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Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

March 2001

Welcome to St. Anthony Messenger's Links for Learners, an online study guide for articles from St. Anthony Messenger.

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Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for the key words and terms below as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners. You can also find a list of terms on the glossary page of AmericanCatholicYouth.org.

Pagan beliefs

Pilgrimage

Community

Inner journey

 

 

Afterlife

Immanent presence

Symbolism

Change of heart

 

Spirituality

Monasticism

Faith journey

"Thin places"

 

Celtic Spirituality

This month's author shares her pilgrimage through Ireland with us, a journey where we discover historical sites that shed light on an ancient but still vital spirituality.

Pilgrimage—

What is it?
"The thing that distinguishes a pilgrimage is what's in your heart." Pilgrimage is a journey, one guided by the heart and the spirit. It can be described as a faith journey, an inner journey, a change of heart, a search for God. While we may associate the word pilgrimage with specific religious events and travels, it is in the bigger picture a life's journey back to God. A Christian's entire life is a pilgrimage. In fact, we speak of our Church as a pilgrim Church. A pilgrimage is but one more expression of our passage from birth through life and back to our Father. It is what we celebrate in the Eucharist each time we come together as a Christian community.

Every pilgrimage has signposts, milestones. In Ireland they are round stone towers and cairns. In every Catholic church the Stations of the Cross line the walls to remind us of Jesus' passion and death. In our liturgical life, Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, holy days such as All Saints Day, all mark the Church's seasons. For baptismal candidates in an RCIA program, Lenten Sundays lead the way to Easter initiation in Christ's life.

Practicing pilgrimage

What is at the heart of your own faith journey?

  • Tracing the steps of the saints and missionaries may inspire you. In California, visit the missions that dot the coast of southern and central California. In inland states, visit the site of a special shrine dedicated to an American saint or a well-respected local Christian leader.

  • Simply following the Stations of the Cross in your parish church may remind you of your own path to the Father. If you're a teacher or parent, bring your children along and explain what the Stations of the Cross mean.

God's Presence—

What is it?
In Celtic spirituality, God is present everywhere. The Celts mirror what the inspired writers of the Scriptures proclaim. Psalm 29 sings of God's majesty in the heart of a storm. Psalm 147 is a hymn of all creation to the Creator. "Thin places" are those sites where we feel most aware of God's presence.

Practicing God's presence
Locate a "thin place" where the natural and the supernatural connect for you. Go there, if only in your imagination. Open your heart to experience the moment.

  • For some who are homebound, the Internet can offer "thin places" where we can feel side by side both our world and God's presence. Try the NASA Web site for an awe-inspiring picture of your favorite planet. Or see the Webshots.com site for thousands of photographs of mountains and beaches, fish and forest creatures, lighthouses and the open sea. The pictures are downloadable as screen savers for daily inspiration.

  • If you have lost a loved one, a friend, a respected teacher to death, visit the cemetery. In prayer, ask for them to watch over you. Use a sacramental (something that reminds you of that person) to remind you of their presence: a treasured memento, a photograph or videotape of the gravestone and surroundings, perhaps a paper rubbing of the legend on the headstone. Share your sacramental with other family members and friends.

  • If you live near the ocean or a large lake, enjoy a walk on the shore. Don't hesitate to go even in winter, when you can stroll alone. See the July 2000 Links for Learners for tips on how to enjoy the beach.

  • Even in the middle of a busy work day, you can stop in front of your computer for 10 minutes of prayer at Sacred Space.

Community—

What is it?
Christian community is a kinship we share with the angels, the saints and all those who have gone ahead of us. It's a life shared together. Celtic spirituality with its emphasis on hospitality can be a wonderful expression of community.

Older Celtic settlements often centered around monasteries, unlike the parish- and diocese-centered European inhabitants. For information on monastic spirituality, read about the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, in New Mexico. Monastic spirituality is a way of life, carried out over a lifetime, requiring discipline to approach God through prayer, fasting, silence, vigils, reading and good works. The Irish practice of hospitality is an offshoot of monastic custom. Hospitality implies listening. In silence we learn to keep an inner peace, a means of returning to God.

More information on the monastic life is available from the Genesee Abbey in Piffard, New York.

Practicing community
The author invites us to celebrate the communities of which we are a part.

  • Are you a college student away from home? Gather old friends when you're home on break, celebrate the Eucharist together, then go out for brunch. Celebrate friendships.

  • Are you a parent anxious over the compulsive behaviors of your daughter or son? After prayer, thought and research, intervene in your child's life. Celebrate your love and concern. Pray together. Seek solutions within your family's love.

  • Are you hungry for more information on your family background? The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) produced The Irish in America, a documentary series on the Irish immigrations in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Web site features genealogy resources for tracking family histories, Irish or not.

  • Celebrate the community of young Christians by attending a rally. Something like World Youth Day occurs infrequently and we can't all travel that far, but there are local and regional events we can enjoy as a group.

Artistic expression—

What is it?
Art is a reminder of the holiness of our world. All things relate. All things are holy. The Book of Kells, a medieval Latin version of the four Gospels, survives as testament to the artistic talent of Irish monks. At the Axis Mundi studios, artists create liturgical art for churches as well as for individual buyers. You can view designs for sanctuary crosses, for example, or purchase a Cross of Kells.

Practicing artistic expression

  • In small class work groups or adult discussion groups, create a common collage picturing liturgical art. Or an RCIA group may build a collage expressing what is drawing each person to the faith.

  • Storytelling is an art. Children would enjoy creating their own multimedia puppet show to share with family and friends. The show could center on a favorite Gospel story or a family story unique to their own cultural background.
  • Write a poem that expresses how you feel about the nearness of God. You may want to model the style of an Irish lament describing the suffering during the Great Famine. Is there suffering in your own life that only God can help you through? Write about it. Or find a poem or poet to model at the Academy of American Poets. You'll even find audio poems there.

Related Resources

In the House of Memory: Ancient Celtic Wisdom for Everyday Life, Steve Rabey, Plume Publishing.

How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill, Doubleday.

In addition, an online bookstore carries a wealth of books on Ireland and the Celtic peoples.

Research Resources
Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.
People magazine
The Close Up FoundationWashington, D.C.-based organization


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