As this marks my first column for the Catholic Key, I think it important to explain the title of this privileged space in which I hope to encourage, strengthen, and teach through our diocesan newspaper.
First, as Christians, we know that Jesus is the Way; he said so in John 14:6. As God in human flesh, God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus is not only our Savior and Lord, he came so that we can share in his very life. In the words of the 2nd Letter of Peter, Jesus came to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). To be in Christ, is to be in his Body, the Church; is to be on the Way to the Father.
Second, the theme of the “the Way” is key to the Catholic Church described in its earliest days. This is highlighted especially in Acts. There, we hear of Saul, prior to his conversion, who fiercely persecuted “any who belonged to the Way . . .” (Acts 9:2). Following his conversion, Saint Paul would recall his earlier actions against “this Way” (Acts 22:4). Several other references to “the Way” are found in Acts. In other words, Scripture itself refers to the assembly of believers, the Church, as “the Way.”
Third, following Jesus on the Way is a fitting image for what occurs to a disciple who has encountered Jesus and been changed. Notice how many times in the Gospel someone is cured or delivered from some evil and the account ends with the person following Jesus on the way. This is true for each of us who have become his disciples too. In our daily lives and our varied vocations, we too follow him in faith, on the way.
Fourth, one of the defining images of the People of God from the Old Testament is one of exodus; that is, a people who are not yet home, but on a journey to God and a promised land. Abraham was called by God to set out in faith to a land God promised to him and his descendants. This same theme dominates the Book of Exodus in which God delivers his people from slavery in Egypt and calls them to set out in faith to the land he is giving them. That journey serves as a “type” for our own spiritual lives within the people God has made his own in Christ. We see in their temptations and travails, their deliverance and salvation by God, often in events that foreshadow the sacraments, a vivid lesson which speaks to our own journey through life.
To be a Christian this side of heaven is to be a pilgrim; someone on the way. We are reminded of this when we undertake a spiritual pilgrimage to some holy place. It serves to remind us that even though we live and work in one place, we are always moving forward towards our goal, eternal life with God in heaven. This awareness gives new meaning to our lives and the events of daily life that can sometimes seem unimportant. Because each day’s events are a part of the journey, nothing is unimportant.
Finally, I chose the title because I love to hike. As a boy growing up in East Tennessee, surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains to the south, and the Cumberland Plateau to the north, I quickly grew to love hiking. That extended through my years in the Boy Scouts and my adult life as a priest. I have found that so many spiritual lessons and parallels with the Christian life can be drawn from hiking on the narrow way of a trail, especially with friends.
I am blessed that God has put me among you as your shepherd. Together, let us set out on this journey with Jesus, led by the light of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, to the Father’s house, as people on the Way.
As we celebrate the birth of our Savior this Christmas during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may God bless you and your families.