Once a year I usually manage to go on a pilgrimage. It is often to somewhere like Medjugorje, Lourdes, or another well-known shrine. In 2011 I made a pilgrimage by motorcycle across northern Spain and then up through France stopping at various shrines: over 2000 miles on a Honda NT700 (the one in the picture above). No matter which way I do it, the time apart to pray always helps me to remember what is important. Going somewhere different for a time of prayer always seems to have the same effect; it simplifies things and helps me to see how much junk I’ve collected since the last time, most of which is totally unnecessary. Staying in simple hotel rooms, or religious houses, with little more than a book has a wonderful way of freeing the mind. Initially I find that I crave for the distractions that I’m used to, the TV, calling friends, noise of one kind or another. But after a day or two I begin to settle into the quiet and I realise how much I need it. I believe that we need to keep going back to the basics and to remind ourselves of what is important.
In the second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, controversy is being stirred up with talk of whether the pagans should have to follow the Jewish law of being circumcised or not. The basics of the faith were still being worked out. What is interesting is the Apostles response. First of all they agree to discuss the matter further, but they want their brothers and sisters to be at peace and so they recommend them to keep to the essentials as they understood them at that time.
We hear that some of our members have disturbed you with their demands and have unsettled your minds.
It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials…
There is great wisdom in their decision to keep to the essentials. They didn’t want the people to be burdened with more than was necessary. This is a common theme that I hear people express when they come back from pilgrimage. We are reminded of what is important.
What God calls us to do is very simple: to love God and to keep his commandments. In the Gospel Jesus says, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’ ‘If you love me…’ The Lord does not want us to live out of fear, or to obey out of fear, but out of love. At one stage in Matthews Gospel when Jesus was questioned about what the most important commandment was, He said that the greatest and most important commandment is to love the Lord God with all our heart, our mind and our soul. He added that the second is like it, ‘To love your neighbour as yourself’ (See Matthew 22:37-39). He concluded by saying that everything (the whole Law and the Prophets) hangs on this. These are, you might say, the key things on the path to heaven.
Jesus also adds in the Gospel that his Spirit will teach us everything we need to know as we go along. ‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.’
The simpler we keep things, the easier it is to remember what is important. And so we try to love God and we try and love the people around us, by respecting them, putting up with them, treating them as equals and trying to see the good in them. If we keep it simple it remains manageable.