Scripture: Luke 10.1-9
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (v.13)
The theme of pilgrimage, and the identity of Christians as pilgrims, is rooted in Scripture. St. Augustine of Hippo picks up this theme in The City of God, often using the Latin term “peregrinatio.” At this time in the 4th century, the term indicated both those who traveled to view relics of saints and historic sites of the faith and those who were fleeing political unrest as exiles from Rome.
A generation before St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Martin of Tours was the first missionary bishop in Western Europe. His example of heroic travel and confrontation with pagan religions inspired many others to set out on long, dangerous travels, armed with the Good News of Jesus. The British Isles and Ireland were greatly affected by this missionary initiative. Many Celtic Christians there readily embraced the concept of “peregrinatio” to describe their missionary journeys.
St. Patrick, who lived at the same time as Augustine of Hippo, saw himself as such a “peregrino” describing himself as a bishop living among “barbarian tribes as an exile and refugee for the love of God” (Letter to Coroticus). Patrick had been kidnapped in Britain as a teenager, enslaved by the Irish, escaped and made his way back to evangelize those who had held him captive.
More than a hundred years later, St. Columba, made the journey in reverse. He left his home in Ireland as a “pilgrim for Christ” and made his way to Britain. There is also some evidence that he considered himself in exile, due to political strife. He founded the monastery at Iona in Scotland which became a center of learning and mission for Scotland, all of the British Isles and beyond. Many monks streamed out of Iona, journeying as pilgrims and exiles from their homes, to share the Gospel and live in close dependence on God.
As we journey together through the British Isles, to Ireland and back again, we are pilgrims. We have Good News to share in what is an increasingly post-Christian country. We will view relics of saints and historic sites of great significance for our faith. And sometimes we may also feel in exile — as we long to return home to familiar places and values and people.
May the courage and commitment of the Celtic Christians of the 5th and 6th centuries encourage us when we are tired, homesick, or anxious.
Thoughts to Ponder
“But the peregrini found an example in Christ, who willingly came down from heaven and so they could look toward him and see that voluntary exile is laudable since it is in imitation of Christ himself. It is an exile that demands the stripping of family and possession, the rooting our from heart and mind of all one’s own aims and desires” (Esther De Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer, p.4)
“Traveling in obedience to God’s call is one of Luke’s central pictures for what it means to be a Christian. Following Jesus is what it’s all about” (N.T. Wright, The Gospel of Luke for Everyone).
Bless to me O God
The earth beneath my feet.
Bless to me O God
The path on which I go.
Bless to me O God
The people whom I meet.
O God of all gods
Bless to me my life.
(J. Phillip Newell, Celtic Prayers From Iona)
For Your Reflection
Have you ever undertaken a journey to seek God — whether physical and/or spiritual? What were the challenges? What were the rewards?