Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants and Itinerant People
for Pilgrimage Coordinators and Shrine Directors
from the Dioceses of the United States
Archbishop Agostino MARCHETTO
Secretary of the Pontifical Council
brothers and sisters,
“Though I am
shriveled like a leathern flask in the smoke, I have not forgotten your
statutes” (Psalm 119,83).
These words of Psalm
119 come to my mind as befitting the situation we are going through in this
countries, I would say all humanity, for one reason or the other, are passing
through difficult times.
Terrorist violence requires a decisive response on the part of all who
love peace. However,
it should not make us forget the law of God, which amounts to affirming the
ability to overcome evil with good, to defeat violence with justice, respecting
human rights or, in words like those of the biblical reading that we heard, not
abandoning the path of wisdom.
“All wisdom comes
from the Lord” (Si 1,1).
Thus the Book of Sirach begins with a profession of faith that sums up
the whole reflection developed throughout the book.
It is also like a proclamation and an admonition for all who are making
their pilgrimage through the path of life and history.
It is important, necessary, for all who go forward.
Let us go forward, step by step, in a life so often rushed and so much in
need of raising our eyes a bit higher,
beyond what is immediate.
And that is what the sacred author does:
He lifts us out of our little world of every day to make us contemplate
the ages, the depths, the heavens, the uncountable grains of sand on the coast,
and the drops of rain.
He makes us turn time back, he frees us of our confined, measured, and
finite time (which we do not know how to define, as St. Augustine said), so that
our meditation goes back before the ages, before the works of our hands, before
the personalities of our histories, before all those fleeting things in which we
ourselves or others glory.
It’s scary to take that step back; it strips us of our securities,
certainties, and calculations.
It gives us, as our viaticum and our walking stick, the fear of God.
Let us courageously make this pilgrimage to the very end.
“Before all things
else wisdom was created” (Si 1,4).
Here we are at the beginning, the final point of our stepping back.
Here is the key for us to understand what path we are going down and in
what history we find ourselves.
The point of departure of history is the creation of Wisdom.
In some way we already know this.
We recall the pages of Genesis, detailed and poetic, day by day, which
makes us think so easily of the detailed miniature of some skilled painter or of
the repeated scenes (three, with three more for decoration) of a theater piece.
However Sirach views this first unfathomable week from
the inside, looking at it, we could say, through the eyes of the artist,
of the Creator.
And it speaks to us of a “contemplative God,” a “reflective God.”
Here there is the first
The Creator God did not go around asking anyone for a model for his work.
This is a necessary and even novel teaching during the centuries when
Genesis was being compiled; it was also so even in the times Sirach wrote, when
the gaze of man had been concentrated – in a certain sense – on his own
strength and autonomy.
And it is all the more necessary today, when it so often looks like our
one saving strength is technology and the machine, and we imagine history as the
meshing gears of blind and fatal forces that we have to surrender to with no way
God was contemplating
in his wisdom.
From it he took the measures for something new, for creation.
We recall the echos of those words in the ecclesiastical tradition:
pondus et mensura. Let
us think again of the teaching of St. Augustine.
Perhaps it is a bit in contradiction with our categories of today, for in
it “the new” indicates “the finite,” what has started to be, creation,
The measure instead is God himself and, above all, His beauty.
So then the new, the finite, ourselves, and our history have been and are
formed according to the model of divine beauty.
Let us put it this way: Our finiteness and our newness arise from the
gaze of God who contemplates His wisdom.
And this is only the
us read Genesis again: God “presented to the man” all the things that He had
made “to see what name he would give them” (Gen 2,19).
And we all know what name
means for Semites.
With what words shall we define this first episode in the history of
associates with his creative work – something new – that which he had placed
in the Garden of Eden.
Now God invites man to take the word, to so begin a dialogue, to take up
a responsibility laden with consequences, and man answers by giving names to
animals and things.
According to the biblical account we can see in this gesture of man the
completion of the mission God had entrusted to him by placing him in Eden “so
that he would care for it and cultivate it” (Gen 2,15).
However we can also understand that it is the fruit of the first
“communion” between the man and God.
If man is associated to the creative work of God, that means he is made a
participant, in a certain form, in that divine contemplation of the wisdom in
which all things were made.
What is more, this is a
very nice way of teaching.
God made man participate in his own wisdom though now the same wisdom is
expressed in the form of a commandment, of law:
From the tree of knowledge of good and evil “you shall not eat; the
moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die” (Gen 2,17).
And Sirach reminds us of this divine pedagogy by uniting terms that for
us seem opposed: fear and joy, glory and peace (see Si 1,11-12, 18).
It is the teaching that recurs through the whole Old Testament and the
conviction that accompanies the Israelite even in his most desolate moments:
“Your statutes are the theme of my song in the place of my exile” (Psalm
119, 54); and “I have not forgotten your statutes” (v. 83).
beginning with that of the Chosen People, the depositary of the Ancient Law, was
not a history of wisdom applied and put into practice.
Idolatry was like a symbol and summary of forgetting this history, of the
withdrawal of God: the prototype of all sins.
When man forgets not only the wisdom of God but also His Law, he sets as
criteria of his history – the history of the Holy People – egoism, violence,
injustice, and his most material instincts.
Thus man definitively forgets his origin: that dialogue in which God
shares with him the contemplation of His wisdom.
