Our Journey to the Father
by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D.
is the biggest change that has taken place in the Church during the
past 30 years? If someone were to ask me that question today, I think
my answer would relate to the pilgrim nature of the Church. In the
years before the Second Vatican Council, I never thought much about
the Church as a pilgrim, on the move, on a journey. I thought of the
Church in images that were solid and fixed.
of the Church that I remember from my Baltimore Catechism was
a pyramid: the broad base of the laity, then the priests, then the
bishops and, finally, the pope at the top. Pyramids are hardly pilgrims!
Religious realities were fixed, static things: the institutional Church,
the state of grace, the Ten Commandments written in stone, sacraments
as things priests administered to people.
VII of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church
is entitled "The Pilgrim Church." It reminds us that the Church is
like a person on a journey who has not yet arrived at the journey's
destination but is continually drawn to move ahead by the desire to
reach the goal of the pilgrimage. The image of the Church as a pilgrim,
as on a journey, has caused me to rethink many things about the Church.
this image of the pilgrim Church with the more traditional image of
the institutional Church is not always easy; but seeing the Church
as a pilgrim is basic to Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter, The
Coming Third Millennium (CTM). In this plan, the Holy Father's
theme for 1999 is our journey to the Father. "The whole of the Christian
life is like a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father" (CTM
are on a long journey we need to stop now and then to see how far
we have come. We check to see if we are still on the right road and
heading in the right direction. It is always possible to make a wrong
turn. Imagine for a moment that you are driving somewhere and lose
your way. You stop to ask someone for directions and the person tells
you "Turn around! You are going the wrong way!" Now if the person
giving you this advice spoke to you in New Testament Greek (which
I know would be highly unlikely), you would have heard "metanoeite,"
meaning "turn around."
it helpful to know the root meaning of this Greek word because it
plays an important role in the New Testament. Jesus' invitation in
the Gospels, "metanoeite" (turn around), is translated into English
by the words "convert," "repent" or "do penance." The gospel calls
to conversion, repentance and penance are essential components of
our pilgrimage. During 1999 the pope encourages us to undertake "a
journey of authentic conversion" (CTM #50). Conversion is the
process of coming to believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the
world along with all that implies!
the words "convert" and "conversion" in several ways. For example,
I was baptized a few days after I was born, and I was raised in a
Catholic family. Belief in Jesus has always been a part of my lifealthough
the implications of that belief continue to unfold and mature day
by day. My "conversion" has been, and continues to be, an ongoing
first come to belief in Jesus as adults. We call these people "converts"
in the proper sense of the word. The National Conference of Catholic
Bishops instructs us: "The term 'convert' should be reserved strictly
for those converted from unbelief to Christian belief and never used
of those baptized Christians who are received into the full communion
of the Catholic Church" (National Statutes for the Catechumenate,
#2). The Catholic Church accompanies these converts and assists them
on their faith journey with the Rite of Christian Initiation. The
journey may take several months or several years. It culminates in
the Sacraments of InitiationBaptism, Confirmation, Eucharistcelebrated
at the Easter Vigil.
helps converts prepare for their sacramental rebirth at Easter by
providing a period of intense spiritual preparation, a 40-day retreat
before Baptism, which we call "Lent." For those of us who are already
baptized, Lent is a time to check our progress on the pilgrimage.
Are we taking the best route? Do we need to correct or modify our
course? Have you ever been on a commercial airliner when shortly before
landing you feel the pilot making subtle corrections in the airplane's
speed and direction so that it is precisely aligned with the runway?
We often need to take similar action on our spiritual journey. With
our eyes on the promise of Easter, we must continually correct the
course of our life so that we are on target with God's plan for us.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (which the Holy Father has designated
as the sacramental focus for 1999) is God's means of helping us do
of Reconciliation makes Jesus' call to conversion "sacramentally present"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1423). In the Scriptures
we hear again God's plan for the world and Christ's invitation to
turn around, to repent, to love one another. In the silence of our
hearts and with the support of the parish community we examine the
direction of our lives in the light of the Holy Spirit who helps us
see things as God sees them. And in the proclamation of sacramental
absolution we are assured that God does forgive.
that assurance is today when all around us we hear of people who are
unable or unwilling to forgive. Surrounded by so much "unforgiveness,"
it is especially important for us to hear again that our sins are
forgiven. And we can continue on our great pilgrimage to the Father
without being encumbered by sin and regret.
of Reconciliation not only helps us "correct our course," it also
calls us to continue the journey. Sometimes we are tempted to be content
with the way things are now, with the way we are now, and let the
pilgrim Church move on ahead without us.
had the opportunity to visit the tombs of the kings in Luxor, Egypt.
After walking for hours in the hot desert sun (and seeing many amazing
tombs) we came to a tent where a man was selling cold drinks. The
tent was wonderful: It offered shade, a cold drink, a place to sit
down. I wanted to stay there forever, and nearly forgot about the
many beautiful things that remained to be seen! But my friend urged
me on after our rest, and we continued our journey.
may be more familiar with this example: Can you remember when you
started grade school? Young and scared, you were at the bottom of
the grade school pecking order; everybody else was older and stronger
and smarter. Third-graders could write cursive; fifth-graders, multiply;
eighth-graders knew the capitals of all 50 states. But eventually
you became an eighth-grader and were older and stronger and smarter
and knew all those things that first-graders didn't know. But just
when you were at the top, it was time for you to leave grade school
and start high school. You had to "give up" being at the top and start
over again as a freshman, and once again, everyone else was older
and stronger and smarter.
if at that point you decided you didn't want to move on and said,
"I like it here; I think I will just stay in the eighth grade." If
your parents were anything like mine, they would soon let you know
that this was an unacceptable decision, and would encourage you in
no uncertain terms to "let go," "give it up," "move on!"
