Here’s a lovely little story from today’s broadcast of the public radio show Marketplace, about a revival of European interest in pilgrimages. Excerpt:
We wandered across glorious, undulating English countryside, past grazing sheep and through marshland with a balmy breeze whispering in the reeds. Pilgrim Theo Clarke — the boss of a London-based charity — was delighted with the day.
“I’m not actually a very religious person but I thought this was a really good way to learn about British history, to see the countryside, get out of London, get a touch of our history and our heritage, and to meet some new people,” she said.
The pilgrimage ended at St. Mary’s church at the top of a cobbled lane in the town of Rye. As a farewell, Hayward sang an 800-year-old hymn in Old English. He doesn’t expect his pilgrimages will have the same economic impact as the one to Santiago but he hopes he can at least spread the word about the benefits of pilgrimages. One of the purposes of those holy expeditions in the past was to earn absolution for one’s sins, to gain remission of the final sentence, have a few years lopped off the time you might have to spend in Purgatory. There’s no way of knowing — yet — whether the walk from Icklesham to Rye has had that effect. But it did not feel in any way like a penance. It was terrific fun. And the pilgrims left Rye, unshriven maybe, but happy.
Sounds like these people are doing it for aesthetic reasons, but so what? Listen to the story (follow the link above) and hear the chanting the pilgrims do in the churches. It’s moving.
After the broadcast ended, I got to thinking that one way Catholics could combat the anxiety and despair over their church’s crisis is to commit themselves to rediscovering the old practices. Europe is full of pilgrimage sites, and pilgrimage paths (the route to Santiago de Compostela being the most famous, but not the only one). We don’t have these things here in the New World, at least not to my knowledge, though please post a link if we do. There are all kinds of traditional devotions and practices that we can take up here, though. Learn how to do Gregorian chant, and chant a bit with your family at evening prayer. It’s a small thing, but it’s beautiful and consoling.
I’m reminded of this bit from The Benedict Option:
What Marco and his friends found, to their great surprise, was that everything they needed to live as faithfully together had been right in front of them all along. “We invented nothing,” he said. “We discovered nothing. We are only rediscovering a tradition that was locked away inside an old box. We had forgotten.”
The traditions of the ancient and medieval church are there, waiting for rediscovery. Why not? This is part of every Christian’s patrimony. I’d love to start a hopeful thread with suggestions from readers about old traditions and practices you’ve rediscovered and incorporated into your spiritual life. How are these helping you grow spiritually? How might they sustain you (and others) through the current crisis?