October 20, 2017

Christ the Cornerstone

Marian pilgrimages are good for the soul

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a ‘pre-eminent and wholly unique member of the Church’; indeed, she is the ‘exemplary realization’ of the Church.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, #967)

Mary, the Mother of God and our mother, occupies an absolutely unique place in the history of our salvation, and in our daily lives as Christians.

The Second Vatican Council document “Lumen Gentium” (“Light of the Nations”) calls Mary “a pre-eminent and wholly unique member of the Church,” and “the exemplary realization” of the Church (#53).

We are right to honor Mary and to follow her example. Mary leads us to Jesus, as St. Teresa of Calcutta reminded us often. When we go to Mary, we find Jesus. This is the purpose for all Marian pilgrimages—to find Jesus by seeking out and following Mary.

Last week, I mentioned the Monte Cassino Shrine at Saint Meinrad which has been a site for Marian pilgrimages since 1870. The history of the Monte Cassino Shrine (named for the historic Benedictine Abbey in central Italy) gives witness to a miraculous event that saved the village of St. Meinrad in southern Indiana from a smallpox epidemic in 1871. Mary’s intercession was sought through a novena to Our Lady of Monte Cassino, and for the past 140 years thousands of pilgrims have traveled to the shrine each Sunday during May and October.

Throughout the history of Christianity, people of faith have made pilgrimages to holy sites to pray and to seek some favor (such as relief from the smallpox epidemic that threatened the people of St. Meinrad in the 1870s). There is a strong scriptural foundation for these religious journeys.

In the Old Testament, for example, the Ark of the Covenant was taken on pilgrimage by David (see 2 Sm 6 and 2 Sm 7), and, in the New Testament, St. Luke presents Christ’s journey to Jerusalem (see Lk 2:22 and Lk 19:28–38) as a form of pilgrimage that models for us the journey all of us must make to the heavenly kingdom.

For more than 20 years now, our archdiocese has sponsored pilgrimages to holy places close to home and as far away as Mexico (the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe), Europe (including shrines in Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and Italy) and, of course, the Holy Land. Although the number of people who can travel on these journeys is necessarily limited, The Criterion does an outstanding job of sharing these pilgrimages with everyone in central and southern Indiana through excellent reporting and photography in the newspaper and online.

I strongly recommend that everyone who can should set aside time for a pilgrimage. This does not have to be expensive or time-consuming. A day trip to Saint Meinrad to visit the Monte Cassino Shrine can do wonders for busy people who want to step outside their day-to-day life and seek the comfort and assistance of the Mother of God.

Slightly longer pilgrimages can be made to Belleville, Ill., or Green Bay, Wis., to pray at two very special Marian sites, the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows just east of St. Louis in the Diocese of Belleville, and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wis., in the Diocese of Green Bay. Both of these shrines have fascinating histories, and each year they are visited by thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. From central or southern Indiana, Our Lady of the Snows is a four- to five-hour drive, and Our Lady of Good Help can be reached in about six to seven hours.

Marian pilgrimages are good for the soul. They remind us that Mary is the gateway to her divine son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

When we travel to any of these Marian shrines, we gain strength for the journey that is our life’s primary purpose. When we pray the rosary—meditating on the mysteries that recap the key moments in the lives of Jesus and his holy mother—we come closer to him. Through Mary, we encounter Jesus. By her intercession, we experience the tenderness and mercy that Pope Francis tells us reveals the face of God.

Especially during this month, but at all times, let’s go to the Mother of God—physically through a pilgrimage or spiritually through prayer and meditation. Let’s ask her to show us the way to her Son. †

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