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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Catholics, Catholicism, and Our Spiritual Pilgrimage

The fathers of the Catholic Church referred to our path to Christ as The Way. In choosing to walk in His footsteps we have set forth on a journey of salvation and charity. From the harrowing travels of the
Israelite's, chronicled in the Book of Exodus, to the long and treacherous roads taken by Paul and Timothy; the Bible, and therefore the whole of Christianity, is a story of passage. This passage is found, both literally and through analogy, various times in scripture and in the observed traditions of the Catholic Church.
As previously mentioned, the exodus of the Hebrews is a foundational theme of Catholic Spirituality” . The people of YHWH found themselves in the desert under the guidance of Moses, who himself was an agent of God. While in the desert, the Hebrews were tested time and time again. Many failed and many persevered. Even as Moses conversed with The Almighty Himself, the Hebrews grew restless and were reduced to idol worship:
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (NRSV, Exodus 32:7-8).
In this passage alone, Moses must travel down the mountain, and God denounces the actions of those he has brought out of Egypt. In reading of the collective travels of the Hebrews into the Promised Land, one must understand that this travel is spiritual in addition to physical. The hardships and temptations they face in the desert can be seen as symbolic allusions for those we face in life, and Israel is a metaphor for the salvation and eternal life we strive to achieve in Jesus. The desert is seen as both a place of cleansing renewal, and as a place of solitude and temptation. This theme is evident again in the New Testament when Jesus retreats to the desert prior to His ministry. It is there that He is tempted by Satan, and it is there that He stands firm in His righteousness (NRSV, Matthew 4:1-11).

One often imagines traveling as a solitary undertaking. Whether or not one is in a group of people it is easy to internalize the experience. As members of the Church, however, our journey is all inclusive. Pope Paul VI had this to say in reference to The Church in a state of pilgrimage:
All the members ought to be molded in the likeness of Him, until Christ be formed in them. For this reason we, who have been made to conform with Him, who have died with Him and risen with Him, are taken up into the mysteries of His life, until we will reign together with Him. On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, tracing in trial and in oppression the paths He trod, we are made one with His sufferings like the body is one with the Head, suffering with Him, that with Him we may be glorified (Lumen Gentium 61-64).
From this passage we can see that Pope Paul VI intends for us, as Christians and members of the Holy Mother Church, to continue to follow and suffer with Him until we reach our final destination. The Second Vatican Council underscored this journey as a social undertaking that touches each and every one of us, regardless of socioeconomic standing, sex, or age. Together, as Children of Christ, we make our pilgrimage. Just as Christ struggled, so do we, and it is the knowledge that each person around us is suffering that we must exercise compassion and charity. We have been blessed with the opportunity to help others as Christ has helped us. As members of The Church community, we travel with Christ as both a spiritual companion and the arbiter of our heavenly destination. The Apostles made the same pilgrimage with Christ, even unto His crucifixion and, for many, their eventual martyrdom. In their travels, the Apostles' faith grew, as did the number of disciples to whom they witnessed. We experience the same spiritual maturity through our walk with Christ.

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