This is the final part of a three-part series on the Saint’s Journey.
In part one we talked about the Hero’s Journey, how it shows up in fictional narratives and in the narratives of our lives, the limits of the Hero’s Journey and myths and how Christians might approach the truths that come from imperfect sources.
In part two we reviewed the stories of Luke Skywalker and St. Paul in light of the Hero’s Journey and its three main phases — Departure, Initiation and Return. We saw how in the lives of Christians this pattern, which I call the Saint’s Journey, is often more complex and mysterious than the fictional stories we experience in books and movies.
In this part we will discuss the “pilgrim Church” and how the Communion of Saints transcends time and space to bring all Christians together in the Saint’s Journey.
The Pilgrim Universe
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) mentions the “pilgrim Church” a dozen times, but before we discuss that let us consider what we see if we take a look around. When we do, we notice that the entire world is on a journey and by “world” I mean the entire universe — all of God’s creation.
The universe was created “in a state of journeying” (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call “divine providence” the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection:
By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, “reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well”. For “all are open and laid bare to his eyes”, even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures. (CCC 302)
This means that the entire universe is moving toward an ultimate end which is God and that this movement is guided by God’s hand which we call divine providence. And not only is the universe “moving” in a metaphysical way according to God’s plan, but the physical matter that constitutes the material universe is also moving through space.
Planets revolve around stars, solar systems revolve around galaxies and galaxies are traveling through the universe at great speeds. Some estimate that the combined speed that you and I are moving through the cosmos at this very moment is 1.9 million miles per hour. Therefore, this journey of the pilgrim universe is both a physical (the movement of matter) and a metaphysical (the unfolding of God’s plan) pilgrimage.
Pilgrim People within a Pilgrim Church
Within our immense pilgrim universe exists the Church. The Church is not composed of buildings made of plaster, concrete and wood though. The Church is not a physical place. Instead, it is composed of individual members, the People of God, united with Christ as its head. This we call the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor 12:12)
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor 12:27)
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. (Rom 12:4–5)
He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. (John 3:29)
He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:28–32)
The Pilgrim’s Path and Destination
The pilgrim People of God travel the path of the Cross of suffering and joy toward a heavenly banquet. (CCC 1344) The Catechism calls this “the goal of our journey here below.” (CCC 163) The road is illuminated by Christ and his Blessed Mother, a model of perfect obedience, “shows us the way” and is herself “the Sign” of the way. (CCC 2674)
In [Mary] we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own “pilgrimage of faith,” and what she will be in the homeland at the end of her journey. There, “in the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity,” “in the communion of all the saints,” the Church is awaited by the one she venerates as Mother of her Lord and as her own mother.
In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God. (CCC 972)
The Communion of Saints
The communion of saints is the Church. (CCC 946)
The Communion of Saints refers to both sancta and sancti. Sancta means holy things, like the Sacraments, and sancti means holy people, the People of God. (CCC 960–961) The People of God exist in three different states — Militant, Penitent and Triumphant.
“When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.”’ (CCC 954)
The Church Militant are the pilgrim people making the Saint’s Journey on earth. The Church Penitent are the people who have completed the Saint’s Journey imperfectly and are being purified in Purgatory. The Church Triumphant are the people who have completed the Saint’s Journey on earth, have been purified in Purgatory and are with God in heaven.
All three of these groups of saints form “one family in Christ” and their fellowship transcends space and time. (CCC 959) This means that we, the Church Militant do not make the Saint’s Journey alone. We have friends and allies in heaven. Just as we ask our family and friends to pray for us, we may ask our brothers and sisters in heaven to pray for us as well.
“Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” (CCC 956)
Like the Fellowship of the Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, we have an eternal and timeless fellowship with all of the People of God. Frodo must have been comforted to know that his friends, though not always in his presence, were out there somewhere doing whatever they could to help him complete his mission We can also take comfort knowing that not only do our friends in heaven, the Church Triumphant, intercede for us in prayer, but they also cheer us on as we make the journey.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us …. (Heb 12:1)
This three part series contains the essence of the Saint’s Journey. After reading it I hope that you will take away these three main points.
- The Christian experience is human. It is not limited to the interiors of our church buildings. The Word can be found in art, literature, movies and most vividly in our own lives and especially in the lives of the canonized Saints. We are not of this world, but we are in this world and we can relate to all of humanity through our own humanity as adopted sons and daughters and members of God’s family.
- The Christian experience is a journey. The journey requires us to leave old things, dead things and sinful things behind. It will not be easy to do so. The world will hate us and growing is painful and there will be many trials to face. However we have the examples of Christ, the Virgin Mary and those Saints who came before us to follow. We may also find inspiration for our journey in some of the fictional heroes we learn about in books and movies.
- The Christian experience is universal. We are individuals on a pilgrimage, within a Church moving toward a perfect end, on a planet revolving around the Sun, in a solar system speeding around the galaxy and moving through space at 1.9 million miles per hour. But we are not flying blindly through the darkness. God’s hand of divine providence is guiding all of Creation during every moment. As hard as the road of the Cross may be, we have friends in heaven who pray for us and cheer us on as we run this amazing race.
May the Lord be with you and may you experience loving fellowship with the Blessed Mother and all of the angels and saints as you make your pilgrimage to the beatific vision.
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