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December 2006

Blessed are those who find their strength in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage (Ps 84:5).

The poet who composed the Psalm from which this Word of Life comes had been on a pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem. He would have wanted to remain there, just like the swallows that had made their nests there, but he had to return home. He remembered with nostalgia the ‘lovely dwelling-places’ of the Lord where he had experienced the presence of God. And so he decided to return, setting off again on the journey up to Jerusalem. It was a pilgrimage, a ‘holy journey’ that would put him back into God’s presence. As in all cultures and faiths, the journey becomes a parable of life.

The ‘holy journey’ is the symbol of our path towards God. We are heading for a destination we ought not call ‘death’ but ‘the encounter’, because it is the beginning of a new Life as we encounter God. All of us are destined for this, called by him.

Why not plan our lives mindful of the end we are going to? Why not make of the only life we have a journey, a holy journey – holy because the One who awaits us is Holy?

Yes, we are all called to become holy according to the heart of God (see 1 Thess. 4: 3) – that God who loves us, each of us one by one, with immense love and who has imagined and planned a path we ought to follow, and a specific goal we have to reach.

Blessed are those who find their strength in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage

Of course, we are children of our age – an age that loves efficiency and an often unbridled activism. It values certain professions and undervalues others, and it covers with silence certain moments of life that cause fear, fooling itself that it can make them disappear…

Perhaps we too, influenced and blinded by these tendencies, sometimes waste our energies uselessly. It can happen that we feel days off as unnecessary or moments for prayer as superfluous, and we can see illness, or other difficulties that God permits in his plan of love for us, as obstacles in our lives.

How then can we start, or start again, to undertake the holy journey seriously? It is not difficult to find out: we have to do not our own will, but God’s will. We have to follow his will in the present moment of our lives, aware that – and this is a great gift – every act we do in this way is accompanied by a special grace of God. This special grace is sometimes called ‘actual grace’, and it illuminates our minds and makes our feelings and our wills lean towards what is good.

Those who do not have a specific religious creed can also make their lives into a masterpiece, by setting out in an upright manner on a path of sincere moral commitment.

Blessed are those who find their strength in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage

If life is a ‘holy journey’ mapped out by the will of God, the path we follow demands that we go ahead every day. Love urges us to keep growing and improving. We cannot be content with how we lived yesterday. ‘Today better than yesterday!’ we can say to ourselves every so often…

And when we stop? When we slip backwards, reverting to our old ways or simply giving in to laziness? Must we give up the effort, discouraged by our mistakes? No, in these moments the watchword is: ‘start again.’ Start again, entrusting our past, with all its mistakes and sins, to God’s mercy.

Start again, trusting completely in God’s grace, more than counting on our own strength. Doesn’t the Word of Life tell us that we find our strength in him? We begin again each day as though it were our first.

But above all, let’s journey together, united in love, and helping one another. The Holy One will then be among us and he will be our ‘Way’. He will help us to understand God’s will better and he will give us the desire and ability to carry it out. If we are united, everything will be easier and we will experience the beatitude promised to those who embark on the ‘holy journey’.

Blessed are those who find their strength in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage

I am reminded here of a friend of mine.

Enzo Fondi was 22 years old when in 1951, while in Rome, he decided to follow God completely in the then newly born Focolare Movement. After qualifying as a surgeon, he began to work in a hospital in Leipzig, bearing witness behind the Iron Curtain to a Gospel-based love. Later he was ordained priest and went on to the United States to spread the same message of love.

During the latter part of his life, his commitment to the Movement’s interreligious dialogue took him to different places. His tasks were many, but the project was always the same: to follow God’s will. He concluded his ‘holy journey’ on New Year’s Eve 2001. That evening he was found in front of his computer, having been at work, with his head leaning on the table, his face serene and without a trace of suffering. More than having died, he seemed to have passed gently from one ‘room’ to the next.

A fortnight before his death, he had written: ‘My last will and testament: for me, God’s last will is what he wants from me now. There is no other. My own last will is to leave the last will of God, whatever it may be, done perfectly. I don’t know what the last will of God will really be for me. But one thing I know: that just as I have actual grace to help me do the will of God in this moment, I will also have it at the end of my life, to the extent that I have striven to use this actual grace to the full now, by living the present moment well.’

Chiara Lubich

 

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