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Amazing Possibilities!

  • Writer's pictureMatthew Kelly

Be a Pilgrim, Not a Tourist!

What is the difference between a pilgrim and a tourist? This is the question we will explore today.

Welcome back to Best Christmas Ever! Where we are exploring 28 Ways to Make this Your Best Christmas Ever!

#11 is… Be a pilgrim, not a tourist!

A pilgrimage is a sacred journey. For almost thirty years we have been hosting pilgrimages to the Holy Land; Fatima, Lourdes and Paris; Rome, Assisi, and Florence, and the Camino. On the opening night as we welcome the pilgrims, we always ask them the same question: Are you going to be a pilgrim or are you going to be a tourist?

Tourists want everything to go exactly as they have planned and imagined it. They rush around from one place to another making sure they cram everything in. They are constantly buying souvenirs and knickknacks, many of which they will look at when they get home and wonder, “What was I thinking?” Tourists get upset if there are delays. They demand prompt attention and service to their every need and desire. They focus on themselves, often shoving past others to get where they want to go. Tourists go sightseeing. Tourists count the cost.

Pilgrims are very different. They look for signs. If a flight gets delayed or canceled, they ask, “What is God trying to say to me?” Pilgrims are not concerned with seeing and doing everything, just the things they feel called to see and do. They are not obsessed with shopping. They are aware of the needs of others. Pilgrims go looking for meaning. Pilgrims count their blessings.

The reality is we are all pilgrims. This planet we call earth is not our home; we are just passing through. We build homes and establish ourselves here on earth in ways that ignore that we are really just here for a short time. It is a dangerous pastime to live as if you were never going to die, but consciously or subconsciously we all fall into this trap to various degrees.

We are only here on earth for the blink of an eye. This is not our home. That’s why the happiness that God wants and created us for is very different from the fleeting happiness and momentary pleasures of this world. God created us for lasting happiness in a changing world and eternal happiness with him in heaven. The happiness he wants for us in this life is a rare kind of happiness that is not dependent on situations or circumstances. It is easy to be happy when everything is going well. But Christian joy allows us to be happy like Paul was when he was in prison.

Do you ever think about heaven? It seems to me we don’t talk about it anywhere near as much as we should. When Rudyard Kipling was very seriously ill a nurse asked him, “Is there anything you want?” He replied, “I want God!” We all do. We may not be aware of it, but we want God. Behind every desire for a new car or a new house, a promotion or accomplishment, clothes and jewelry, plastic surgery, adventure and travel, food and sex, acceptance and comfort, is our desire for God. We are always hungry for something more complete, and God is that completeness that we yearn for from the depths of our soul.

We are just passing through, and it is helpful to remind ourselves of that from time to time. In the context of eternity, we are only here for the blink of an eye. Realizing this changes our priorities. At the same time, we are here for a reason. You are here for a reason. God has a mission for you.

Life is a pilgrimage, a sacred journey. Typically, a pilgrimage is a journey to a religious shrine or a location important to a person’s faith or beliefs. You can make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Rome, Fatima, Lourdes, the Camino, or any of the famous Christian sites around the world. But you could also make a pilgrimage to your nearest Cathedral. In fact, every Sunday you make a pilgrimage to your local parish for Mass.

Very often, people make pilgrimages with special intentions in mind. Some ask God for a favor, perhaps to heal a loved one who is sick. Others make a pilgrimage in thanksgiving for a blessing they have already received from God. There are always couples on our trips who are celebrating a wedding anniversary. They are making the trip to thank God for their marriage. On every trip, Father Bob chooses one of the holy places and invites every couple on the trip to renew their marriage vows. Powerful! I cannot even describe how powerful and moving this is. I have seen it many times, but still it moves me. Sometimes people make a pilgrimage seeking clarity on some decision they have to make.

Life is a pilgrimage, but sometimes you need a pilgrimage to discover life. We are journeying in this life toward the sacred city, toward the heart of God—heaven. Nobody makes the journey alone. We all need companions. Some of my very best friends in this world I met on pilgrimages. These trips that Dynamic Catholic hosts are life changing, and when you experience something like that with other people, you form a very special bond.

The best friends in the world encourage us and challenge us to become the-vest-version-of-ourselves, and by doing so, they help us to get to heaven.

Let us pray for the grace to be pilgrims and not just tourists. Let us pray for the grace to be the kind of friend who helps others in the great pilgrimage of life.

This is “A Pilgrim’s Prayer,” by Thomas Merton:

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end...

Nor do I really know myself,

And the fact that I think I am following Your will

Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this,

You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem lost

And in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for You are ever with me,

And You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

We are just passing through this place we call earth. At every turn we are tempted to be tourists, but we are pilgrims. Adopt the attitude of a pilgrim this Christmas.

Matthew Kelly

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