Perhaps one of the main problems with Religion today is that we, as people, inevitably try to domesticate and/or tame everything in our environment. I thought of this while watching a Pagan Ritual when I was in the Ukraine recently. If we consider the idea of nature as being God and spirit(s) coming from the same we are pretty close to many religions. But unfortunately we do not stop with the broadest of definitions and we dive into things like gender, race or ethnicity. As a Catholic this always strikes me as silly. Recently, I was in a good discussion with an atheist and they said that they had a problem with an All-powerful being that could smite us in a split second of anger. Alas, so do I, in fact anyone should. I think this belief was one of the great things to come from many different modern religions.
We now have pictures of angels and say how nice; when in reality they always terrified the people who saw them. Even a US president, Jefferson, while in the Whitehouse, took a New Testament and did an old fashioned “cut and paste” – removing all the miracles and thus creating the Thomas Jefferson Bible (The Philosophy of Jesus Christ) – If this was not specifically to domesticate religion then why? Personally, I have no need to do this and I wonder where the need to control everything comes from when related to religious matters. Many others say we like the cultural significance of religion and/or the traditions so they continue the traditions and practices but lack belief. I always wonder why they do so, who has the time to waste on traditions that are not significant. Think of it, tradition is derived from the Latin; “tradere or traderer” and this means transmit. So why would someone transmit down to their family what they themselves consider fraudulent?
Oh, onto a good pilgrimage. As I Catholic, I have some traditions and one of these is the “Belief” in the Easter holiday as related to religious versus commercial significance. One of the traditions is going to an Easter Sunday Mass. On this Easter I decided to take part of or better put to do a pilgrimage. So I packed up myself and my nephew and headed to Rome, Italy for Easter Sunday Mass. We were able to get tickets and we were in the 20th or so row back from the main alter at St. Peters – the Vatican. I was shocked mostly by the behavior of University of Notre Dame students from the USA. I wonder if they, the students, noticed who they were hurting as they cut in line to get one of the few seats. You see it was said to us that if we wanted a seat to get in line at 7am and Mass Started at 10:15am. We waited in line to go through security to enter St. Peters Square and during this wait we had great conversations with many different people as the line backed up for at least a half-mile. At around 9am, a bus pooled up and all the kids came in front of all of us, and this brought anger. They had cut in front of priests, elderly, disabled, other great kids and of course me – these University of Notre Dame students just felt privileged I guess. A priest then came up to them and explained to them that there was a line that they had to get into and they ignored him. A couple then got very upset and started complaining to these young adults. It was getting heated and I tried to calm them down and I said it was Easter and this was a pilgrimage to us and we should not let University of Notre Dame students ruin it for us. I then thought of the proverbial turn the other cheek and what it means to me as a Catholic. For me it is all told through a story. In South Africa Desmond Tutu was walking on a watery muddy road and in the spots with large puddles there were wooden planks placed down so that you could stay somewhat dry. When crossing one of these planks an English man came to the beginning of the other side and seeing Desmond he proclaimed “Get off this plank, I do not give way to monkeys” and being a faithful man and understanding the principle of turn the other cheek, Desmond Tutu replied; “I do” and he got of the plank and walked away. This is such a powerful story and it is something that is taught to Catholics. We have been trained that we have two choices; fight or flight and this is totally wrong. In fact we have a third and the third is to change the argument and or statement. What Desmond did was powerful, he did not flee but he did turn the other cheek – he gave a powerful other side to the argument! People like Gandhi and King did the same.
The priest came up to complain again at the second bus and realizing this was failing simply walked in front of them and I posed to them, the university of Notre Dame students, that while they seemed to think it was OK to cut off priests, nuns, elderly, and disabled – because they wanted to sleep in – that perhaps they were actually heading into the wrong event! Then I went ahead of them, at this point almost all of the students seeing this interaction went to the back of the line. I walked ahead of the three that were left. My nephew stayed behind I had to call him ahead. He did not want to cut in front of the three that cut in line but he finally did. When he came over I said did you hear what I said to them, he said no but he had said the that he had basically said the same thing that I did. So in good Easter fashion we turned the other cheek.
Inside the Mass we sat patiently with our umbrellas ready for the rainy day that never came. I felt privileged to be with this group of people and you could literally feel the faithful around you. Mass was special and the day was brilliant overall. I think that one of the biggest problems with the Christian religion is that the art of Pilgrimage is lost. This was the second of three I want to do and the first was my visit to Jerusalem. My next will be “The way of Santiago.” It is important to practice and transmit your faith if you do not believe it – additionally you should never tame it or the nature of your religion will change.
Now, I am heading back to reality and my local community. I hope that I will be able to share with friends and family as related to my Pilgrimage to Vatican City for Easter Mass. While my use of language may be powerful in the end you have to go to understand what the “Experience” is like and what it is all about. I think every Catholic should try this once in their lifetimes. I would also add if you can only do one pilgrimage in your life I strongly recommend Jerusalem for all Christians.