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Life Is A Pilgrimage

June 8, 2023 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


The walk of life’s journey is made up of the steps we take daily. Some footfalls might seem more memorable or impressive than the others, but each is significant for together all lead inexorably to the greatest destination possible: eternal life.
This May I joined 300 priests and a record 16,000 pilgrims from more than 28 countries to complete the arduous 91-kilometer Paris-Chartres pilgrimage. This long three-day hike was taken in order to impress upon each of us, and perhaps those witnessing, that life itself is pilgrimage to a destination totally beyond our grasp without supernatural assistance.
I joined 50 pilgrims from the United States in Paris for a holy Mass at St. Roch church the day prior to the start of the journey. Each group participating is called a “chapter” and takes the name of a holy patron. Our group walked under the banner of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. We sat down for a lunch of pizza together in the Latin quarter, where the ubiquity of Italian food impressed itself upon me once again, all the more remarkable in the gastronomic hegemony which is France.
We began to learn each other’s names and stories in a contemporary reenactment of the Canterbury Tales. Young and not so young, we all seek deeper faith in daily living to better meet and overcome the challenges and temptations against holiness in a world often hostile when not indifferent to God.
The first morning of the pilgrimage, Saturday, began early for your writer, with a preparatory walk at 5 a.m. from my room near Notre Dame to reach the pilgrimage starting point of St. Sulpice Church where I offered low Mass. The many priest-chaplains filled the side chapels and stood over improvisory tables in the crypt, rendering along with me suitable worship of God. All of these completed, the church began to fill with the many thousands of young people from France and beyond, many in scout garb, for the High Mass at the main altar.
The spirituality of tradition leaves no element of worship neglected. Beautiful choral chant and hymnody filled the church as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass once again provided the support of grace to the over 16 thousand pilgrims who broke a new record, straining resources to the breaking point for the yearly pilgrimage, on that occasion commencing its 41st undertaking.
The overflow crowd outside the church, our U.S. pilgrims among them, watched and prayed along with the Mass by means of large screens placed in the streets. Kneeling on the pavement in communion with the others inside the church gave us a small foretaste of the physical challenges to come with a walk outstripping by many miles a mere marathon.
Parisians lined the streets to greet and wish us well as we departed the city. Some pilgrims dashed briefly into shops along the way to buy a cup of coffee and start the day with a bracing sip of normality.
We sang, prayed the rosary together, learned new songs in French and repeated over and over, almost to numbing excess, the simplest of exercises, putting one foot in front of the other to place the distance to Chartres more and more behind us.
As with the other priests, I responded to numerous requests for Confession. Near the end of the first day, I stopped to aid one of the pilgrims in this way and, unwittingly as a result, placed us both at the end of the five-mile column of pilgrims. Two men had been charged with the particular duty of picking up stragglers, following the snaking train of human beings wending its way through the countryside. It was now their job to ask us if we were riding or walking. Transportation was made available for those whose feet had met their physical limits or whose willpower was no longer capable of aspiring to the challenge.
A man on pilgrimage support staff operating a BMW motorcycle offered me a ride to the bivouac site. Although I am morally certain I’d have made it by foot, my will was overcome by the offer. I gladly rode the last few kilometers to the first night’s rest stop, blessing the pilgrims we passed along the way. My pilgrimage chapter members afterward shared their amusement at the sight.
Through villages, on highway overpasses, in fields under blistering sun relieved by spring breezes or through forests with cooling shade we walked, 25 miles on Saturday, 22 on Whit Sunday, with a stop midday for Pentecost Solemn High Mass in a field, and 14 on Whit Monday entering Chartres at about 2 p.m.
As with any long journey, our physical limits are tested more and more with each stress placed on feet and legs, repetitively moving up and down, pressing upon the resistant earth, over many miles. As our bodily faculties are deeply strained and called to higher levels of recovery in order to keep us moving forward, we are better able to admit our human limits.
Human finitude thus strained to its utmost provides fertile ground for the seed of grace. To know our needs is to refine away our mere wants. We are spurred to better separate the necessary from the merely superfluous. When we admit that God is beyond our capacity we can turn to Him more sincerely for what only He can give us. This is Faith.
Living outdoors and enduring the weather with few comforts gives us beneficial distance from the quotidian distractions that have prevented honest and deliberative reflection. Our battles against the occasions of sin thus stand out in greater contrast against the background of circumstantial white noise, a general mix of life’s details. We can then begin more in earnest to sincerely follow and love God with perseverance and consistency.
As we pick our way along the route, on pilgrimage or in life, we choose where to place our feet in order to avoid pitfalls or dangers. We must with vision and conscience choose, with the responsible use of the will, where we will go and what we must do. We follow the directives of a conscience informed by truth and seeking the good.
If we fall we get right back up again so that we can continue on our way. If we need a hand from others we reach out for help. We brush ourselves off and get right back in step, our goal ever closer. This is the frequent and integral confession of sins for reception of sacramental absolution.
We walk always with others, in chapters on pilgrimage and in parishes for daily life. We are always with the Church and so never alone on the path of our personal journey. As week seek stronger bonds with fellow believers, worshipping, praying, singing, sharing meals and conversations together, we feel the burden that comes with exertion lightened. This is in the highest way the prayer of the holy Mass. With others and with the Lord we aspire to love and hope for union with Him enabled and extended by our communion of charity and virtue.
The loaves of bread and water that sustained us physically reminded of the Bread of Eternal Life, Eucharist, which as grace only can fortify us supernaturally and eternally.
I met priests from Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, and other places. A French FSSP priest and I recounted cycling tales based on our shared love of the sport. An Italian priest and I, who have met before, spoke of a common priest acquaintance in his home of Sardegna.
The lessons and challenges of this remarkable journey from Paris to Chartres will find its true and highest value when incorporated into the daily steps which make up the life of faith. Belief in God directing life’s thoughts, words, and actions is the evidence of the love which saves because it is not from us, sinners journeying through a valley of tears.
Each day calls for the choice to believe in God and offers an opportunity to advance more fully toward our goal of eternal life with Him. Choose wisely. Walk well. Look always toward the goal which gives each footfall its promise and hope.
Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ now and forever. (Visit for photos and more details of the Paris-Chartres Pilgrimage.)

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