As I return home from the World Youth Day pilgrimage, there are certain things I'm looking forward to – starting with a proper shave. I'm also looking forward to being able to wash my clothes properly, including my mud-splattered alb (the product of the Papal welcome Mass taking place on a rainy day in a large field in Krakow).
Such things, though, are part of the pilgrimage journey. Whether it is Lourdes or WYD, we know we have to pack light and make do without our creature comforts. And we know, since we have to wear pilgrimage T-shirts every day, so we'll end up having to wash them once or twice in a sink. Yet we also know that the pilgrimage will come to an end and that within 48 hours, the mud and sweat will have been washed from our pilgrimage clothes.
Within a week, the marks of our time away will hardly be visible, and therein lies the challenge for all of us who embark on any type of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage can be the mountain-top experience in our spiritual lives. Those of us returning home in August from Lourdes and WYD are treated to the feast of the Transfiguration. We can, maybe, empathise with the feelings of the disciples on the mountain top. We have seen the glory of God and we want to be nowhere else. But we must return to the base of the mountain, we must return home, and the question is how much of the mountain-top experience do we take back with us into our everyday lives?
It can be too easy to have the transfiguration experience – to see the Lord in His glory in a time of pilgrimage – but then return home and allow that experience to be washed slowly away, to allow the glow to fade. The challenge for us all, then, as we return to normality is to not allow the pilgrimage high to vanish like the mud from an alb or the sweat from a T-shirt. Those reading this who went on pilgrimage should think of one moment that they would not want to forget from their time away, one moment they wish to cherish.
As the WYD group in Krakow celebrated our final Mass together we pondered the readings of the day and the Gospel in particular. The Gospel was the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter rushing to greet Him but taking his eyes off Jesus and starting to drown. We reflected that, as we return home, we might be a little like Peter: wishing to rush to be close to the Lord. But, inevitably, as home life starts to take its toll, we might take our eyes off the Lord, just as Peter did. Our faith life might suffer, we might begin to lose our sense of walking toward God and before we know it, we are going down under the waves.
At this point in the Gospel, Jesus reaches out His hand and draws Peter back to surface. So what can draw us from the danger of drowning amid the toils of life? Maybe it is that one moment from the mountain peak. That is the moment to treasure in your heart. When the year moves on and the nights start to darken and the pilgrimage season seems so distant, we can each seek out that one memory we have stored away and bring it out once again. We can be transported back to the mountain top and remember the glory of God in our midst and we can move on in our journey of life. So as you begin to wash, iron and generally start to feel like your 'old self', take a moment to store one memory away and pray that you will never be your 'old self'.
For pilgrimage can change us all, and will change us all, if only we allow that change to occur in our hearts.