While the experience of Pilgrimage is exhilarating, exhausting and at the same time refreshing, it would be deceptive to say that there is where the true reality of the spiritual life abides.
That last word, “abides,” is very important. In the gospel of John, it occurs countless times. In Greek, it is the word “Menein” that is translated as “abides” and oftentimes also as “remains”. In the discourse on the Vine and the Branches, it communicates the key concept of living in or living with. It describes a state and not an event. When one lives with someone, one truly gets to know the person. Often, when going on vacation with a friend, it can seal or steal the friendship. It may show how compatible the two are or how at loggerheads they seem!
When it comes to God, we can approach the experience as an event with a beginning, a middle, and an end. This works with the concept of the Pilgrimage where we search out, and are willing to put up with, sacrifices so that we achieve that moment of connection which gives us strength. The problem with seeing God as an event is that it is too restrictive. It depends wholly on circumstances which will or will not cooperate. We climb the mountain and want to feel God, but He is elusive. He is not in the mountain or the fire or the storm, but as Elijah discovered, He is in the ubiquitous breeze.
One cannot meet with God. One must live with Him. Day in and day out. ‘Menein’. Abiding and remaining in the presence, divorced from emotions and thoughts. He walks with us and is not to be found or met, just as one cannot lose one’s faith, but merely decides to not believe.
The question that the two disciples who were following after Christ in John’s gospel asked of Christ: Where do you live? Menein. And the Lord answered: Come and see. Or better said: Come and live with me and you shall understand.
When you come back from the world of events like a Pilgrimage, the temptation is to go back to where we were as the memories recede. But, truly, God is in the breeze of daily life. We live with Him, but we do not see Him or hear Him or feel Him because of our lack of faith. Faith is a way of seeing the world in all its depth and supernatural mystery, like the face of a child without shadow or the face of an aged person whose history is written on the wrinkles of their face. If we cannot see God there, no Pilgrimage can help us. For the true Pilgrimage is into the mystery of God, and He is all around us.
Perhaps that is what Baptism truly is: finally seeing the reality of God right in front of us. It is when, in Spanish, during the Eucharist we ask Him to “Contemplar las Luz de tu rostro”: to contemplate the light of His Face.
To the human eye, there is only a round host when the Priest intones: “Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world”. But in faith, we gaze on the Light of His Countenance.
And so we unpack and get into our own bed and, as sleep comes, we greet the destination of our journey: The Lord whom we live with. And we discover that our Pilgrimage was unnecessary; or rather, we finally understand a little better that He is with us always even when we are not with Him.
A Pilgrimage teaches us to see, and I am so glad to have taken many of them throughout my life, for they force me to see what is right in front of me and realize how truly blessed I am!
When one returns from a Pilgrimage, it is often the devil’s strategy to convince us that the insights the soul had received while visiting the holy places were illusions, that nothing has changed. In fact, the evil one mounts a concerted attempt to have the soul go in the opposite direction from what it resolved on Pilgrimage. It is a measure of the damage we have done to the devil’s kingdom that he has to mount such a counter offensive. For it is in the daily life of the believer that the true battleground is found. The devil tries to belittle the progress made and to get the believer to settle into the ‘old way,’ thereby invalidating the Pilgrimage’s effects.
The devil knows that if the insights of the Pilgrimage takes ground in the daily life of the believer in Christ, he has lost a big battle and maybe, eventually, the war he is waging against God on the battlefield of the individual soul. We are but the spoils of his rage. Thus, let us take the wisdom of St. Peter to heart: “Resist [the devil], solid in your faith!”