How many of us find ourselves yearning for the dusty streets of Jerusalem during Lent?
Lent has traditionally been a time of pilgrimage, particularly to the Holy Land as we prepare to commemorate Our Lord’s Passion.
3 Main Purposes Of A Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage traditionally served three main purposes:
- Penance & Purgation – Pilgrimages are undertaken to make reparation for the pilgrim’s sins and the sins of the world. Indulgences, both plenary and partial, are available to pilgrims.
- Almsgiving – Especially in the Middle Ages, pilgrims would typically give to the poor and donate to the churches en route.
- Homage – The particular destination, is, of course, of utmost significance. Why make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem instead of Babylon? It is because the actual, physical place where these events occur matters. The ground is stained forever with the indelible mark of the arc of history, and of the cross that pierced it. The upkeep and governance of the actual sites of salvation history have inspired millennia of saints, popes, and crusaders.
This answer seems obvious enough, but reveals in a meaningful way the deeper Catholic principle of sacramentality – that we are not merely spiritual beings, but that our physicality is an integral part of God’s plan for humanity.
Sacramentality lies at the very heart of Catholic teaching. We differ from angels in that we are spiritual and physical beings. Many heresies and forms of Protestantism have denied the importance of the corporeal – from the Gnostic eschewal of the earthly realm as irredeemably corrupt, to the Puritan iconoclasm and rejection of physical beauty.
Sacramentality is the operating principle behind God become man in the Incarnation. It is why we physically receive sacraments – and why the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord. St. Maximilian Kolbe emphasizes the wondrous gift of the Eucharist: “If Angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” We look forward, Godwilling, to the Resurrection of the Body and the reunion of our body and soul at the end of time.
Because of this fact of sacramentality, relics are venerated in the Church.
Saint Helena, mother of Constantine and patron saint of archaeology, made what is considered one of the first Holy Land pilgrimages in the fourth century. Following her conversion to Christianity, she sought out for Jerusalem with the noble goal of the discovery, recovery, and veneration of the relics of the crucifixion. After excavating three crosses on Golgotha, as the legend goes, she determined the Cross of Christ by leading a leper (some accounts say a dead man!) to the foot of each of the crosses. The cross that healed him was recognized as the True Cross.
By tracing the path of the Passion as St. Helena did, we literally walk the road to Calvary with Jesus – and experience with our senses, will, and intellect the landscape of our salvation. But what does it truly mean to walk the road to Calvary? It is to imitate Christ in every way – His humility, His suffering, His laying down of His life. This is not merely symbolic – the Church teaches us that efficacious suffering and a willingness for martyrdom are ways we cooperate with our redemption. Don’t we realize that we can in fact do this, wherever we are in the world? That we must do this to attain Heaven?
The ultimate, definitive pilgrimage is to the foot of the Cross – a pilgrimage we undertake, literally, each time we attend Mass or approach the tabernacle. If we do not have the Faith, then a trip to Jerusalem is just another worldly vacation. But each of us has the ability to make the most profound and supernaturally efficacious pilgrimage to Our Lord Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, even daily!
10 Ways To Make A Pilgrimage This Lent Without Leaving Home
Nothing will compare to standing in the geographic footsteps of Our Lord, but we can make conscious efforts to live more sacramentally this Lent. Keeping these principles in mind, here are some ways to incorporate sacramentality, pilgrimage, and retreat into your Lent without taking a trip overseas or spending a week in monastic silence:
- Renew devotion to the Real Presence
Did you know that Eucharistic miracles are occurring even now in the 21st century? In several extraordinary cases, the veil is lifted and we see through the accidents of bread and wine to observe with our senses what we know to be there – that is the Real Presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord. The Eucharistic miracles manifest as suffering heart tissue, demonstrating the torments Jesus endured for our salvation.
Committing to spending time in Eucharistic adoration is akin to keeping Our Lord company at the foot of the Cross. Ask Our Lady and St. John to assist you in remaining close to Christ and refusing to abandon Him even under dire circumstances.