Lent, the Sacrament of Reconciliation helps us to "move on." If we
have stopped or slowed our progress on our journey to the Father,
God as a loving parent encourages us to "move on." We often "give
up something" for Lent. Often the thing (or place or person) God asks
us to "give up" during Lent is not a big sin; often it is not a sin
at all. Sometimes it is like the eighth gradesomething good
in it itself, but only in its proper time. Sin is, after all, the
failure to grow, the failure to move on, the failure to continue the
journey. The work of conversion is "an uninterrupted task for the
whole Church" (CCC, #1428).
by fellow travelers
the things that I always enjoy about going on a pilgrimage is that
I meet interesting people who are traveling to the same destination.
Often these are people I would never have met had I not been on the
journey. The pilgrim Church, also, encounters many fellow travelers
who, even though they are outside the visible body of the Church,
are "people of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen
way" (as the Vatican Council II teaches in The Church in the Modern
World, #22). As they journey with us on our great pilgrimage to
the house of the Father, it is natural to speak with them, to engage
them in dialogue, to learn of their hopes and dreams. Dialogue with
the world religions is the Holy Father's ecumenical theme for 1999.
In The Coming Third Millennium he recommends especially dialogue
with Jews and Muslims (#53).
is an excellent time to learn more about these great religions. Perhaps
a visit to a synagogue and a mosque is in order. As we Christians
prepare for the celebration of Easter, we might learn about the Jews'
celebration of Passover or the Muslims' pilgrimage sacrifices. Many
of us Catholics know very little about faiths other than our own.
If we are simply tempted to dismiss non-Christians as "strange," we
are reminded by the Holy Father that 1999 is to be a year aimed at
"broadening the horizons of believers" (CTM, #49). As we consider
God's "unconditional love for every human creature, and in particular
for the 'prodigal son,'" we remember how the father in Luke's parable
wanted both of his sons to come to the banquet. Our "pilgrimage takes
place in the heart of each person, extends to the believing community
and then it reaches to the whole of humanity" (CTM, #49).
Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs III, we pray: "Keep your Church
alert in faith to the signs of the times and eager to accept the challenge
of the gospel. Open our hearts to the needs of all humanity, so that
sharing their grief and anguish, their joy and hope, we may faithfully
bring them the good news of salvation and advance together on the
way to your kingdom. "And in the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of
Reconciliation II, we ask: "In that new world, where the fullness
of your peace will be revealed, gather people of every race, language
and way of life to share in the one eternal banquet with Jesus Christ
the Lord." This is the ultimate goal of our great pilgrimage.*
Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., has a doctorate in liturgy and sacramental
theology from the Institut Catholique of Paris. He teaches courses
on the sacraments at Saint Meinrad (Indiana) School of Theology. He
is the author of The Sacraments:
How Catholics Pray (St. Anthony Messenger Press).
Mary Rose McGeady
Sister Mary Rose McGeady and her Covenant House staff will welcome
1,400 kidsrunaways desperate to get away from physical
and sexual abuse; throwaway teens whose families want no part
of them; abandoned and desperate youngsters, some as young as
10, who cannot face another night on the streets.
the way it is every night at the 20-plus Covenant House shelters
in the U.S., Mexico and Central America. Business is booming.
Covenant House toll-free hotline (1-800-999-9999) now receives
approximately 88,000 calls annually from youth throughout the
country. In the past year, the agency provided residential and
non-residential services to more than 50,000 young people, while
another 16,000 or so found help at its area community-service
centers. An additional 21,000 youth were served through Covenant
House outreach programs.
it's never pretty. "Let's face it, though I swear that my kids
are beautiful inside, it's sometimes hard to see it on the outside,"
says Sister Mary Rose, who has served as president of the multifaceted
agency for close to a decade. "These are street kids. They are
often dirty. They are often tough. They have built up a protective
shell so thick that some people just can't face them," says
the 70-year-old nun, a Daughter of Charity.
veteran child-care worker with a master's degree in psychology
and extensive postgraduate work, Sister Mary Rose has continued
to learn at Covenant House. And what an education it has been!
Her experiences have challenged her to be a full-time listener,
loving parent and faithful guide as she seeks to help the wounded
waifs who make their way to the agency itself and to its range
of services, including medical, employment, advocacy, education.
is my belief," says Sister Mary Rose, that the "overwhelming
majority" of the children who knock on Covenant House doors
from New York to Anchorage to Guatemala do so "because at some
point their lives became so horrible that they begged God to
save them...and he heard them. It's a good thing he has such
it's a good thing these lost young people have someone to come
home to in the person of Sister Mary Rose McGeady and her staff.
They are a visible sign of the presence of God in whom alone
the human heart finds rest.*
me, Father..." The familiar words uttered in confessionals for
generations have new meaning in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
As part of its "Catholic Faith and Life 2000" project, the archdiocese
is inviting everyone who has been away from the Church to return
and to find peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
confidential hotline (1-877-BLESS-ME, available only in Pennsylvania,
New Jersey and Delaware) has been established through the Renewal
and Evangelization Office. With the help of the 150 anonymous,
volunteer priests who man the hotline, callers receive not the
sacrament itself but personal help, information and guidance
regarding their special concerns. In its first six weeks in
operation (8 AM-8 PM, Monday-Friday), the hotline received more
than 6,000 calls.
11,000 volunteers are distributing Reconciliation Weekend information
packets throughout the archdiocese. The packet includes a brochure
about the sacrament, an examination of conscience and a list
of the 81 Millennium Churches in the archdiocese. Continuous
confessions and special penance services will be held in those
churches March 19 and 20.*