Picture a twelve-year-old, curly brown-headed girl on a bus of individuals and married couples over the ages of forty, fifty, sixty, and maybe even seventy.
That was me on my first pilgrimage, and would you believe it when I say, “I loved every minute of it!”? (This may or may not be because of the Jameson and Guinness I got to try at every stop!) In all seriousness though, pilgrimages have been significant and important experiences in my life ever since this very first one to Ireland.
A year or two later, when I visited the nearby Basilica and National Shrine in Carey, Ohio, I learned you don’t actually have to go out of the country or even out of your state to make a pilgrimage.
There are Catholic pilgrimage sites in almost every state of the U.S. So, nothing should hold us back, right? We can eliminate the excuse that we have to travel across the world to make a pilgrimage.
Here are a few other reasons why I would encourage everyone to make an annual pilgrimage (while not mistaking it with an annual vacation). While reading through these, keep in mind that they are not exhaustive, especially because our desires for making pilgrimage aree often very personal and inspired by God.
The Yearning for More
Oh, how we all long for something more! Have you seen the quote by C.S. Lewis that states: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world”?
Pilgrimages are really a journey in pursuit of something, or rather someone, who is beyond this life, God! We go on pilgrimage to have an encounter with the living God and to give him the opportunity to renew us in him and his love. We are seeking a taste of heaven in the here and now.
Getting Away to Allow Ourselves to Hear and See
Why is it that we need to go away to encounter God? Isn’t that why we go to Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and pray at home and throughout our day at work?
Yes, we pray and worship in all of these ways that God desires and the Church encourages, but a pilgrimage is an extra way that allows us to step out of our everyday way of life, provide a special opportunity to tune out the noise, anxiety, work, children, spouses and give God our all.
If you are looking to learn more about how to deepen your prayer life, I would be remiss if I did not point you towards my “Introduction to Prayer” Spiritual Direction Package. Let’s get our prayer on, girls!
A Time To Listen
The primary goal of a pilgrimage is to entrust ourselves to the Lord. This is a time many choose to renew their baptismal promises even (I’ve done this on a few pilgrimages.). To surrender to him once more, allow the Lord to hold you and show you his love. This means allowing him to speak. We do this by quieting ourselves. Which may be the most difficult part of the whole pilgrimage! “In the silence of the heart God speaks.” – Mother Teresa
Give yourself permission and make times throughout each day on pilgrimage a no-tech time. Let your spouse and kids know that you won’t be accessible at certain times. And do yourself a huge favor and say good-bye to social media for the entire pilgrimage. The peace and freedom that comes with signing out of your apps will speed up the listening process immensely.
There are No “Accidents” on a Pilgrimage
A dear priest friend of mine, Father Bob, always says there are no accidents on a pilgrimage. Not meaning you can’t fall off your bike or scrape your knee, but that every encounter, missed road, found holy card, closed coffee shop, etc. might ought to be considered as a gift, or even providential, something to be challenged by and learned from!
These accidents may be so profound that they should be discerned for an extended period of time and taken to prayer and your spiritual director.
Your Next Pilgrimage Does Not Count as Your Vacation
Many of us are overburdened or more bluntly, we are burnt out, ladies! A pilgrimage provides an opportunity for rest, peace, affirmation, healing, consolation and even new life direction.
Pilgrimages can also be the opportunity to thank God for an answered prayer or to offer him a particular intention. I have personally found pilgrimages to be a time gifted to learn myself better and develop a deeper self-awareness of my needs and how I treat others. Not always easy, but definitely needed!
However, the purpose of a pilgrimage may not be clear to you when you set out and the purpose of it may not become clear to you for months or even years. This is not the goal of vacations and definitely not how the typical individual would look at planning their next getaway.
When I picture a vacation, I think of sand volleyball, kayaks, margaritas, shopping, and silly shenanigans with family and friends. All of which I also think you need for health and sanity! Pilgrimages provide for something deeper and long-lasting though. Do you see my point?
Time with others is also a distinguishing factor in both of these necessary times of rest. While the focus of a pilgrimage is your relationship with God (even if you go with others), the focus of vacation can often be relationship with the people who vacation with us.
To dig deeper and learn more about the purpose of pilgrimage, the history of pilgrimage, and age old insight into where to make a pilgrimage, consider reading “Why Pilgrimage?” by David Baldwin.
Giveaway: Win a Pilgrimage to The National Shrine and Museum of Saint Thérèse
Since pilgrimages are important for our spiritual journey and to get you planning your pilgrimage for 2021, I have $200 to give you, as well as a two-night hotel stay in Darien, Illinois as you make your pilgrimage to The National Shrine and Museum of Saint Thérèse in 2021. Enter to win today!