Journey of Faith

Sonia and Jaime Bernardo, SFO
 Chairs, National Family Commission

 “Our life is a pilgrimage here on earth, in the footsteps of the Lord, toward his Father’s Kingdom.  As strangers and pilgrims in this world, we serve God in poverty and humility.”                           – from an old Franciscan book

 “The quest for God has been a part of human experience from the beginning of time.  History has always shown the human person to be on the move, on a pilgrimage of life, in search of God.  In the human heart is ever present the desire to encounter the infinite experience of his friendship, peace, and love.” (USSC, Pub. No. 5-335)

Pilgrimages are definitely on the increase, reports the New York Times.  As Pope Paul VI says, “shrines are the clinics of the soul”.  As we gain more knowledge, science, technology, mobility and rapid travel, space exploration, and information super-highways, the greater is the quest of the soul for ultimate meaning (Concilium, 1996/4).  People seek and hope to find what their present world has not been able to offer them.  Those who are on a pilgrimage come from different cultures, backgrounds, ages and life situations, yet they all come searching for something beyond the ordinary.

We have models of pilgrims who were full of faith and courage. Two thousand years before Christ, Abraham and Sarah left everything they had and owned, without knowing their destination.  They first symbolized the universal movement of humanity.  Moses and the Israelites flew from Egypt and for forty years journeyed through the desert.  They turned to God for food and direction.  Mary and Joseph also had a difficult journey when they looked for a shelter in which to give birth to Jesus, but found only a stable.  The three wise men looked for a sign, and followed a star that led them to the manger where the Messiah was born.  Their faith, hope and trust in God carried them through Bethlehem.

I recall our family’s journey to the United States twenty-eight years ago.  We left our families and friends, our home and our jobs, without knowing what the future held for us in this foreign land.  All we had was courage and faith that God would journey with us, would bail us out when difficulty came, and with the Divine Light He would guide us in our desire to change our lives, to give a better education and future to our children.  With all the political and economic problems besetting our native country at that time, we decided to do something for our family.  We carried in our hearts a strong belief that God would lead us toward the fullness of life with Him forever.  I can recall how we looked forward to a new life full of surprises and promises, like any pilgrim who is about to undertake a journey.  The hardships and self-sacrifices we went through during our first year of establishing our new home in this country helped us to deepen our trust, and to refocus our lives on God and the reality of heaven, which is the final goal of our pilgrimage.  We have gained knowledge and wisdom by means of ceaseless prayer.  We asked God for everything we needed.  As pilgrims we left our home to seek a new one, to find meaning in life; and in return we found the power of prayer that brought us peace and joy and a true way to be in communion with God.  Later on, we became followers of a great saint, Saint Francis, who taught us God’s unconditional love.  From then on, our course took us into the Franciscan journey, following Francis’ footsteps.

I learned what Saint Francis said to his brothers whom he sent two by two to make a journey to different parts of the world to announce peace to the people: “Cast your care upon the Lord, and he will sustain you.”  How true indeed!

Pope John Paul II describes the Christian life as a “great pilgrimage moving forward stage by stage to the house of the Father.  The first stage begins in the heart of each person, then expands outward to the believing community, and finally reaches out to include the whole human race.” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 49)  The Pope said that Christians should welcome the new millennium with a “sense of being on a journey to the Father… a journey of authentic conversion.“ “This conversion is urgent in contemporary society where there is so much violence in our society, disregard for human life (abortions), adultery, unrestricted sexual expression (on TV and movies), discrimination based on race and gender, the glorification of greed and extravagant lifestyles”. (Columbia, April 1999) 

We now urge you, our Franciscan families, to become pilgrims after the mind and heart of Pope John Paul II, who just ended his holy pilgrimage to the places that traced the “history of salvation in the land in which it took place”.  This was the fulfillment of a dream he had almost from the very beginning of his papacy.  Following his example, may we search for Jesus and open our hearts to His love.  Our Holy Father accomplished something very impressive and extraordinary.  Think for a moment what God has allowed us to witness!  The Pope made a very public act of humility in which he reminded the billion or so Catholics of the world that they must have respect, reliance and trust in God and His Providence.  Isn’t this exactly what Saint Francis taught us?  Our Rule, Article XI, tells us, “…in the spirit of ‘the Beatitudes’, and as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the home of the Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power”.  Franciscans, wrote Father Lester Bach (Catch Me a Rainbow Too, p. 125), use power not to dominate and control people, but to serve and collaborate with them… that we relate well to one another.  That poverty is based on trust in God and it acknowledges our need for God and finds ways to share things.  “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic.” (Luke 9:3-NRSV).  Reliance and trust in God, that He will sustain us, are what we carry with us, nothing else. 

As followers of Saint Francis, we embrace the Franciscan way of life and we do it as members of a community.  Father Bach considers us as “pilgrims ready to share whatever we have with one another. We share many experiences with God – we share loneliness and fear; we share moments of gladness, we learn to dance together to the melody of gospel life; we learn to lean on each other and support one another.  Sometimes we are weak and need help.  At other times we are strong and give help. There is no ending to the possibilities of a gospel life.”

As we are all pilgrims on this earth, each one is called to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.  We all belong to the same family of God.  Members of a parish come from different families of different cultures, races and origins.  Merely occupying the same space in a church or living in the same neighborhood does not itself create a spirit of community.  What forms a special bond among people is their love of God and one another.  (Many pilgrims, one family of God.  (USSC Pub. 541-0))   Saint Paul wrote to the Ephesians: ”You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God….” (Ephesians 2:9)

Questions for Discussion:

1.   If we are to live as one community, how can we create a sense of belonging to the members of our family, our neighbors, and in our parish?

2.   As each one of us is chosen to inherit the eternal kingdom, how can we serve the least of our brothers and sisters?

3.   How can the family become a vehicle through which people can effectively contribute to the well-being of others?