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Archive for August, 2011

Gentle readers, it’s been far too long! I plead vacation plus spotty internet at home. The result has been no blogging,  but ample time to mull over the impact my little two day pilgrimage has had on my little life. I don’t know how to start, so I’ll just begin at the beginning. there’s a lot to tell, so bear with me. I want to remember it all, and give you an idea of the beauty, the happiness and the insanity of pilgrimage.  Please forgive the temporary lack of photos. They’re coming!

The first thing to note about pilgrimage is that it actually begins days before you start. Trips to Target, airing the tent out and practicing putting it up, double checking how many pouches of energy mix trail mix and powdered drink mix we would need, and of course, the weather forecast made for a busy few days leading up to our departure. In addition, the doubts about actually going start rising in your mind and you begin to think of all sorts of nasty ways that you will be disappointed in your experience. At least, that was my experience. I was genuinely worried that it would be a lot of effort for nothing. All I can say is, that was a stupid idea, aimed at subverting my trust in God. Anyhow, my charming sisters, Rachel and Sarah, were pros. They had their share of anxiety, but they’ve done all four days of the 60 mile pilgrimage three times.  What they didn’t know about prepping wasn’t worth knowing. This year, we were all only doing two days.  Still, the girls said you never really knew what was going to happen, so it was best to be over-prepared. They were right, as you will see by the time I get to the evening of the first day.

We drove up Friday afternoon and were deposited at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. We had some adventures on the way there, including the Pickle-In-A-Bag  for sale at the rest stop in Delaware, and the scary weird traffic outside Philadelphia, but we arrived at the Shrine around tea time. It’s a big, beautiful place on a hill. living in flat Savannah, just seeing hills was wonderful. There is a huge statue of Blessed John Paul II overlooking the parking lot. I went and prayed there and asked him to take special care of whatever it was I needed. That’s really when the pilgrimage officially began for me.  Peace just settled in my heart and didn’t leave. I had a certainty that this was what I was supposed to do, and that the Lord would hear every prayer and  see every ache and pain over the next two days.

The shuttle that was supposed to take us to the Friday night campsite was nowhere to be seen. Settling down on the curb with our huge rubbermaid bin (complete with hot pink duct tape), our sleeping bags and backpacks, we made some new friends with the few other English-speaking pilgrims and waited for about three hours. Our group was the last to be picked up. We somehow crammed eighteen people into a fifteen passenger van and drove through some very up and down and curvy roads resulting in nausea and general discomfort.

And then we arrived.

A canopy was erected in a field, a little ways off from the tent city. Torches lit the scene, and incense rose up from a gold censor. Mass was half over, but we found a spot off to the side and knelt down in time for the consecration. To my surprise, the huge crowd was silent. A Polish priest from the Savannah diocese was concelebrating, which was an unexpected little blessing. Everything was in Polish. It was awesome that even in a language I didn’t understand at all, mass was still totally recognizable. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and some lovely Polish ladies provided the music. It was beautiful. Adoration followed, and we got out tent set up. Some guys tried to help us, because, after all, three little ladies couldn’t possibly know how to put a tent up. It took three times as long with the guys, but they meant well.  I’ll never understand that particular impulse of chivalry.

Oh, how I loved that tent! It was so comfy, and dry. We were so prepared, with our rainfly and our little front porch. It was easy to take apart, too, the next morning, when we woke up and hurried to get our remarkable breakfast of bread and cheese and whole tomatoes down before our group left. We were the first ones out, amidst lots of hugs from old friends of my sisters, and from the friars. The music began and we started walking, with a cross and a banner of Our Lady of Czestochowa facing us. She kept her eyes on us-it was amazing how you really felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and Mama Mary as you walked. It was very hilly, but the friars have develeoped a system to get tired pilgrims up a hill. They sing and we dance. It totally works!

