Was Abraham a Pilgrim or a Tourist? Homily for 2nd Sunday of Lent

Matthew Kelly is an internationally acclaimed speaker, author, and business consultant. He is also the founder of The Dynamic Catholic Institute, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization. Their mission is to re-energize the Catholic Church in America by developing world-class resources that inspire people to rediscover the genius of Catholicism.

One of the tools that Kelly uses is his “Best Lent Ever” series. In looking at some resources for this week’s homily, I came across a “Best Lent Ever” video from Matthew Kelly. In it he asks an intriguing question:

In your journey through Lent, “Are you a pilgrim or are you just a tourist?”

In chapters 1 - 11 in the Book of Genesis, nothing seems to be going right. First there’s Adam, Eve and that apple thing. Next we have Cain and Abel in a deadly family conflict. There’s the Tower of Babel. There’s the “Great Flood.” Everything is just getting worse.

Chapter 12 changes everything. Biblical commentators write that “the situation turns around. There is a divine intervention. There is a new narrative. There is a reshaping of history as God’s wonderful, hopeful, redemptive plan for the future begins to unfold.” It all happens because Abraham decides to accept God’s invitation. He believes God’s promise for a more blessed life. He begins a new journey.

Abraham’s pilgrimage is a transition. On this journey he knows that he has to travel lighter. He has to jettison all unnecessary baggage.

In your journey through Lent, “Are you a pilgrim or are you just a tourist?”

One way to determine this is to look in your backpack. I like hiking. I have had the opportunity to do the entire Pennsylvania and New Jersey Appalachian Trail. I’ve done the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire. I’ve gotten to the top of 9 out of the top ten “High Peaks” in the Adirondacks. I’ve done some of these sections in winter which included overnight camping. To do that, you need stuff like tents, sleeping bags and pads, fuel, food, water, crampons, ice axes, etc… Packs can get heavy - up to 45 pounds.

I know a young woman who once walked the The Camino de Santiago (aka, The Way of St. James) . I asked her once,

“How heavy was your backpack?”

Her: “Ten pounds.”

Me: TEN POUNDS? That’s luxury!

Or it means that she wasn’t a tourist. Tourists on the Camino collect stuff. Souvenirs. Books. Photographs. Rosaries. Holy Cards. Hard-carved crosses. Shells.

She was a pilgrim. Pilgrims trust that the Lord will provide. Pilgrims travel light.

Scripture scholar Eleanor Stumpf has an interesting insight into this:

When God told Abraham to leave home, God was asking a lot of him. The world was not a global village then. Travel wasn’t easy; there were no planes, taxis, or hotels. Furthermore, leaving home was a decisive break with all the good of home, because going back for a visit was difficult or just out of the question entirely. So leaving home then was a loss that we can’t imagine well anymore, in our era of video calls and texting.

I knew a Jesuit who once told me, “Look at your stuff. If you haven’t touched something in over a year, get rid of it. You obviously don’t need it.” Lent gives us an opportunity to lighten the physical backpack of stuff we might “like” or “want to hold on to” - but don’t “need.”

A second way we can unload the backpack is spiritually. What are the habits and sins that we continue to carry around with us? Sometimes we go to Confession and say the same sins over and over again.


Maybe this Lent we need to ago deeper. We’re too comfortable carrying this in our backpack. I know a religious sister who shared a story where her Confessor/Spiritual Director said to her, ” When you’re really serious about this, come back. I’ll give you absolution then.” Perhaps we need to look into this with the Lord at a more serious level.

This relates to a third comment that Matthew Kelly offers in the video. Someday you will die. Where will you end up. We believe that people will be in Heaven. We know that there will be people in Hell. Jesus said so. Where will you end up? Are you sure? If you have even the slightest tinge of doubt - that’s probably a good thing. Kelly says that we need to take this heaven/hell thing seriously. That puts the question as to whether we’re going through life as a pilgrim or a tourist in a new perspective
Let me close with “A Pilgrim’s Prayer,” by Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. . . . Nor do I really know myself, And the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust You always though I may seem lost And in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, And You will never leave me to face my perils alone.



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