As I was meditating on today's gospel--St. Matthew's account of the Flight into Egypt--an old and encouraging memory came up for me. For my graduation from college, my parents gave me the gift of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I went with a group, under the direction of Fr. Callistus Bamberg, OFM, (may he rest in peace.) It was a wondrous and formative trip for me as a fairly new Christian. The crucifix I bought there to carry on the Via Dolorosa--from a storekeeper who insisted on showing me photo albums of the successes of his relatives in New York, and with whom I shared bread and herbs with a Goldstar beer while he tried to find a crucifix to my liking--has been the first thing I bring into a new apartment or cell ever since. It was in the Lord's tomb in the church of the Holy Sepulchre that I first proclaimed a reading at Mass. Whenever I think of that moment, given what has come in the years since, I am so grateful, and a little scared.
There were several of us on the pilgrimage who were there at some kind of juncture in life, or in celebration of some particular moment. One devout couple was there in celebration of a wedding anniversary. For someone else it was retirement. There were a couple of religious celebrating jubilees, and one priest having an anniversary of ordination. Me, I was the kid of the trip, and my thing was that I was about to enter religious life. At the end of our trip, the group wanted to do something to recognize these moments in the lives of us various pilgrims--I think we were at Tiberias--and so there was a little prayer service, and there were souvenir gifts. I received an olive wood statue of the Holy Family on the Flight into Egypt. When Father handed it to me he said, "Whenever you see this, remember that it's a journey."
"The journey" is such an apt metaphor for the spiritual life, and so deep and full of resonance and meaning that it hardly seems worthwhile to try to write about it per se. Nevertheless, one aspect of the journey of which I have become increasingly aware over the years is that the journey itself is formative. The places and people, the joys and the losses, and in some ways most of all the insults and misfortunes, the meaninglessnesses and apparent absences of God by which the Cross is revealed in our individual lives, all of these conspire together to make us who we are before God and one another as Christian souls, or at least souls who desire God through the only Way of cruciformity.
When I'm at my best, the suffering and emptiness of the Cross as it has been revealed to me in my own life has made me grow in patience, compassion, and the sort of true peace that comes from perspective, from wideness of ultimate horizon. At my worst, some of my sufferings have left me damaged, skittish, dismissive, and prejudiced. One of the deep challenges of the journey, at least as I have experienced it thus far, is to accept that these two aspects of who I have become, of how I have been both formed and deformed along the way, are like the wheat and weeds of the Lord's parable. They are so intertwined in their growth together that it would be impossible to uproot the weeds without also taking the wheat along with them. Therefore, in everything I do in my prayer and in my life with the brethren and everybody else, I must remember that I have been graced for prayer and service through my journey, but that I also have dark spots that can come out in hurtful and unhelpful ways.
So I make it my prayer, that as I journey on to the moment of my own death, and groan along with every other member of the Church Universal for the final fulfillment of the creation (and along with the world, which in some ways groans harder, but ignorant of why or for what), God will harvest from me all the good he has worked in me, and let the rest fall into the pointless non-being it imitates in me each day.