The Walsingham Way
It will perhaps come as no surprise that in preparing to begin my ministry at Walsingham as Priest Administrator, I spent a few hours dipping into two books which have come to be recognised as classics of their time: Walsingham Way, and Merrily on High, written by one of my esteemed predecessors, Fr Colin Stephenson. I could think of no better resources for helping me get some sort of idea of what I was letting myself in for!
They contain a full and often very amusing account of how the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was restored, the fruit of the great work and vision of Fr Alfred Hope Patten CSA.
What lay at the heart of Fr Patten’s work and ministry in Walsingham was a profound faith in the truth of the Incarnation, from which sprang a deep love for Mary. He promoted devotion to Our Lady and pilgrimage to her ancient Shrine in Walsingham because he believed that both would draw people closer to God who had come close to us in his only Son Jesus Christ.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. This was the truth that inspired and guided Fr Patten from the days of his youth to the day of his death, and it continues to be at the heart of the work and ministry of the Shrine.
This year’s Pilgrimage Theme has the title: “Mary: Guide on the Way”.
We will all be familiar with the teaching Jesus gave to his disciples which we read in S. John’s Gospel: I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). But there is also buried deep in the Acts of the Apostles a reference to Christianity itself being described as “The Way” (Acts 9:2;19:9).
As those who follow in the footsteps of Christians down the ages on “The Way”, we look to Mary, the first pilgrim, and find in her one we can trust to guide and encourage us on our Christian pilgrimage.
In her response of obedience to the message of the Angel at the Annunciation, we could have no better example to guide and inspire us to seek to do God’s will and to walk in his ways. At the Marriage Feast at Cana, we also see how Mary guided the servants who had run out of wine in a way which would ensure that there would be wine in abundance. Her guidance consisted of only five words: “Do whatever he tells you”. Yet those few words contain the surest way of finding the abundance of life offered by her Son.
Pilgrims who journey on the Walsingham Way, who come to this holy place looking for healing and peace from God, who seek reconciliation and strength to respond to God’s call to holiness of life can be assured, not only of Mary’s maternal care and of her prayers, but also of her guidance.
Mary’s desire is for us to know her Son, to follow in his way and to come to fullness of life with him.
My hope and prayer is that all who come to England’s Nazareth, as pilgrims and visitors, will come to a deeper knowledge and love of God, who has made his ways known to us through his Son Jesus Christ. May we all experience the joy and consolation of knowing that his Mother Mary is our Mother also, who prays for us in our joys and in our sorrows, and who is a most loving and trustworthy Guide on the Pilgrim Way.
In the words of an ancient hymn often sung at the Shrine:
Hail, O star that pointest
Towards the port of heaven
Thou to whom as Maiden
God for Son was given.
So as now we journey,
Aid our weak endeavour,
Till we gaze on Jesus
And rejoice for ever.
Your friend and fellow pilgrim,
Fr Kevin Smith