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Archive for August 27th, 2018

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Lord, Where Would We Go?

Pilgrimage is a religious exercise with deep roots in human history.  For millennia people have left home and set out on the quest for inner peace, self-awareness, repentance, a change of scenery, and as often as not a bit of fun.  But motivating it all is a simple question that eventually nags at everyone.  Looking around at their lives, people sooner or later ask this:  “Is this all there is?”

Recently I viewed a program that featured British commentator Simon Reeve as he retraced the medieval pilgrimage route to Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury.  I found it fascinating, and not just for the trails and inns and churches that have survived in the five hundred years since Henry VIII ordered the shrine destroyed.  Himself a non-believer, Reeve puzzled over why people would still do this.  When science and technology explain so much, why would people go to such great lengths in hope of a glimpse of the sacred?

BF8AFC3D-E78A-42DB-ADD1-6D56FFDF50C1Reeve put his questions to pilgrims whom he met along the way to Canterbury, and I think the best nugget of insight came from a Carmelite friar whose community serves pilgrims and retreatants.  He framed his answer carefully, beginning with one bit of context.  Undeniably many people today refuse to be pinned down.  They keep all options open.  They shrink from commitments.  And so, in a world which doesn’t quite seem to know where it’s going, pilgrimage is the conscious decision to set a course for one’s life to some destination, and only God knows where it will lead.

People on pilgrimage, then, tend to be contrarians.  They set their sights on a goal — in this case a place — and they don’t give up until they’ve reached it.  Of course they have no idea how the journey will tease out in its details, but they commit time and energy to a journey that might turn out to be life-changing, or not.

That, it seems to me, provides insight into Peter’s response to Jesus in the gospel passage from John 6.  When the going got too tough, many of the disciples took off.  Peter stayed, and when Jesus asked him “why?”, his answer was simple.  “Lord, where would we go?”

296B5A4F-EDD4-467C-80F3-3D911EB3A0F8Peter’s response was not an expression of bewilderment, because it was an act of faith.  He knew there were other options, but he chose to throw in his lot with Jesus.  And he did so fully aware that the pilgrimage with the Lord offered no guarantees, save for the fact that the journey would be interesting and the destination rewarding.

Not to choose is to choose, and so it is that lifelong fence-sitters have in fact made a choice.  They have chosen the path of minimal risk, but that minimal risk brings with it minimal reward.  And that’s the implication in what Jesus asks of Peter.  “Are you willing to put yourself on the line for at least something?  For anything?”

The Lord puts the same question to us, and if we elect to walk with him our lives will be anything but dull and meaningless.  The route of our journey may include detours and potholes, but we’ll at least have a direction.  We will not be aimless wanderers, afraid to leave our comfort zones.

That’s the potential reward for throwing in our lot with the Lord.  For that journey the Lord gives us his Spirit, who provides us the wisdom to live day by day and hour by hour. With that wisdom comes the awareness that the Lord won’t always give us what we ask for, but he will always give us more than we ever imagined.  For me that’s worth the walk.

4E6F7EB8-F96D-49B9-9472-D741CB736E6DNOTES

+On August 23rd the incoming freshmen of Saint John’s University joined us for evening prayer in the abbey church.  Before we began, Abbot John welcomed them to Saint John’s and invited them to join us for prayer whenever the Spirit moves them — and not just during final exams.  After prayer the students met in small groups for discussions led by several of the monks.

+On August 25th I said Mass for a group of some forty alumni and spouses at the home of Len and Kay Mrachek, in Edina, MN.

+On August 26th I attended Mass presided over by Saint John’s School of Theology alumnus Fr. Alex Juguilon OSC, who was ordained this spring.  Gathered for the Mass was a large contingent from the Twin Cities Philippine community, and virtuallly all the music was in Tagalog — a tongue entirely foreign to me.  Held at Guardian Angels Church in Oakdale, MN, I confess that I had to look it up on the map to find out where in the world it is.  It is a suburb of St. Paul, as I found out.  And I should have known better.

+The new school year has brought several monks and priests who will live with us in the monastery while studying at Saint John’s.  Among them are five Cistercian monks from Vietnam, along with one Benedictine from Vietnam.  To make matters interesting, our Brother Simon-Hoa now must share his monastic name with one of the visitors and his surname with another.  We’ll get used to it.

+The photos in today’s post all come from the Quandrangle courtyard, save for the butterfly.  The butterfly was draining nectar from a flower in the monastic garden, and it was a long wait before the wings fluttered open for this shot.

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