- Venerate some relics
Every church building has at least one first-class relic of a saint. They are contained in each consecrated altar, and churches often have small collections of other relics. You can actually transform your own sacramental items – rosaries, prayer cards, anything really – into third-class relics by touching them to these first-class relics.
Ask your priest which relics your church has, and use it as an opportunity to discover the sacramental presence of the Church Triumphant here in the Church Militant.
- Participate in an at-home retreat.
St. John Bosco says “Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book.” We are lucky that in our modern age we have at our fingertips nearly the entire treasury of Church wisdom. You can craft your own retreat by setting a schedule of prayer, spiritual reading, and meditation. Books such as “What Jesus Saw from the Cross” will carry you mentally to the Holy Land to ground your devotions, especially during Holy Week.
- Make the Stations of the Cross
The Stations are designed to be a small pilgrimage mirroring the actual road to Calvary. Most parishes offer weekly Lenten stations, but they can be prayed at any time, even without walking. Using traditional meditations on the events of the Passion, like Fr. Gerald Vann’s beloved devotional “The Pain of Christ and the Sorrow of God,” allows for a deeper connection to each of the stations.
Fasting is, of course, a central component of Lent. Fasting also plays a significant role in the traditional pilgrimage. But Lent also reminds us that nourishing our bodies is a good thing – fasting is only a sacrifice because food is an objective good. Cooking and baking are, in a way, a participation in the co-creative powers that God has endowed us with. In addition to penance, we can use Lent as a time to reflect on our intentionality toward food, consumption, and creativity.
- Frequent the sacrament of Confession
Recognize that your priest acts in persona Christi, and be sure to examine your conscience as you would to stand before God.
- Befriend your Guardian Angel
Did you know that you can send your guardian angel to all the Masses being offered throughout the world on any given day?
Padre Pio would often send his angel with messages and prayers for others when he could not attend to them himself. We can therefore send our angels on “pilgrimages” to gain graces for ourselves and others.
Try also directing your inner dialogue to your angel and see how your life changes.
One of the traditional practices of pilgrims was an increase in almsgiving to the poor in the areas that they visited. We are called to a particular focus on almsgiving during Lent, and there are creative ways to give of yourself beyond a financial donation. Focus on cultivating generosity of spirit to grow in perfection of charity.
- Maximize the Treasury of Indulgences
The Church offers myriad indulgences to help souls avoid or shorten their time in Purgatory by atoning for sins while here on earth. Many indulgenced prayers are quick and simple, and can be appended to your daily rosary. Even making the sign of the cross can be an indulgence if undertaken under the proper conditions.
Don’t forget the souls in Purgatory! They are unable to intercede for themselves, so they rely on the prayers of us, the living. Offering indulgences is the easiest way that we can alleviate their suffering and hasten their ascent into Heaven! Once there, these souls can intercede for us.
- Learn the historic languages of the Church
One of the features of a pilgrimage is being a stranger in a foreign land.
Engage with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew – the three sacred languages that adorned the Cross. Whether in books, online, or just on Duolingo, this is a way to make the Passion more immediate.
Making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is the ultimate expression of spiritual preparation for the Passion. In today’s fraught world, which makes physical pilgrimages nearly impossible, we are still blessed with an abundance of graces that allow us to incorporate the sacramental elements and spiritual benefits of a pilgrimage. All beauty on this earth is but a mere approximation of Heaven! The most beautiful cathedral or natural landscape will pale in comparison to the beauty that is Truth itself.
Remember, as St. Therese said: “the earth is thy ship, not thy home.” The Church Militant is referred to as “the pilgrim Church on earth” for a reason – we are only here for a short time. Our very life itself is a pilgrimage toward eternity through this “valley of tears.” We would do well this Lent to detach ourselves from earthly things and realize that no matter where we go or what we do, we can achieve Heaven if we accept God’s grace and live for Him alone.
Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash