Followers of the Way

13 May

Shortly before leaving Canada to spend this summer in Madrid preparing for World Youth Day 2011, I purchased Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume on the life of Jesus, entitled Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. Just two chapters into this book, I am drawn into it especially by the theme of pilgrimage present from Pope Benedict’s opening page. Reflecting upon Jesus’ entrance or “ascent” into Jerusalem, an ascent both geographical– Jesus’ journey took him from the Sea of Galilee, below sea level, to Jerusalem, ” on average 2 500 feet above sea level”– and in theological terms, as Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) with the express purpose of accepting death for our salvation, Pope Benedict characterizes our Lord’s definitive travel to the Holy City as a pilgrimage:

The Synoptics [the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke] contain just one Passover feast– that of the Cross and Resurrection; indeed, in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ path is presented as a single pilgrim ascent from Galilee to Jerusalem (Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week, 2).

Similarly, the “ascent” on Madrid to be made by potentially over one million youth in August is also a pilgrimage. World Youth Day, of course, cannot have the same salvific goal as the once-for-all pilgrimage made by our Saviour nearly two thousand years ago, but we volunteers in Madrid are preparing for a pilgrimage nonetheless. Youth will arrive en masse to welcome and to be welcomed by the Pope; by the Church hierarchy of Spain and from around the world; by the People of God; by one another. However, our main purpose remains to welcome Christ, Lord of youth– of the “little ones”– as the faithful of Jerusalem once did, receiving the Prince of Peace by lining his path with palm branches. As Pope Benedict writes, drawing upon Psalm 8:2 and the Palm Sunday motif,

From these “little ones,” praise will always come to him; from those able to see with pure and undivided hearts, from those who are open to [God’s] goodness (Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week, 23). 

 With “pure and undivided hearts,” let us then welcome Christ, the God-man who, as the theme of World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany, in which I participated as a pilgrim,  reminds us, is always with us: Gott ist mit uns (Matt 1:23).

These related themes of welcoming God and of pilgrimage bring me to a last thought to integrate into this article: Much has been spoken in these last few days I have been in Madrid about the previous and only other time that Spain hosted World Youth Day, in Santiago de Compostela in August, 1989. Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral in honour of the Apostle St. James is the terminus of the famous Camino de Santiago de Compostela, whose main section originates in the French Pyrenées and is over seven hundred kilometres long. El Camino is a pilgrimage par excellence!

Christians at all times and in all places, from the Apostolic Age to the contemporary World Youth Day movement, must consider themselves to be on pilgrimage; our camino of life must be one of bringing before God the praise of his servants, the “little ones,” the youth. I end on this note, that the first Christians considered themselves to be on a camino, a pigrimage. They self-identified simply as “the Way.” We, like them, follow Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), as the very first paragraph of the Basilian Way of Life, my religious Congregation’s Constitution, quoted on the bookmark I am using as I read Pope Benedict’s book, attests:

The early Christians knew themselves as ‘followers of the Way’; they were instructed in the Way of the Lord. All Christian life must find its centre in Christ our Lord, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the authentic teaching of the Gospel is the first and essential guide for anyone who wants to follow this way of life (Basilian Way of Life, no. 1).

Desde Madrid (from Madrid), Warren Schmidt, CSB.

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