A pilgrimage fleshes out our decision to follow Christ
In the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, the Jubilee was commanded by God to be celebrated every 50 years. During the Jubilee slaves were set free, debts were forgiven and God’s mercy was proclaimed to all. The tradition was begun in Catholicism when, in the year 1300, Pope Boniface VIII called the first Jubilee year. Since then ordinary jubilees have been celebrated every 25 or 50 years.
In addition, popes have called extraordinary jubilees depending on need. Jubilees involve pilgrimage to a holy site. Traditionally, the pilgrimage was to Rome, where pilgrims had to pass through the holy door. In recent years, it was to make the graces of Jubilee more available, and increasing numbers of holy doors have been selected around the Catholic world.
Connected to the celebration of the jubilee is the possibility to receive a plenary indulgence, the recognition by the church that the individual has received full forgiveness of both his or her sin and the temporal punishment for that sin. On each jubilee, certain conditions are set. The pilgrim must make pilgrimage, go through the holy door, make his or her confession, receive communion and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father. The specific conditions for this year’s extraordinary Jubilee are set out here.
Why is pilgrimage such an important part of a jubilee? Because a pilgrimage is a symbolic and active reminder of the whole Christian life. Jesus called the disciples to leave their ordinary world and follow him on an extraordinary adventure. They were to leave being fishermen and become fishers of men. We can only truly follow Christ when we decide to get up and leave our comfort zones and set out on the great quest to follow him.
A pilgrimage costs us something. It costs us time and trouble. It may cost a fair bit of money if we decide to travel abroad. It might cost us energy and exhaustion if we decide to walk or bike a pilgrim pathway. On a pilgrimage we set out from home not sure what the road will bring us. In a small way we are living out what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. On the journey we will encounter unexpected blessings and unexpected trials and temptations. A pilgrimage, therefore, incarnates or fleshes out our decision to follow Christ. It is no mistake that the documents of the church refer to God’s people as “a pilgrim people,” for unless we have the pilgrim attitude to life we cannot be his disciple.
Pope Francis has made the pilgrimage aspect of the Jubilee Year of Mercy as accessible as possible. Every diocese has a church where there will be a holy door, and most dioceses have multiple churches with holy doors. Why don’t you be the one to organize a pilgrimage from your parish? Maybe the youth group could walk several miles to the holy door and so make the pilgrimage. Maybe the older folks could take a bus and walk the last mile to the holy door. Why not organize a family biking pilgrimage to the holy door in your diocese? This is a chance to build fellowship, strengthen the faith and have fun in a creative, positive way that bears a strong witness to others.
Whether your pilgrimage is a homegrown local affair, a diocesan pilgrimage or a trip to Rome or Poland, take this opportunity of grace to step out of your comfort zone, go on an adventure with God and grow stronger as a disciple of the Lord of Mercy.
[Editor’s Note: Fr. Longenecker will be leading a pilgrimage to Poland (visiting sites associated with Pope St. John Paul II, St. Faustina and St. Maximilian Kolbe) in a trip intending to fulfill the obligations for the plenary indulgence. More information is availablehere.]