Chaplain's Corner: Lent is a Pilgrimage

Lent is a Pilgrimage

by Father Ted Dziak, S.J.

            I like to think of Lent as a pilgrimage.  Whenever I enter Lent, I like to spend time reflecting on the path on which I am traveling – seeing if I need a little clearing of the weeds beneath my feet or a little adjustment in direction.

The autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola is, aptly called, a ‘Pilgrim’s Journey’ and Ignatius picks only a small part of life to share with the reader – only 18 of his 65 years, and he focuses on those parts of his life that changed him the most.  He writes of his pain at the cannonball at Pamplona, his search to find meaning as he travels from Loyola to Manresa to Jerusalem to Rome.  Each step of the way, he is discerning his next step, seeking God to lead him.

            Lent starts with ashes, reminding that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. It’s a dark beginning.  Ash Wednesday – not a Holy Day of Obligation, is one of the highest attended days in Church. When I spent six years in Kingston, Jamaica, we had twice as many people for Good Friday services than any other Church feast day, even Easter Sunday or Christmas.  There is something about identifying with Jesus’ pain and passion that we can understand and even feel as we move through Lent.  The Cross is the symbol of Lent. 

            Yes, our entire life is a journey, a pilgrimage, but too often we don’t have the spiritual stamina to continually pause and reflect.  But of all of the liturgical seasons of the year, Lent always seems to be the time we do try to do something more rigorous. 

            Lent is when we focus on the passion of Christ.  In Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, it’s the third week.  It is a time when we realize that to truly follow a path that is Christ-like, which is our personal pilgrimage, we must at times suffer, like Jesus did.  As a human, Jesus suffered; he was betrayed.  And no one wants to suffer. Yet to fight for justice, to live a life that is truly in alignment with our values, there will be times we have to suffer.  Even if it means our own death fighting for what we believe – which is why we honor the martyrs of our faith.

            Ignatius encourages us to use all of our senses to pray.   A good refection using the application of our senses at this time in Lent would be to imagine what the human Jesus went through as he neared the palm entry into Jerusalem.  We must remember Jesus WAS human, and was one like us. 

            And so we ask, what was Jesus feeling and thinking as he knelt alone in the Garden of Gethsemane?   Was he in desolation, even pain, at that point?   Did he worry about his mother and his disciples, his faith community?  What did his face look like – can you see the stress in his eyes and the grimace of his face?   It had to have been truly harrowing for him – knowing in his heart that something terrible was about to happen, and wondering how his actions would affect those he loved – his mother, his friends, his disciples.

            And yet in the depth on his struggle, he had this amazing sense of hope – he trusted in God and allowed God to carry him through the passion.  He was strong, even as he was weak. 

            Lent is not darkness, but is truly the dark night we walk though on our pilgrimage before the great sunrise.   That font of God’s love is that bright light ahead, that guides us and inspires us to always believe in our strength and the power of our own love.

            Lent can be an important part of our life journey – our pilgrim’s journey -- when we use these days to reflect on our relationship with our God.   We adjust, we reconcile, we seek forgiveness and mercy and we heal ourselves.  And most of all, we open our hearts to those people around us as well as the stranger.  We open our hearts to God’s love and God’s great promise of the Kingdom to come.

            Ignatius likes to say that God has a dream for each of us, and our purpose in life is to discover that dream, to walk in that pilgrim’s path to which God has led us.   It won’t be easy and it may involve pain, suffering and passion, but God’s love is there with us for all eternity.



Father Ted Dziak, S.J. is the Vice-President for Mission and Identity and also serves as the University Chaplain.  He has been at Loyola since 2006.




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