Christians should view life as pilgrims on way to final destination
Well, we’re back in Ordinary Time. The solemn feasts of Easter, Ascension and Pentecost are behind us, now. Ordinary Time stretches out before us all the way to Advent, which begins on November 27.
Seems to me this is a good time to ponder a sermon from that ol’ abbot and hobnobber with popes: St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Bernard’s Sermon Six for Lent (ironic, I know, since we are now in Ordinary Time) raises an interesting issue. Taking his cue from 1 Peter 2:11 and Galatians 1:4, Bernard thunders, “Happy are those who conduct themselves as strangers and pilgrims in the present, good for nothing era.”
What is interesting to me is the tension that idea holds. The creation stories in Genesis note that “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen 1:31) Human beings fouled it all up, of course, but this world we live in is still God’s creation. Though evil has slithered its way into God’s creation, much good still abides.
On the other hand, you and I are created to be with God forever. This world we live in is not our ultimate destination. So as Bernard notes, you and I are really pilgrims passing through this world as strangers on our way to our final destination.
Hence, the tension.
So if we are pilgrims and strangers, what is the problem with that?
Distractions. We get sidelined by the stuff of life, usually the big three: sex, money and power. Oh, other sirens woo us, but the big three are not called the “Big Three” for nothing.
Now Bernard writes that, even if a pilgrim does not succumb to the wiles of this world, “he sometimes takes pleasure in observing events, hearing of them from others, or himself recounting what he sees.” In other words, even if one does not fall into the clutches of the Big Three, we often take delight in taking a peek.
What is a pilgrim to do?
Well, Bernard reverts to a military image to answer that question. Bernard writes that we should “repair our spiritual armor. Now is our Savior going out with the entire world as with an army to meet the enemy. Happy are they who fight bravely under such a leader! . . .Happy are you who are deemed worthy to be his servants!”
You don’t hear the military metaphor much these days in regards to the spiritual struggle. I do believe the metaphor is appropriate, though.
For we are in a battle; a battle not so much againstsomething as a battle for something:for conversion.
The struggle is always the same: to convert from an outlook of life that either excludes God or marginalizes him, to an outlook of life where we are consumed with God. That’s conversion, or if you prefer the fancy name, metanoia.
During Advent and Christmas, during Lent and Easter, conversion is an easy do; the Church abounds with song, liturgy and symbols to drive home the point. During Ordinary Time? Well, let’s just say we get more easily distracted during OT.
But that is exactly the best time to remember that we are pilgrims; that we are just passing through. What are many of us doing during the summer months? Traveling on vacations. Traveling. We are being a pilgrim to a distant attraction, a different state, a foreign country or to a national park far from home.
So while we are acting as pilgrims, why not remind ourselves that our whole lives are a pilgrimage. Allow the metaphor of travel to guide you through the metaphor of pilgrimage.
Bernard ends his sixth sermon of Lent with this: “What will they do, who have undertaken to fight throughout the year. . . Surely they must press on with their usual battle, more than usual, so that a great victory may result, for the glory of our King, and for our salvation.”
Note the adjective modifying the word battle: “usual.”
For the Christian, the battle for conversion is ongoing, 24/7. When your battle grows weary, stop and rest in Christ. Seek some solitude. Read some psalms. Pray your beads. Go to confession. Sometimes we need to fall back in the battle. The irony is that by falling back we are not retreating at all.
We’re undergoing even deeper conversion.