practical pilgrimage

A Practical Pilgrimage

Let’s face it: most of us are not going to be able to jet off to Lourdes or Fatima this Lent, if ever. While our hearts might yearn for a pilgrimage to a well-known place, our wallets are thinking groceries and car payments. So where does that leave us?

I suggest a practical pilgrimage. What do I mean by that? The main reason for going on a pilgrimage is to seek the holy, to grow closer to Christ by encountering Him in a new way. But a pilgrimage also means a journey – you have to move through time and space. That movement is important: it gives us time to process, to slow down, to notice, to contemplate.

Back to the idea of a practical pilgrimage. This is a great thing to involve the family, but you could also invite a friend or head out on your own. Choose a church near you that you’ve never been to, maybe one that has some historical significance or really great architecture. Try to attend Mass there. This is also a great way to introduce kids to the idea of the universal church. (If Mass isn’t an option, just spend some time in reflection. You might also check on confession times if Mass is not possible.)

Take a few minutes to quietly walk around the church’s interior. Maybe you can pray the Stations of the Cross. If the church is named after a saint, take a few minutes to pray for his or her intercession (and if it’s a saint you are not familiar with, learn about that person. Make a new friend!)

When you’re planning your church visit, look for a nearby park. Pack a picnic lunch and put away your cell phones and tablets. Spend time enjoying God’s creation and the companionship of the people you’re with. Take time to talk about the things, events and people that prompted you to think about “holiness” (maybe it was a particular hymn during Mass or flowers in the park.)

And if getting out of the house isn’t an option for whatever reason, make a Virtual Pilgrimage. Here are some beautiful virtual tours of churches and shrines around the world.

A pilgrimage does not have to be a far-flung journey. If we do a little praying and planning, we can find God quite close to us … and isn’t that the whole point of a pilgrimage?

Lent 101 Infographic

Not sure what Lent is all about? Maybe Ash Wednesday has raised some questions around the water cooler. Perhaps you’re trying to find a way to help a child, a godchild or a grandchild understand the Lenten season and Catholic traditions. This infographic from National Catholic Educators’ Association should help.


Lent 101 inforgraphic



Book of Tobit

Journey through the Book of Tobit


The book of Tobit in the Old Testament is a fascinating story. It was likely written about 200 years or so before the birth of Christ, and it truly is a story, with a beginning, middle and end. It’s also a great book to undertake as Lenten reading. It’s not very long; one can easily read through it in an evening. (But take your time! There is a lot here to enjoy.)

Tobiah is the son of Tobit, the central figure, a pious Jew who keeps the Law. Tobit, through a rather outlandish event, is struck blind. This, along with thinking that his wife has stolen something, causes Tobit to beg God for death.

Meanwhile, in a distant town, a young woman named Sarah has had the unfortunate experience of being widowed – seven times, each time on the night of her wedding. People are starting to wonder if Sarah is not killing these men.

Now Tobit – hoping to retrieve some money so that he and his wife can be buried – sends Tobiah on a curious journey. He offers him a long list of “dos and don’ts” for the trip. As Tobiah starts off, he is joined by a man who introduces himself as Azariah, a kinsman of Tobiah’s, but he is really the archangel Raphael. (If this is sounding a bit like a soap opera, than you’ve got the right idea. This type of story would have offered a lot of entertainment to the Jewish listeners.)

One of the commands that Tobit has given his son is to marry while he is on this journey. “Azariah” steers him toward Sarah. Tobiah is a bit put off; isn’t this the woman whose husbands keep dying? But “Azariah” calms him and the two marry.

Chapter 8 of the book of Tobit has one of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible: a prayer offered up by Tobiah and Sarah on the night of their wedding.

Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors;
blessed be your name forever and ever!
Let the heavens and all your creation bless you forever.
You made Adam, and you made his wife Eve
to be his helper and support;
and from these two the human race has come.
You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone;
let us make him a helper like himself.’
Now, not with lust,
but with fidelity I take this kinswoman as my wife.
Send down your mercy on me and on her,
and grant that we may grow old together.
Bless us with children.

Clearly, this journey Tobiah must make is a peculiar one. An angel in disguise, a widow seven times over, the appearance of a large fish, the expelling of a demon … there’s never a dull moment!

While one could read this book as “just” a story, that would be missing the point. Tobiah must trust his father, his traveling companion, his new bride and ultimately God. And while strange things occur, tragedy abounds and things often are not as they seem, Tobiah trusts. He is faithful.

The prayer he prays with Sarah the night of their wedding blesses God, pledges Tobiah’s fidelity and begs for mercy and the grace of growing old together. Tobiah’s journey is much like what many of us face: family issues, health complications, strange characters to deal with and problems popping up on all sides. Tobiah’s example is a rich and powerful one: trust in God. Follow His will. Do good. Respect your family. Don’t be discouraged. And at the center of it all is love: love for parents, love for one’s spouse, love for God.

This Lent, do yourself a favor and read the book of Tobit. Travel with Tobiah and ponder how his story has meaning for your Lenten journey.