“… all those who follow Jesus Christ are pilgrims journeying to our true and eternal home” (1).
As we approach Palm Sunday, I thought that I would take a moment to share with you my first experience of Lent in Rome. For some time now I have found Lent to be a particularly enriching and fruitful season spiritually. For Christians around the globe this is period of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. A time when the Church encourages us to enter into the desert with Our Lord, to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses and to follow him. For forty days, we shift our focus; in a world that encourages so much self indulgence, we attempt to set that aside and to conform ourselves more perfectly to those two greatest commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself”(2).
Here at the North American College, in Rome, I have been introduced to a beautiful Lenten tradition. A pilgrimage that incorporates the practices of Lent and takes the pilgrim on a journey into many of the churches of the Eternal City. The Roman Station Liturgy begins on Ash Wednesday, and runs until the Wednesday of Holy Week. During this period the pilgrims will visit a total of forty churches. The tradition itself dates back as far the fifth century. The term, Station Church, refers to the Latin term statio, which roughly translates into “a place of occupation.” The practice of early Christians fasting and praying during Lent was taken with the same amount of seriousness as the ancient Roman soldiers who would fast and pray on the day of battle. For the pilgrims of this “march” through Rome, the procession and the fast ends each day at the statio, the Station Church where they celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Seminarians from the North American College are joined by other English speaking pilgrims, gathering together in prayer and thanksgiving. A tradition that fell dormant for a number of centuries before being picked back up by the students and faculty of the North American College in the 70’s.
Like any Lenten practice, the Lenten Station Churches pilgrimage can certainly be a test of perseverance, a real chance to grow in virtue. The procession from the NAC campus to the Station Church of the day often departs around 6 AM, rain or shine. The early mornings offer an opportunity to sacrifice some extra sleep on a school day, and to offer prayer while on the way to Mass. I found it to be an excellent time to reflect on the blessing it is to be here, studying in Rome. I would pray for my family and friends, and for all of the people who have influenced me or supported in my discernment. Offering prayers of thanksgiving for the people back home in Western Oregon who through their generous support of the Office of Vocations, have made this experience possible.
Every year the Seminarians select a local charity to support through the daily collection. This year the money will go to support The Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order). In this way the pilgrims are presented with a convenient way of offering alms-giving, a key component of the their Lenten practices. Together we are able to support a wonderful religious order, who reaches out to and serves the poor and homeless here in Rome.
As this Lenten journey comes to a close, and we begin to enter Holy Week, I look back on this experience with a great deal of gratitude. This year the Roman Canon, that is prayed during the Eucharistic Prayer #1, has really come alive in a new way for me as I prayed for you in the churches of Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, Philip, John and Paul, Clement, Lawrence, Cosmos and Damian, and many more. I pray now, that all of you reading this blog will join me in prayer on our way to Calvary this coming week and rejoice with me as we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.
For more information about The Roman Station Liturgy you can click here. You can also read about the tradition in Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches by George Weigel. Photo credit in this post is due to the PNAC Photo Service on flickr, you can follow their feed here. To support me and my brother seminarians who are studying for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, or to find out more about the program, you can click here.