BEFORE THE CROSS | Pilgrims walk with God, draw nearer to Him

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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The number of pilgrims who have walked the Camino de Santiago has risen dramatically since the mid-1980s. (The Camino is the famous European pilgrimage route that ends in northwest Spain at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which is believed to be burial place of St. James — "Santiago" in Spanish.) In 1985, less than 1,000 made the pilgrimage. Then the number grew significantly to more than 25,000 by 1997, more than 100,000 by 2006 and more than 275,000 in 2016.

St. James is the patron saint of pilgrims; his feast day is Tuesday, July 25.

A pilgrimage is essentially a symbol, a physical journey expressing a desire of the soul to walk with God and draw nearer to Him. It's interesting to note that, in a world that seems more and more lost, an increasing number of people feel the need to make such a journey.

The Scripture readings for this week tell part of the story of Israel's pilgrimage from Egypt to the Promised Land, and it's packed with lessons for us. Israel learned to rely on God in this journey and discovered — oftentimes the hard way — the consequences of trying to go it alone.

The Israelites were pursued by the army of Pharaoh and cried out in fear at what seemed to be their impending doom. In their fear, they would have chosen slavery in Egypt over this. But God delivered them from their enemies at the Red Sea, saying: "The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still." There's a lesson for us there.

They came into the desert and cried out in frustration at what seemed to be their impending starvation. In their hunger, they would have chosen full bellies in slavery over this. But God rained down manna from heaven and provided flesh for them to eat. The flesh and bread sustained them for their pilgrimage. There's a lesson for us there.

They came to Mount Sinai. What they needed now was to come to deeper awe in the presence of God and to learn a way to be holy so they could walk in His presence. So, the Lord appeared to them in fire and thunder, and gave them the 10 Commandments.

At each stage of Israel's pilgrimage, God gave them what they needed to sustain their journey. They became ever more deeply, His people.

Each of our lives is a pilgrimage, too. When fears and hungers tempt us to remain in the slavery of sin, we can cry out to the Lord with trust. Just as He came to the aid of Israel, He wants to come to our aid, to sustain us and make us ever more His people. Most dramatically, He rains down bread from heaven and give us flesh to eat in the Eucharist.

So, we walk with hope, believing that God is at the end of our journey. And we walk with faith, knowing He is beside us all the way. 

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