Andrea Bear explains why Christians need to take a pilgrimage, even if you can’t make it to the Holy Land.
Taking a pilgrimage can be a life-changing experience. It’s an encounter that allows one to not only journey away from the day-to-day but to encourage, see, and experience the Divine.
Yet for most people pilgrimaging to places like the Holy Land isn’t always financially or logistically feasible. Does that mean you can’t experience the Divine if you can’t travel to majestic holy places? Not at all.
Pilgrimage is really about finding God through the journey. For me this came in the most unexpected place, Chicago.
I didn’t realize the role of pilgrimaging would provide itself until I attended a Catholic writers conference at the end of July. I assumed I was only going there to learn new writing skills and make contacts. And truth be told, I placed no expectation what would happen: only that I would let God direct me. But on the first day, I was incredibly nervous, as I knew I’d come face to face with popular Catholic authors and some of the people I had corresponded through my writing groups. I wondered if I’d made the right choice, still in the transition of having my work published and not feeling worthy of calling myself an author (at least out loud) but I promised myself I would be open to what God provided and embraced my vulnerability to let Him lead.
The first day, there was an extra opportunity to take a tour of Marytown, the national shrine dedicated to St. Maximillian Kolbe. I signed up thinking this would really be more of a sightseeing experience, and my priest friend from back homesuggested if I had time I should visit the Mundelein Seminary next door to tour the grounds.
After a quiet 40-minute drive from the conference hall, I exited our tour bus and immediately met two writers who happen to be sisters, also attending the conference. They immediately put my soul at ease with their friendly welcoming. As we toured the grounds and learned about the life of St. Maximillian Kolbe, I allowed myself to think about the environment and the other Catholics around me. It was special to be in a place with other worshippers and prayerful hearts.
As we continued the tour, I saw the museum of St. Maximillian Kolbe’s life and martyrdom, I saw his first-degree relic and I placed my rosary near it and prayed. We continued to the twenty-four adoration chapel and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet at the three-o’clock hour. As I glanced around the chapel I noticed I was surrounded by third-degree relics along the walls (St. Catherine of Siena, St. Agatha, and others). I gazed at the center of the Eucharist and took in Jesus. There was so much peace, within me and around me. I could feel it penetrate within the chapel. After praying the chaplet, I offered up some prayers provided by the chapel’s registry page, then proceeded by myself to find a person to guide me in the direction of the Mundelein seminary.
One of the brothers from the shrine led me to a trail which would then lead me to a longer road next door to find the seminary. The “right next door” tracked on my fitness app at just under four miles round trip. While I crossed bridge one, I began to focus on keeping busy: I was adamant to get there. As I crossed bridge two I started to become a bit restless: would I ever reach the seminary? It was here that I had to remind myself that I came on this trip to be open to whatever Gods plan was for me.
It was hot, muggy Illinois weather, but I persisted on foot and began praying while I walked. I looked at the beautiful and massive winding lake that surrounded the grounds around me. I listened to the stillness of the woods that separated the shrine from the seminary, and I took in the beauty. I thought to myself, “Even if I never make it to the grounds, I need to be present in the journey.” By bridge three I had relaxed, and I saw the sign to the seminary. The buildings were closed to the public but I could navigate some of the grounds. It was already thirty minutes by now and I would have to turn around so that I wouldn’t miss the rest of the tour or a ride back. Yet as I walked back I didn’t have as much of an urgency. I prayed my Rosary and felt the blessings to the start of my week.
Before leaving the grounds I saw a weathered statue of Our Lady, propped on three stacked tires outside the gates that separated the seminary from the shrine. There was a sign between the seminary and the grounds of the shrine that read, “Thank you for visiting.” The words stuck out to me because it reminded me of the time I had spent. While it might have only seemed like a walk from the outside, the experience left me restored. God reminded me that He loves when I come to visit Him.
We need to make those moments to seek Him out, to visit, even in the smallest ways.
Trekking back to the shrine didn’t seem so far. Interestingly enough, the rest of my week would follow the same way, I would keep a schedule, be open to what God provided and take in the peace. My conference was amazing and I left the week feeling restored. Even small irritations were bearable because I allowed God to lead me.
On this visit, I learned that God wanted my attention, and even in hot muggy Chicago weather I was present. This was my pilgrimage, to be present and recognize God in my journey. I have yet to make it to the Holy Land. I may never make it there, but what my trip to Chicago taught me was that I could pilgrimage anywhere as long as I brought God along with me. So I’ve put together a list of simple ways to make a mini pilgrimage. Whether it be a day, a week or even a car drive, try to focus on these to experience God.
- Have a destination or a goal, but be present in your daily tasks. For me it was knowing I would attend the conference but I allowed myself to focus on the time with God in the moment, not the future. My week of Chicago was peaceful because I focused on the moment rather than what was going to happen.
- Allow God to lead. A pilgrimage requires a destination, as well as getting out of your own way. Travel the journey but allow God to lead.
- Don’t place an expectation of what the journey should look like. I came into the week not expecting anything. I didn’t know if I would make any contacts or if I would learn anything, and I came back with so much more that I anticipated. When you remove the expectation, God’s plan has more fruitful outcomes than you could imagine.
- Keep God at the center. In every moment and every circumstance keep God at the center.
Where can you go to make a mini-pilgrimage?
What are ways you can journey and visit with God and find him in every circumstance?
Copyright 2022 Andrea Bear
Images: copyright 2022 Andrea Bear, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Andrea Bear is a wife, mom, and teacher in Stockton, California. In addition to CatholicMom.com, she also writes for HerLife Magazine and Catholic Stand. She recently completed her debut novel, Grieving Daughters Club. When she's not writing or taking her kids to volleyball practice you can find her sipping coffee from the neighborhood coffee establishments or tasting wine from the local vineyards. Visit AndreaBearAuthor.com.