Leo Tolstoy as a pilgrim

Leo Tolstoy as a pilgrim

Do you remember this detail from Sunday’s Mass gospel?

He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.

What was our Lord thinking about? Was he trying to set up a kind of proto Franciscan order? Did he mean they should really have a walking stick, nothing for the journey, no food, no sack, no money and to wear sandals? Why so specific?

It comes clear in today’s reading from Exodus: The Lord has given instructions on how to kill and prepare the Passover lamb and how they should eat the meal:

“This is how you are to eat it:
with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand,
you shall eat like those who are in flight.

Ha! This is what Jesus was talking  about, and his disciples would have understood implicitly.

The sandals and the staff in your hand are symbolic of the Hebrew people about to be released from slavery and ready to begin their journey to the promised land.

So Jesus tells his disciples to head out on their mission as the new people of God. He, the Passover Lamb will be sacrificed and they are to embark on their mission with the same purpose of leading people out of the slavery of sin through the wilderness of this life to the Promised Land of heaven.

The tradition of the pilgrim is therefore a powerful one in the history of the church.

In the Russian church the poustinik is a wandering pilgrim who eventually builds himself a poustinia — a little hermitage. There’s a classic book on this form of spirituality by Catherine Doherty. It’s called Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer (Madonna House Classics Vol.1)

The idea of the book is that the poustinik wanders until he knows he has found the place he is to settle. He wanders through the wilderness, if you like, until he finds his promised land. There he builds a little one roomed cabin in which to live and pray as a hermit. The poustinik also helps in the community. He is not a total solitary. He (or she) lives and works with the people, but the poustinik is known to be a person of prayer and a person of power. Continue Reading