One hundred twelve years ago this month, Hilaire Belloc left his wife and several children (5, I believe) back in England while he made a pilgrimage across the continent to Rome for the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul. He began in his old garrison town where he served a stint in a French artillery battery and walked the whole way to Rome. Like most things human persons do, travel has several purposes. Belloc’s travel was no different. One of those purposes was economic–he simply needed money for his family and this trip was to produce a book that was to be, for many, his “magnum opus”–The Path to Rome. The other purposes of his trip were, born of his deep love of history, a desire to see the places and peoples that made Europe; a hankering for an adventure; and, of course, the need for spiritual refreshment through the making of a true pilgrimage. This Sunday, June 9, 2013, I too will be leaving my children and long-suffering wife and will travel to Rome. Like Belloc, my purposes in traveling to Rome are multiple; unlike Belloc, I will not be making the journey by foot. Like Belloc, I will be going to the place that is the very taproot of our civilization; unlike the time of Belloc, I am going to a Europe that has only the vestiges of Christendom and the abysmal lack of the practice of the ancient religion. But the flame of that practice is still there…and my travel there is a small effort to fan that flame!
While my purposes are several, the one word that encapsulates the journey is pilgrimage. Pilgrimages used to be spoken of and practiced far more than they are today. Indeed, some of our finest literature revolves around the idea of a pilgrimage. In addition to Belloc’s Path to Rome, who could forget Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or Dante’s Divine Comedy or (even in the secular variety) Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie? Rightly understood, a pilgrimage is a journey to a place to connect with someone or something holy, to honor that place and Almighty God’s connection to that place, and to derive spiritual benefits and graces for ourselves or others from our devotions and association with that place. I am very humbled to say that every aspect of this trip will be a true pilgrimage.
The occasion for my travels is my work with the Society of Jesus in doing research for the Cause of Canonization of the Servant of God, Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. I was very humbled to be asked by the Jesuits to come to Rome to assist Fr. Marc Lindeijer, S.J., Assistant to the Postulator General of the Society of Jesus, in this project. It is a great honor for me especially as I have had a devotion to Fr. Ciszek for many years. This research, while academic in nature, is also spiritual–putting me in contact with a person that the Church is investigating for heroic sanctity. It is a connection in a very significant and special way with someone holy and someone who was a mirror of Christ on earth. I fully realize that I will be a servus Curiae Societatis Jesu–”a slave of the Jesuit Curia!” Yet, in this somewhat tedious but very important work, I will be coming in close contact with one who may one day be raised to the honors of the altar and on the lips of future generations as one of God’s holy ones.
The trip to Rome is also a pilgrimage in another way. Being the “Luddite” among the writers here at the Bellarmine Forum, I will chronicle the sights and shrines that I do see in my trusty moleskine. I have no iPhone, iPad or any whizz-bang piece of technology. I will have my laptop and may have an occasion to upload a picture or two as I chronicle this journey–having typed into the computer what I have already written in my notebook. But, like pilgrims of old, I wish to look around and not be distracted by mechanical things. This will be a time to bring with me the prayers of my family and the two institutions that I work for. I will, in a very special way, bring the intentions of all of the friends and benefactors of the Bellarmine Forum to the tomb of St. Robert Bellarmine at the Jesuit Church of S. Ignazio in Rome.
If our readers are inclined, please post here in the comment box your petitions. I promise to read them at the tombs of SS. Peter and Paul and Robert Bellarmine! Please pray for me on this pilgrimage and pray also for the liberty and exaltation of Holy Mother Church, our Holy Father Pope Francis, and the Cause of Canonization of Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J.
(Stay tuned for updates in the coming days!)