“It’s the journey that matters in the end.” Hasn’t that aphorism, in one form or another, appeared on practically every Yogi tea bag and elementary school homeroom inspirational poster? Who needs that reminder anymore? Well, apparently, 97 percent of the pilgrims in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. When I was in the Holy Land a month ago, I was bemused—also mildly bruised—by the violent elbowing and shoving of my fellow pilgrims as we approached what are arguably the holiest sites in all of Christendom—the sites of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.
Guides wearing assortments of egregiously eye-catching hats, fanny-packs, and t-shirts stampeded their tour groups through pre-existing lines; wailing women in long skirts pushed others out of their way so that they could fall on their knees and wail some more. Of course, it didn’t help that we were being rushed along by the very stern-looking priests who run the place, but still: It struck me that, for many of these pilgrims, the end seemed to matter quite a bit more than the journey. Because if I was standing between Calvary and them, I was getting elbowed in the face.
Of course, pilgrimage is largely about the holy place to which one is traveling, just as much as the entire Christian life—which the pilgrimage is meant to mirror, in its little way—is essentially about reaching the Beatific Vision, our Heavenly Jerusalem. Our goal is to see God face to face, or, in the case of my recent pilgrimage, to see where God was crucified.
We would do well to contemplate the mysterious truth that, as St. Thomas writes, Christ was both “wayfarer”—the one who is moving toward the end of beatitude—and “comprehensor”—the one who already rests in that end. If the God-man existed perfectly within that tension between way and end, so must we strive to exist there too, however imperfectly.
There is something worthwhile simply in becoming the pilgrim—the “foreigner” or “stranger,” and in the very act of wandering that comes with this self-imposed exile. Faith must be just as much about journeying and the patience and detachment that the act requires—the very challenge of trying to see through a glass, darkly—as it is about the thing, or the One, towards which we move. Not all those who wander are lost, and these happy wanderers will also be significantly less likely to elbow you in the face in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Bianca Czaderna is a junior fellow at First Things.