Editor’s Note: Overseas Lay Missioner Anna Metzger reflects on the meaning of “pilgrimage” and how it has been lived during this new transition of returning to mission in Cochabamba, Bolivia. 

            Many often think of a journey to a new place with a religious purpose when they think of a pilgrimage.  In one way, that is the truth.  However, I challenge the notion of a single, specified trip.  I believe as Christians, we walk a pilgrimage our entire lives, seeking Jesus Christ.  If our one goal in life is to chase the Lord, then we should never stop until He calls us home to heaven, and even then, we will continue living a divine pilgrimage.

            The Holy Family is a perfect example of what it means to live a life of pilgrimage, on earth and in heaven.  From the moment Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb, the Lord was preparing her to be the mother of Christ.  After the visit of Angel Gabriel, Mary must have went on a journey within herself to wrap her head around what was to come.  The Lord walked with her and Joseph to ready their hearts.  This journey within is one we can all take, especially now as we prepare for the birth of Christ on Christmas.

            While I was home in Kentucky, I read and reflected on the book “The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within” by Christine Valters Paintner.  The author includes biblical stories throughout the book, one being a story of the Holy Family.  In the second chapter of Matthew, we read of Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to avoid the threat of King Herod: to find and destroy the child, Jesus.  In verse 13, we read, “the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.’”  And just like that, Joseph obeyed.  They arose, and walked to Egypt, one step at a time.  That is all God asks us to do, take one step at a time on the pilgrimage He calls us on.  When I read this story in the book, I realized, God called me to flee Bolivia and come home to Kentucky, and to stay there until He told me.  It was then when I felt at peace at home.

I began to recognize that my time home in Kentucky was not at all an interruption in my time on mission in Bolivia, but rather a very intentional part of my pilgrimage, just as intentional as Mary and Joesph’s journey to Egypt.  In the first chapter of the book, the author includes a reflection by her husband, John Valters Paintner.  He writes, “We honor that even unbidden journeys can take us to places where we encounter God more closely” (Paintner, p.21).  During this unbidden journey back home, I encountered God through the people at my ministry sites and especially, through my parents.  It was the first time I was living at home with my parents in seven years, and the first time living with them as an adult.  My parents were my biggest supporters during a tough time, and they showered me with God’s love and guidance. 

Parents, or other mentors in our lives, play a key role in this pilgrimage towards Jesus Christ.  Mary and Joseph were parents to a growing child, the child of God.  With the help of the Heavenly Father, Mary and Joseph instilled love and care in their child’s life.  Just as Mary and Joseph did this for Jesus, my parents did for me.  As a child, my parents constantly reminded me of God’s love for me, and they still do now.  Just as my parents haven’t left my side as I grew into an adult, neither did Joseph or Mary.  Saint Joseph may have passed before Jesus, but he didn’t stop guiding him from above.  Mother Mary supported her son in his ministry on earth.  Now, we too, can look to all three for guidance in our pilgrimage.  Saint Joseph, Mother Mary, and Jesus Christ have never stopped leading God’s children on their pilgrimage towards the heart of God.  This pilgrimage could include physical trips and journeys, but it also encompasses this inner journey of our heart, the journey to unite our heart to the heart of Christ.

So as we approach Christmas Day, may we remember our parents and mentors in our lives who guide us on our journey, and may we ask the Holy Family to continue by our sides as we walk step by step on this eternal pilgrimage.

Reflection Question: Who walks alongside you in your pilgrimage towards Christ?

Sources: Paintner, Christine Valters. The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within. 2015. Print.