"Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage" (Ps. 84:5).
Wanda was a pilgrim, but is a pilgrim no more. She died early this morning in Texas after a most courageous battle with cancer. She was 72. And I said to my mother who knew her well, "Her pilgrimage is complete."
Just four months ago, in September, I led Wanda, cancer and all, her husband Rick, my mom, and five others on a Holy Land pilgrimage. Ten glorious days in the footsteps of our Lord!
We did it all! Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jordan River, Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee, Cana, Mount Tabor, and so much more. And Wanda was determined not to miss a thing!
We were pilgrims, meaning we didn't go just to see things but to hear the Gospel, pray, sing, and receive the Eucharist. It brought us so close together!
The lesson is not that you need to go to the Holy Land. The lesson is that we are pilgrims on the way to Heaven. Wanda, more than the rest of us, understood that.
A Russian monk called Father John once wrote: "Our great mistake is that we hardly think about our passing into the other world. Our life in this vale of tears is after all nothing but a path to eternity and a preparation for it. Oh, eternity, thou eternity unending! Although it is painful here and life is sometimes very hard, and heavy sorrows and cruel diseases strike, still there is a comforting thought: I shall die and all this will end. But what awaits us over there?" Answer: Heaven, Christ, and life with all the saints!
But the hymns put it the best: "I'm but a stranger here, Heaven is my home." And: "Let us ever walk with Jesus, follow His example pure, through a world that would deceive us and to sin our spirits lure. Onward in His footsteps treading, pilgrims here, our home above, full of faith and hope and love, let us do the Father's bidding. Faithful Lord, with me abide; I shall follow where You guide."
Wanda was a pilgrim, but is a pilgrim no more. Her pilgrimage is complete, with the angels carrying her soul the last little way to Heaven.
God be with Rick, the family, and us all.