The day passed happily. We prayed the liturgy of the hours. Sister Clare gave us a beautiful talk on Mother Teresa and the importantce of the humility of the first step of trust in God.  My main impression was just the sheer amount of joy in my heart. It wasn’t just being on a little getaway from normal life. It wasn’t just the lovely company of my sisters and cheery Franciscans. It wasn’t even the sense of “wow-I’m on pilgrimage! “. The only way I can explain it is to say that it was a little gift from God. It was the gift of joy.  This joy kept me smiling while my hip was injured from uneven pavement, and while my backpack grated against my lower back because my t-shirt kept riding up slightly.  Aches and pains set in around lunchtime (BIG meatball lunch. Also, there were beets. And saurkraut). I waded in a little river with a lot of other folks, and Rachel and I were splashed when some unscrupulous seminarians (thank you, Albaquerque) and novices tossed large rocks into the water. One of the brothers blamed a small girl with pigtails. This gives you an idea of the general atmosphere:  prayer, spiritual talks, and genuinely fun community and fellowship.

Maybe it was because it was starting to hurt a little, but at the river, I realized what my hopes for this pilgrimage were. I wanted to see what needed to be healed in my heart. I wanted joy. I wanted the Lord to deliver me from fear and anxiety. And, I wanted physical healing. I had taken many intentions with me, written on bits of paper.  But on the river bank, I realized why I was on pilgrimage. The Lord wanted me to trust Him to heal me. He wanted me to believe that he could do it. I picked up a smooth stone from the riverbed and prayed. “Lord, I’m taking this rock with me a symbol of all you want to heal, and all I want to leave with your Mother. I’m leaving it at her shrine, and entrusting these intentions to the intercession of John Paul II.”

As the afternoon wore on, we sang, and ran through intersections, and limped. I was beginning to look forward to sitting down in my nice, dry tent and changing my socks. Quite suddenly, a drop or two of rain fell on us. It was still a couple of miles to the farm where we would sleep that night.

To be continued…

 

 

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Pilgrimage and Prayer

Well, folks, I’m off on pilgrimage tomorrow. Right now I’m sitting in my parent’s kitchen in Maryland. Tonight my sisters and I pack our tent and backpacks and head off to exotic Doylestown, Pennsylvania to do part of the annual walking pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. It’s a four day hike, but because I’m a mommy and can’t reasonably go away for that long only to come home and need a day or two to recover, we’re doing two days.

I really feel the need to DO something concrete for God, to say “Life has been difficult, but I still will trust in You.” My goal is to offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for the beautiful life I’ve been given, not to complain about my material (comparative) poverty. I’m leaving a lot of negative traits and general sinful habits at the Shrine. I am taking with me a list of things to give to Mary, and a list of intentions. If you have any, please leave a comment or e-mail me. I’ll add them to the list. Your intentions will be left beneath the image of Our Lady of Czetochowa, and I’ll ask Pope John Paul to pray for them, too.

Pictures and stories will follow! Pray for me! It’s really hard! I’m a little scared!

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On the sabbath we went outside the city gate along the river where we thought there would be a place of prayer. We sat and spoke with the women who had gathered there. One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us.

-Acts 16:13-15

 

Happy feast day! May St. Lydia intercede for us, our households and our priests.

 

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In Colossians St. Paul gives us a manual for how Christians ought to behave. It’s a basic instruction for ordinary Christian living, and it’s a challenge.  In the last few months I’ve been very discouraged by how some serious Catholics present the gospel. The more I hear about the duty for Catholics and other Christians to proclaim the TRUTH  the more I am convinced that in order for any preaching of the Gospel to be  effective the preacher must first and foremost tend his own knitting. There has been a lot of disturbing stuff in the Catholic bubble of late. Many people crying out in anger because Fr. Joe Shmo was accused of such and such, but how could that be true because he was so militantly ORTHODOX and NEVER PULLED HIS PUNCHES, and if you disliked the style you were a HERETIC and probably didn’t believe in MEDJUGORJE either. I can’t begin to say how much this turned me off to Catholics. I shudder to think how it must look to outsiders. The thing is, good preaching is wonderful. Being an out and proud witness for Christ is mandatory. The thing is, so is holiness. Preachers, professional or otherwise, will ultimately bear rotten fruit if they themselves are not seriously pursuing holiness.