And here enters the
call to conversion, its hope and promise: “On that day man shall look to his
maker, his eyes turned toward the Holy one of Israel” (Is 17,7).
This is also something
good to keep in mind.
Because conversion, going back again to the “way” of the Lord –
this biblical synonym for law and wisdom – is also a work of God if we let it
work in us. This
is clearly explained to us by the episode we heard in the Gospel.
We alone “couldn’t do it.”
The disciples were in a
discussion with the scribes.
We can just imagine their embarrassment.
In fact till the end of history, when all is over, they will not dare to
speak about it.
And if they do, it will only be to express consternation at their
is also possible that the scribes were not only mocking them for their failure
but through it attacking the Master himself.
Jesus comes down from
the mountain, the Wisdom and Word of God as the Scriptures and Vatican II call
him (see Dei Verbum, n. 2), approaches
the circle of people and joins the discussion.
The father of the possessed boy speaks and explains the situation.
Jesus forgets about the apostles and does not ask what they have done.
He is interested in the boy, lets them repeat the story twice, but
basically the one who will really be questioned is the father.
And he seems to immediately grasp Jesus’s intention: “I do believe.
Help my lack of faith” (Mk 9,24).
And Jesus accomplishes his work: “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you:
Get out of him and never enter him again!” (Mk
Let’s note the first words: “mute and deaf spirit”; they are the
same words the Bible uses to refer to idols, to this constant temptation of the
People of Israel, in that it forgot the Law and Wisdom and abandoned life.
Just like a dead person the boy remained there.
“But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet” (Mk
On his feet: That is
how man on earth should be.
There could possibly be a more anthropomorphic image, but it is a good
metaphor that expresses, in the end, the disposition of man for dialogue.
It in turn manifests the dignity in which God established him, which
indicates the responsible freedom he has been called to.
If we would see someone on the street walking with his head to the ground
and his feet in the air . . .
If it’s a bit for play, for showing strength and balance, then fine, we
But if he would think and act that way?
No, God wanted man with his head up.
But how many walk spiritually upside down today, with their heads down?
Only afterwards and
“in private” the disciples dare to speak: “Why is it that we could not
expel it?” (Mk 9,28).
“He told them, ‘This kind you can drive out only by prayer’” (Mk
does not speak now about faith; he supposes it, at least in its initial form, in
the following and the constancy with which the disciples remain joined to Him.
Then he speaks to them about prayer.
And in the context of the narrative of Mark, this can very well take us
back to the episode that came just before, namely the Transfiguration.
There the three chosen disciples “saw” and “heard”; they
contemplated Jesus, surrounded by Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets,
and proclaimed “my Son, my beloved” (Mk 9,7).
as Adam did, in the primordial beginning of history, however, we could say, in a
much easier form.
Now “communion” in the divine contemplation has a name and a
“human” face: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Brother.
Now wisdom, in that it has to be lived and put into practice, is a very
concrete “way”: the path of Jesus.
This is not about giving names but about recognizing the one name, before
which we have to fall on our knees.
Can we not call all
I think so.
The pilgrim starts down the road with a petition, the one on the lips of
the father of the boy in the Gospel: “I do believe. Help my lack of faith.”
The roads he travels, the meditation he keeps to during the journey –
and we hope that he does it, – the places he visits, all this is destined to
help him deepen his faith, his confidence, and his surrender to God.
The pilgrim’s path leads to the Sanctuary, the place of the Presence,
to contemplate the Glory of the Lord there, the glory shared by Our Lady and the
St. Ambrose’s commentary on the Psalms that was in the Breviary last Thursday
would be nice to cite, but I leave it to your reading.) This is the Glory, which
must then shine in all his works and which is the holiness that should transform
his life and action in the world, after he has knelt prostrate on the Sanctuary
this regard, I recall my impression in Byelorussia upon seeing young people
prostrating themselves on the ground as we priests did for the sacrament of
Orders, but with the arms open.
Pilgrimage in our days fortunately can and must be lived with all the
possibilities it offers: penitential walk, moment of catechesis and of
formation, the chance to meet with the others and with their needs, memory of
the history of Salvation and of the Church.
On return, when the pilgrim goes back to his home and takes up his every
day history again, he should be more “wise,” more filled with the “fear of
God,” in the biblical and Christian sense, and, for that matter, more joyful
For ourselves gathered
here today in Rome, we are called to work so that this may really be so.
We ourselves are pilgrims but also pastors, servants of our brothers and
sisters on pilgrimage.
And it will have happened sometimes that at the end of a pilgrimage, in
the silence of our church, we will also have to say to the Lord: “Why
couldn’t we do it?”
“Why couldn’t we manage to get all the participants in this
pilgrimage to return home ‘wiser,’ holier, and more committed?”
And for myself, “Why am I not wiser, holier and more committed?”
Jesus has already given us an answer and showed us the way: prayer.
Prayer, contemplation, has to impregnate our whole apostolate so that it
is not our advice that reaches the pilgrim but the voice of Jesus himself, the
hand of Jesus who lifts him up and gets him on his feet.
In the next number of People
on the Move, there will be an article of Fr. Giuseppe De Luca, which
might be of interest to you precisely so it may be “the voice of Jesus, the
hand of Jesus,” which lifts up the pilgrim and lifts us up too.
The article will be entitled:
“Sermons to myself” and that is significant.
* February 24, 2003