I’ve begun reading a rather engaging book called The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Some of you may know of it and perhaps even read it. If you haven’t done so I feel fairly confident in recommending it to you. Very briefly, it is about Harold, a sixty plus year old who one day walks out of the house to post a letter to a gravely ill friend. He leaves his wife vacuuming upstairs. But the strange thing is the trip has barely started when he gradually feels compelled to keep walking. So, without proper walking boots, waterproofs, a compass, map or mobile phone he sets out on a journey. All Harold knows is that he must keep walking to reach his destination and somehow save his old friend’s life.
As I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may feel inclined to read it I won’t venture any further except to say this: Firstly, I’m certainly not encouraging anyone, man woman or child to suddenly decide to leave home on a whim causing great distress to family and friends. This would be irresponsible and selfish.
Secondly and more importantly I would like to draw certain parallels between Harold’s journey and the experience of the Christian. Just as Harold appears to be responding to an inner conviction resulting in his planned trip to the post box becoming a longer and entirely more different journey, so too our plans and direction can change quite markedly at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We make plans then find God has other ideas.
Harold who appears to be a rather timid and withdrawn personality is slowly changing from the outset of his journey and be-coming more single-minded, more courageous and dare I say it just a tad reckless. Likewise, when responding to God, ‘A Hand Unseen’ we also can become more self assured and brave in living out the Christian life and resisting worldly and false ways. Although courage doesn’t always happen overnight but is quite often gradual (remember the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz) we must learn to be patient knowing that it is worth the wait. Of course the courage I’m really talking about is that special and unique grace, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. All we have to do is ask for it in faith and we will receive. Our God is a generous God! In fact, for those who have been Confirmed the seed has already been sown, the gifts are already yours just waiting to be stirred into life.
I was greatly encouraged at the talks given at our recent AGM firstly by Tim Dunford who shared his ideas and thoughts about an Alpha project in our parish for next year and secondly Ruth McConkey who spoke of her experience at Adoremus, the Eucharistic Conference held in Liverpool earlier this month. The Alpha course is a practical introduction to the Christian faith and a tool for introducing people to an initial proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ – the kerygma. It takes people on a journey which often leads to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Alpha is for everyone but I’m greatly heartened to know that many young people who are asking the question, ‘Is there more to life than this?’ are drawn to it also. Over 29 million people have experienced this course and 84,000 courses are running in 112 languages in 169 countries worldwide. So it is obviously making a considerable impact and I’m hoping that it will do the same for our parish too. But, of course for a project like this to be successful we need lots of people getting involved by praying for the event and eventually helping in so many practical ways.
The same must be said for whatever we do in the weeks and months after Adoremus. Ruth, Sister Pat Devine and Alicja Krivicky all returned from Liverpool having had an enriching experience. I know they are very keen to share their ideas with the parish as a whole. In fact they will be able to do just that as they will be writing an article for the front page of the parish newsletter and making a presentation at the Sunday Masses of 21st October. I’m hoping that from this we can increase our love and understanding of the Eucharist and draw others to have the same experience, especially our children and youth.
Adoremus has been described as not just a conference but a pilgrimage. How apt a description when we consider all the preparation of parish representatives before hand, the journey to Liverpool, the journey back and then most importantly our journey as a parish from this time forward. I’m sure our three delegates won’t let us but this mustn’t simply remain a memorable experience for them but something we can all benefit from as we move forward together as a parish.
St Francis of Assisi whose feast day we celebrate this week received the words, ‘Go and repair my Church which, as you can see is falling into ruins’ as he prayed for divine guidance before the crucifix in St Damiano chapel. God wasn’t talking about bricks and mortar but much more importantly about the people and their faith. We are called to do the same.
I’m not sure what happens to Harold Fry in the end, but like him we too may find ourselves on an unlikely pilgrimage uncertain of what lies ahead. But as long as we respond to God’s call and step out in faith, inner peace and joy will be ours.