Thanks be to God, through whom our consolation overflows
in this pilgrimage, in this exile, in this distress.
This is one of my favorite quotations from the history of the Church, uttered by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), a Cistercian monk, abbot, and theologian. I love it because it touches on one of my favorite themes, pilgrimage. I recently discovered that the quotation comes from St. Bernard’s Sermons on Advent and Christmas. I’m excited because one of my favorite sentiments turns out to be part of the Christmas story!
The quote is about more than pilgrimage. Here and elsewhere, Bernard places heavy emphasis on the theme of exile. Throughout his sermons he often uses the word “exile” to refer to our sojourn on this earth. As exiles, we are wanderers who do not have a true home. We walk a hard road, filled with suffering. We are in distress.
But then. Then! Bernard precedes the sentence quoted above with this statement: “The kindness and humanity of God our Savior appeared.” In the person of Jesus, God appeared at Christmas (and was made known at the Epiphany). And this changed everything. Through his humanity, Jesus joined us in our exile. Bernard says:
He Who is glorious and transcendent in His own city, and beatifies its citizens by His presence, became little and humble, when in exile, that He might rejoice the exiles.
This is why Bernard says, “Thanks be to God!” At Christmas, Jesus came to us in our exile. To rejoice us and give us consolation.
And because Jesus came, our earthly journey has a different flavor: our exile has turned into a pilgrimage. A pilgrim, as opposed to an exile, knows where to point her feet. She does not wander aimlessly and dejectedly but has a destination. She’s headed home, and so she is filled with hope. Many of us travel home for the holidays (or at least we did before the pandemic) or take refuge in our family and our home. In a similar way, every step in our Christian life leads toward a home that is the biggest refuge of all. When we get there, we’ll be welcomed with warmth and a meal and rest for our weary feet.
This isn’t some sappy sentiment meant to minimize our current distress. Goodness, our poor world seems to know nothing BUT distress these days. Our road can be bitter and our suffering great. Yet we now walk this road with hope because Jesus points the way home – and walks home with us.
This Advent and Christmas, we point our feet first to Bethlehem to welcome this child born to show us the way. And then we begin walking home. But not alone. Thanks be to God! This Christmas, Jesus has joined us on our long journey.
May God rejoice you on your pilgrimage this year.
Friends . . . if you’re interested in exploring the themes of exile and pilgrimage as they relate to our journey of faith, I hope you’ll check out my book that’s releasing on Feb. 2: 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers. It’s all about the hope we have as spiritual pilgrims. You can head over to my website to see more info and to preorder. Thank you and blessings – Lisa