeing the Coliseum?” “Did I really get everything I could out of my time in Florence?” “Wasn’t Assisi supposed to be bigger?” The tourist runs hither and yon in Rome to see “the sights.” Which ones? It’s enough that they are sights, for sights allow experience, and what’s desired is a good experience, wonderful memories, and pictures to post and show that “we were there.” And those are all good things.
A pilgrim is seeking something different. There is a certain amount of joy in the journey because from the beginning it is understood that the journey only exists because of the destination. In our case, a pilgrimage into the heart of Franciscan Italy. The destination illumines the peregrinatio with anticipation, joy, desire, and an openness to what lies ahead. The pilgrim is interested in that something, and someone will be revealed – or at least hinted at – during or by the end of the pilgrimage. For Franciscans and those Franciscan-at-heart, one walks the streets of Assisi, Greccio, and Fonte Columbo because Francis walked there – and these places were part of his peregrinatio por Christo that changed his life because of the grace of God he encountered in those places. The pilgrim does not walk into the Chapel at San Damiano or the Porziuncola because it is part of the tour, but because one believes God can use this place to draw one deeper into relationship.
It is said that there are three facets of our life that want us to remain tourists and never reach pilgrimage: (a) the temptation to see the journey through the lenses of smartphones, iPads, and cameras; (b) the temptation to stay connected to those at home via Skype, FaceTime, emails, and calls – and posting every moment, meal, and matter on Facebook; (c) speed – the pilgrim needs to slow down to the speed of prayer, quiet, and a pause to reflect on what God might have in store for them in this place.
Those might just be facets of our life that keep us tourists in our own life in our own places. Maybe we all need to wander just a bit, become pilgrims in the here and now. God can and will use the place you are now to draw one deeper into a loving and fuller relationship with Him.
See you in two weeks. God bless.