Dear Brothers and Sisters,
One of the most memorable experiences that was part of my last Sabbatical to Rome some years ago, was accompanying the seminarians at the North American College, where I lived, on their daily pilgrimage during the Lenten Season to one of the historic ‘Stational Churches’ in the city of Rome. This ancient practice, revived in modern times by the students at the North American College, traces its origin to the first centuries of the Church in Rome. During each of these privileged 40 days, the Bishop of Rome, would go in procession with his clergy to one of the ancient Churches of that city. These Churches were often built on the site of the home of holy ones who often gave their lives as martyrs for the faith. In time, each of the days of Lent were assigned one of these ancient and historic Churches as the statio or station in which the Eucharist would be celebrated that day.
And so, today, before the sun rises, seminarians, priests and pilgrims can be seen going on foot to these ancient shrines that narrate the early stories of our faith, to break the bread of the Eucharist and be spiritually fortified for our Lenten journey.
Some years ago, George Weigel wrote a fascinating and inspiring book on the revival of this ancient practice entitled, Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches. I have found this excellent book my daily companion each Lent, providing spiritual enrichment, insight as well as a fascinating background to these historic Churches. The book provides a daily reflection on both the Scriptures proclaimed for the given day in the Lenten Eucharist together with the readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. Each day concludes with an historical overview to the Stational church of the day. These reflections are prepared by the extremely knowledgeable art historian, Elizabeth Lev. While on sabbatical, Ms. Lev, gave a number of tours for us of historic churches in Rome. She is a treasury of information.
Pilgrimage is a beautiful metaphor for our lives in Christ. Each day, week, month and year that God gives us provides the opportunity to journey with him, through his dying and rising. His Paschal journey through life, death and resurrection, is our journey too as the baptized of the Lord.
May these days of penitence and grace draw us ever closer to the Lord of our lives as we prepare for that day when we are one with him for all eternity.