On Pilgrimage to the Heart
Wednesday December 3, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 25:6-10a) Gospel (St. Matthew 15:29-37)
In the Gospel reading, as well as in the first reading, we hear once again about this mountain. The mountain of the Lord’s house we heard about a couple of days ago; now we hear about the mountain upon which the Lord is going to feed the people and heal them and so on. The important thing to understand with this point is that the Church, in giving us these readings at the very beginning of Advent, is asking us to look at the point that we are on a journey, that as we begin this season it is a pilgrimage of faith, that we are called to move from where we are to someplace else. For instance, we heard on Monday in the first reading, “Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Israel.”
In today’s Gospel reading we hear about the people coming to Jesus. They were with Him for three full days and had not had a thing to eat, and yet they stayed with Him. If we think about most of us, we could ask how many of us, first of all, would make the effort that these people made just to be with the Lord; and secondly, how many of us would sit there for three days with nothing to eat. We probably would have abandoned Him two and a half days ago because lunchtime came and we had not gotten anything to eat. Heaven forbid! After all, if it started at eight in the morning, by noon we would want to be out. But these people stayed for three full days – and they ate nothing – except that they were being fed with truth, which is far more important than anything else. The Lord, of course, had compassion on them and He fed them, but what we need to recognize in this is that the Church is placing before the people the fact that there is a pilgrimage. There is a sense of not only going from one place to another (interiorly, that is) but it is a matter of how it is to be done. A pilgrimage is not a vacation. A pilgrimage is a time where there is penance. A pilgrimage is a time when you put aside the luxuries and you are willing to suffer a little bit for a religious purpose.
We see what these people have done and we see the call that is given to us to climb the Lord’s mountain, to come to the Lord. But that means we have to be willing to leave our comfortable place interiorly, wherever that comfortable place might be, and we have to be willing to walk along a path that we do not necessarily know. We do not know what stands between where we are right now and what our goal will be. We do not know what we are going to encounter along the way. What we can know is that there are probably some areas of woundedness within our own selves. There are areas of sin within ourselves. There are areas of attachment within ourselves. There are a variety of different things that we know we are going to have to deal with. And so most of us run the other way. Rather than making the pilgrimage to the Lord, we make a pilgrimage to the refrigerator or to the department store or whatever it is to try to ease our pain, to try to give ourselves more comfort. All that does is add more woundedness and more sin that we are going to have to address.
So what we have to do as we begin this season is to say, “We are on pilgrimage now with Our Blessed Lady.” Think again of her own discomfort, not only as she made that pilgrimage the first time right after she conceived Our Lord, but making the pilgrimage now at nine months’ pregnancy on the back of a donkey – 80 miles through the deepest valley in the world and up 7,000 feet to Jerusalem and then across to Bethlehem from there. It was not a fun or easy track that Our Lady was on, and yet she was willing to do that not only in obedience to the civil authority but most of all in obedience to God. We too are being asked by God – not forced, but asked – to enter into this pilgrimage of faith, to go inside, to be able to find the Lord in our hearts, and to be able to move from where we are – to walk sometimes with great difficulty – to the place where we are going to find Jesus. That is what this season is about: to be united with Christ and to be able to make that pilgrimage of faith and pilgrimage of love from wherever we are complacently sitting to union with Jesus Christ in the depths of our hearts. That is what this season is about. So as we begin this season again, I can only encourage you to look at the areas in your life where you have separated yourself from Christ in whatever manner, where there is any distance that is there, and make that act of the will, that resolution, in this holy season to do some penance to be able to overcome that area and unite yourself with Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.