I don't like crowds. I am the type of person who stays away from a crowd. I don't do well at football games or concerts. You can imagine my anxiety level when I took a youth group to Toronto in 2002 for World Youth Day. There I was sleeping in a field, soaked to the bone with close to a million of my closest friends. But it was all worth it. The lack of food, the long hike, the downpours, the heat, the sweat, the blisters, the fatigue was all worth it. It was a tremendous blessing to be part of such a pilgrimage of faith. It was a blessing to see how "universal - catholic" the Church really is and it was a blessing to see, in the flesh, Saint John Paul the Great - a witness, a fellow pilgrim, a role model, and a saint.
In today's reading we find a pilgrimage of sorts taking place. People have heard about this Jesus of Nazareth and are coming from all over to see Him, to listen to Him, and perhaps be healed by Him. Scripture mentions different locations from which these people are streaming. Some of these men, women, children, and families are traveling considerable distance to be with this miracle worker. Some are walking, some are riding, and others are being carried or carted. Many of them are traveling between 40 and 70 miles to be with Jesus. They are experiencing heat and cold, hunger, blisters, aches and pains, and other types of suffering to be with Him. There are so many people arriving at this place that Jesus begins to fear for His safety and the safety of His followers. He arranges for a boat to be brought in case the crowd gets out of hand and He needs to depart quickly.
In this reading we can find strength to continue on our faith journey, our journey and pilgrimage in this life as we travel toward the next. We can see that the end, Christ, is worth any suffering that we may have to endure on the Way. The goal is worth the effort. The prize is worth the struggle. Jesus is worth the suffering that we may face, suffering often caused by the world, the flesh, or the devil in an attempt to get us to turn back. Therefore, let us look to those who took this pilgrimage as our example. Let us look to them for the strength and courage to continue on the path to Christ. When we arrive all tears will be wiped away. All the suffering will be turned to joy and all ills will be healed.
FROM THE SAINTS - "I want you to be happy on earth. But you won't be if you don't get rid of that fear of suffering. For as long as we are "wayfarers", it is precisely in suffering that our happiness lies." "I'm going to tell you which are man's treasures on earth so you won't slight them: hunger, thirst, heat, cold, pain, dishonor, poverty, loneliness, betrayal, slander, prison..."
- Saint Josemaria Escriva - The Way #'s 194, 217