|When the church is readied for the Great Vigil
of Easter, do we participate as tourists, or pilgrims?
We are often quick to treat those coming to our churches as tourists—as consumers to whom we will offer a set of services designed to make their journey easier, more fun, and less complicated. Somehow, we seem to think, if we just lower the bar enough and make it accessible enough, they will stay. Yet this discounts the power of the journey, the richness of self-offering. Those coming through our doors are not necessarily looking for an easy faith—their lives are not easy and they need a faith demanding and complex enough to actually call them into newness of being. (from “Yearning,” by Robert Hendrickson, p. 8)
Holy Week and Easter are, without doubt, at the center of our lives as Christians and in the life of this parish. What can seem to an outsider as only a lot of work for an annual festivity is, for us, participating in the mystery of salvation, the source of meaning. Without the Triduum, the Vigil, the Agape Feast, we would be left with the “lowered bar” with its correspondingly diminished journey and sense of self-offering Fr. Hendrickson describes in the above quote. For us, the Christian life is not tourism built on convenience, but a sacred pilgrimage founded on the personal experience of Christ’s death and resurrection, alive and working in and through us as individuals and as a community.
There is immense pressure to make the Church just another consumable, another ideology amongst many. The idea of “lowering the bar” is commonplace when we turn the Church into just another business, social-service provider, or club. In our age, confusing inclusiveness with trivialization is perhaps the norm. But when we hear the words of Christ from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” we cannot respond by "lowering the bar:" it is rather up to us to follow in Jesus’s footsteps, in his strength and doing his will, carrying our own cross in often difficult and demanding lives.
It is often said that Christianity is something caught, not taught. I find this very true. Only when the Gospel has become our experience of Truth, our experience of Life is it really the Source of our existence, not merely an extraneous consumer item or ideology. Similarly, spiritual tourism is a dead end, a dry river, an empty daydream. We cannot tour our way to Christ, always taking the position of a spectator or observer: we must dive in to waters of faith as true participants, and there be held by Christ who is Life.
What we are all about to experience in the sacred Triduum is an invitation to pilgrimage deeper into the mystery of God and the mystery of our life and that of our brothers and sisters—indeed, the very Creation itself. This is our self-offering of will and presence, and it is essential. It is the “narrow door” through which we must pass in order to receive the gift that only comes when we forsake the trivialized life of the mere consumer or tourist.
I pray that none of us will choose to ignore this invitation, and that we will extend an invitation to all around us who hunger for authentic, transformative encounter with Christ. All of us crave this newness of being (we were made for it, after all), and it will be offered freely and with great power in the liturgies of Holy Week. Rather than “lowering the bar” and hiding out in the “tourist spots” of faith, let us journey together with Christ from death to eternal life!