The Unexpected Pilgrimage

This is excerpted from The YOKE webzine. The YOKE is the religious order I shepherd. Each month we gather articles from fellows and friends focussed on a them of Christian living. July’s zine is about “Pilgrimage.”

You can see the whole edition, and more about the YOKE at:


The Bishop’s Letter , July 2014 + 


As T. S Eliot said in his poem “The Journey of the Magi,” we don’t always find what we are looking for on a pilgrimage. When we arrive, after a journey that may have been hazardous or at least full of calamity punctuated by boredom, what we find is not what we were expecting.

‘A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

…And the night-fires going out, and the

lack of shelters,

… the villages dirty and charging high


A hard time we had of it.

…All this was a long time ago, I


And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth,


We had evidence and no doubt. I had

seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different…

The shrine we sought is small, dirty, crowded with hawkers pushing cheap souvenirs in our faces. The food is bad, the water expensive, the rooms infested. The police are everywhere and yet someone’s wallet is stolen. Altogether, the trip is a disappointment, and the pilgrims compensate by getting drunk and noisy on the last night.

And then there are pilgrimages we didn’t expect to make.

A back road between two rural villages is punctuated by an old church, a cemetery, or a tree on a hill. We stop for no particular reason. Inside an old door, through a rusty gate, beside a clear spring we find that divine moment we may have missed when we went looking for it.

The motive for the pilgrimage may vary from pilgrim to pilgrim: The need for an answer or a cure; to escape sorrow or love; ennui or doubt. Will any of these be answered, will any needs be fulfilled? It is a matter of the Holy Spirit whether what is sought is found, and is requested is given.

The pilgrimage, there and back, should change the pilgrim, who hopes for the best change, although what does change may be unexpected.

Did you expect to gain something?

And if you lose something instead?

Were you hoping for an answer of “Yes?”

What if the answer is “No?”

Do you expect to return home satisfied?

What will you do if God sends you on elsewhere?

One never knows at the beginning what the end will be.

The Bishop’s Prayer  +


Father, I know this life is no more than a journey. I will not be staying here. You will call me to move on, to walk through this life to our own home, for which I long so much. I know You are with me every step of the way, although I may not always feel You close by. Give me bread for each day, water to sustain me, safe way-stations, and loving companions along the road.


City Life, Street Ministry


I am not really a city person. It took two years for me to venture as far as the lakeside in Chicago, even when I worked about two blocks from the waterfront. I don’t go to theatres, clubs, pubs or restaurants. I don’t shop. What am I doing in a city?


Particularly among the people who end up living and begging on the streets. They are addicts, alcoholics, runaways, ex-cons, and con artists. They are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, victims and disabled. Some are holding onto life with a tight grip, others are barely holding on with a fingernail. Some have found that street life keeps them out of institutions, as long as they can keep moving, keep a low profile, stay out of legal trouble. Others find that street life regularly sends them to jail or the psychiatric unit, because they don’t move fast enough, or don’t have a low profile, or they can’t stay away from those who lead them astray.

I talked to James on the phone today. James was once a gang leader, a bad character, a dangerous man. Substance abuse, though, left him weak and sick. He walked into a Pentecostal mission one night, and found a new life. It didn’t get him off the streets, though, and since he wouldn’t go back to crime, he begged. then he ended up near dead in the snow. A long hospital stay brought social workers into his life, and things turned around, as he went to a transitional shelter, and then into his own apartment.

James is my principal contact downtown. He knows everyone, and everyone knows him. He prays with people, gives blessings, and is a source of hard-won wisdom.  He still has to beg from time to time, to get en0ugh together to pay an electric bill, or to get some documents copied. He knows I don’t like him to beg. He is vulnerable, with his bad knees, his slight frame, his fragile bones. I thought James was about seventy; his nephew tells me James is two years older than me. the police hassle him sometimes when he has to sit down on the street corner, claiming he is blocking pedestrian traffic or being a nuisance. James is polite, quiet, and helpful. Yet his need and his presence are seen as intimidating to tourists.


James needs some help this week, but I don’t have the funds. I don’t have time to get downtown until the end of the week. I will check in with him by phone before I take the Blue Line to Clinton Street. It hurts me that James has to beg, that I can’t help him with his simple and basic needs. It hurt me yesterday that I had run out of money, food cards and transit passes. I gave one person a rosary and a Bible, and he appreciated it, but he needed food and shelter as well.

We are not funded by a denomination or church. We are pretty much on our own. We get some donations, but most of Hermosa House and the YOKE is supported by our own earnings, and we are maintaining two separate residences right now because of, well, circumstances. Our prayer is to be self-sustaining, to draw in enough companions to make the burden light for everyone involved, and have enough to help the poorest of the poor. This is not a situation for beginners, though. We have tried that, and the ones without years of experience in the faith run from the intensity, the poverty, the lack of diversion. We are an order for those who are already deep in obedience to their Lord. We cannot serve two masters, not both God and the world of success, status and wealth. We serve one Lord, and we bar the door to the other one who would master us in His place.

hermosa house beggars poster



Hermosa House


Hermosa House is where I live, where our ministry originates, and where we host visiting members of our trans-denominational religious order, the YOKE. We have two websites:



The YOKE is the principal website, home of the webzine, and where most of the action takes place in the form of our monthly online magazine and information about the order and our work.

Hermosa House online is a scrapbook of our life and ministry in Chicago.