Homilies,  Occasional

Commissioning of Parish Pilgrims to WYD Lisbon – 20 July 2023

In Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, one of the main characters, Sam, says at one stage, “We shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on . . . I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”[1]

“I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?” It might be the question that each of our pilgrims has right at the beginning of their journey.  And hopefully, it will be the question you have at every turn of the journey that lays ahead of you, this great adventure of the Spirit which is the remarkable opportunity you have been provided.

There will be much to learn! However, throughout might the question be as important as the answer. What sort of tale have you fallen into?  Where has the tale come from? What is it asking of you? How can you share it? Where is it taking you? For on the most important journeys in our life, the questions are the most important. That is because the questions in our life keep the horizons of our lives open. They keep prising open the limits of our complacency, our passivity, our fear and have us stretch forward into the future which presents, through our questions, as an infinite horizon of invitation.

And it is our questions that make us truly pilgrims. As one writer puts it, 

“[A] pilgrimage is not so much a solution to life’s problem or an answer to life’s questions as an illuminative and liberating initiation into the mysterious journey of life . . . it is a time of unsuspected and uncontrolled life-giving surprises. [A] pilgrimage should be a fabulous journey of discovery – of self, others, other cultures, nature and of God.  it [is] be a time of inner freedom from daily affairs and pressures which [allows] us to see, hear, remember, comprehend and talk about aspects of life which have previously remained unnoticed. . .  it is crucial to ‘let oneself go’ in order to be disposed to the action of God during the pilgrimage . . . it is a privileged time of hearing the Word of God which throughout the pilgrimage will come in many diverse forms, experiences and persons.”[2]

And so, as we set out, we are confronted with a choice of attitude.  Will I be a ‘tourist’ or a ‘traveller’ in the words of Robert Dessaix, or in the words of another writer, Paul Carter, will I be a “discoverer” or an “explorer’?  The tourist knows exactly when they begin and where they finish. Everything is mapped out in advance. The traveller, on the other hand, lets go of the panic of the unexpected and rather takes everything that happens along the way tell a story. “It means letting time crumple . . .”[3] This is to have then the mind of the ‘explorer’, not just of the ‘discoverer.’[4] The discoverer tries to bring everything into its place, compares it with what is known and tested; the explorer sets out rather in a spirit of pure inquiry, searching, always ready to be surprised for the unexpected, ready to encounter what they have never known and may never fully understand.

May each of you be an earnest explorer, a true traveller, a genuine pilgrim. Then, we might realise that “pilgrimage sites are not ends in themselves, but often serve as thresholds into new stages of life. One does not go as a pilgrim to stay, but to pass through a privileged experience that will change us in unsuspected and uncontrolled ways so that we return to ordinary life in a completely new way. One breaks through limitations to experience a bit more of the ultimate and unlimited experience.”[5]

This is the experience of Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose entire life is the most extraordinary pilgrimage.  She sets out on our journey with a simple ‘yes.’ She has no idea what this might actually mean: it is beyond her experience of the past, and nothing in her past can really prepare her for what lays ahead.  She finds herself in the most remarkable tale, a story that is unfolding each time she repeats her simple, ‘yes’. But each time she utters her ‘yes’ to the unknown something changes – in her, and in the world.’  She is the genuine explorer in faith which takes her to places of both dread and delight but ultimately into something beyond her imagination, a live fully lived.  She discovers that God’s story finds its telling in her.  

Pilgrims you go forth from this church dedicated to the honour of Mary.  May she, then be your guide through your own journey. With her, may you travel with question and with wonder. Might you be surprised and confronted. May you be changed in ways unexpected. And above all, may you return safely to us. Amen.

[1] J R R Tolkein, “The Fellowship of the Ring” Part 1: Lord of the Rings.

[2] From Virgil Elizondo, “Pastoral Opportunities of Pilgrimages,” in Pilgrimage, edited by Virgil Elizondo and Sean Freyne, Concilium Series, (London: SCM Press/Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996), 107-114.

[3] See Robert Dessaix, “(and so forth)”, (Sydney: Macmillan Publishers, 1998), 140, 148.

[4] See Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay: An Essay in Spatial History (London and Boston: faber and Baber, 1987), 25.

[5] Virgil Elizondo, “Pilgrimage: An enduring ritual of humanity,” in Pilgrimage edited by Virgil Elizondo and Sean Freyne, Concilium 1996/4 (London: SCM Press/Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996), ix.

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