TEN LESSONS FROM OUR PILGRIMAGE
Pilgrimage involves training the Body: A pilgrim is a “Jonny Walker”. On one of the days of our pilgrimage, we did over 30,000 steps according to our phones. The pain in our legs were incredible. The pain continued for days to the point that even a few steps the following day brought back the pain. We wanted to sacrifice certain places we had planned visiting, but we pressed on (in the voice of Paul- Philippians 3:14), we pushed our bodies. Near the Lateran Basilica is the Scala Sancta (the Holy Stairs). Among the items that St. Helen (the mother of emporer Constantine) rediscovered and brought to Rome was relics of the stairs of the praetorium of Pontius Pilate, where Jesus was condemned by Pilate and obviously after his scourging, his blood dropped on the stairs. Relics of those excavations are in the stairs which one climbs on his knees.
Catholic spirituality teaches asceticism as essential way of growing spiritually. Asceticism is the discipline of the body in order for it to respond to the souls desire for God. It has its roots in the letters of the apostle Paul who on various occasions compares salvation to sports (cf. 1 Cor 9:24, 26, 27). For Paul, Christians must have the discipline of athletes or a boxers who train their bodies so that they can attain a certain goal. Athletes and boxers push their bodies beyond a certain limit that ordinarily they would not. That bodily discipline with the aim of a spiritual good is what asceticism aims for.
The Bible teaches asceticism and a perfect personality in the New Testament would be John the Baptist who is described as one who wore Carmel skin and ate wild locust (cf. Matt. 3:4). It includes denying your body certain ordinary pleasure so that one can grow in holiness. Asceticism grew to become more intensive in the early church and medieval times when some saints whipped themselves as a way of doing penance. We must keep in mind that it is not only sin that can hinder our growth but sometimes even legitimate pleasure. A young man wanted to grow spiritually beyond a certain level and asked Jesus what he should do. The answer of Jesus shocked him as it should for many of us who read that part of scripture without halting to ponder what it implies for us today: “go sell all your properties, give it to the poor and come and follow me”. (Matt. 19:21)
It is said a Muslim is recognized with a dark spot on his forehead and (in those days) a catholic with a hardened or darkened kneecap. Today even in the presence of the Holy Eucharist we fail to kneel and genuflect. Being on your knees is uncomfortable and an example of asceticism, fasting is also….going for 1st Saturday of the month Marian devotion is an example of a pilgrimage and sometimes the things we have to forego to fulfill that devotion is a sacrifice of sweet fragrance in the sight of God.
By: Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Salifu – Archdiocese of Accra