Holiness can’t be boiled down to mere orthodoxy. It can’t be boiled down to orthopraxy, either. You can’t be a saint without being orthodox, but you sure can be orthodox without being holy. For example, a man comes out of mass. This person believes every single tenet of the Church, dislikes bad Church music, bad liturgy, and hates blatant sin. He’s a real believer, and he studies up on everything. He then heads down for coffee and doughnuts and talks about how much the priest messed up the rubrics, or  blasts the hierarchy , or spouts the latest and greatest in ecclesiastical gossip. He  spends much of his time presuming guilt, whether it’s the young childless couple who must be contracepting or the annulled and now dating again fellow.  He is generally perceived as a jerk. He’s got all the truth in his head, and a desire to share it, which is good. He just can’t do it in a loving way. As the old saw says, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

It doesn’t matter how much of the Baltimore Catechism we’ve got down, or how beautifully a priest celebrates the mass, or how many kids Mrs. O’Leary has, or how long her skirt is or how many encyclicals Professor Pedant quotes, or how no holds barred Mr. Vox’s  manner is.  If you have not love, it’s just a lot of noise. And the people who need the gospel most are the people who don’t need more noise.

If we  spent time actively pursuing holiness, and attempting to live the way St. Paul says we should live, rather than merely pursuing theological exactitude, we wouldn’t find ourselves in  the horrible positions of feeling like we have to “drive the money changers out of the temple,” a justification which is flawed on many levels. Far too many otherwise well meaning Catholics get so fed up with mealy-mouthed teaching that they get reactionary. They turn into the people for whom orthooxy is the end of the line, when in fact it’s only the beginning.  Perhaps what these “true” Catholics think is that if you think the right things and believe the right things you must therefore be holy and qualified to school sinners. This is a peculiar attitude found primarily in historically puritanical cultures. It’s almost like the folks who say once you assent to Christ as Lord, you’ll never sin again-or at least, you won’t sin big! As though mere right thinking is enough to keep anyone from sinning! St. Peter knew who Jesus was, knew him as a friend, not just as a teacher, knew he was the Son of God, and he screwed up royally. He knew, and fell. So do we all.

Which is why I say that when wondering whether we ought to fraternally correct someone, first ask yourself if you walking in discernment. Are you praying through every encounter with the correctee, or are you just frustrated that he doesn’t get what should be so obvious? Is he merely ignorant, or does he know he’s wrong and do it anyway? The approach is nearly as important as the content, sometimes more so. The right approach will get you a hearing. The wrong will get you kicked to the curb.  Approaching someone in love as a fellow human being, with real struggles, passions, prides and wounds, who, as Aristotle so rationally pointed out, is trying his best to find happiness (even if it’s a false happiness, every human being tries to attain some state of at least human beatitutde) and who in all likelihood, regards pleasure as happiness, the same way most of us spoiled post-moderns do, may make us a little more inclined to be gentle.

I really believe that the question of “when to speak a word of correction” can only be solved if individual Christians who do take their faith seriously didn’t take their intellects quite so seriously, and instead  started looking at whether they act out of LOVE.  You can say true charity doesn’t pull its punches. Not quite. True charity doesn’t feel the need to punch at all. Instead, it embraces and shows the truth. I sat through a hideously unorthodox confirmation prep. I know what it is to be fed pablum in place of the meat and potatoes of the Faith. I’ve gone through my Lydia-the-papist-hammer, foe of protestants and heretics phase. It’s a baby Catholic phase, born out of a zealous, passionate spirit. It’s great insofar as  it forces you to learn the faith, to give a reason for what you believe. But it’s only the beginning. Eventually, the black outlines of the great stained glass of orthodoxy and teaching must be filled in with the intense colors and light of the love of God. Eventually, we surrender more and more of ourselves, our neat little arguments that always uphold the Church, to the reality of the Church as bride. We begin to realize what it means to love Christ as a bride loves her spouse. We fall deeper and deeper in Love, and that transforms us to people who are able to  meet less then orthodox Catholics, and agnostics, and heretics with true love. We’re able to witness by our lives, rather than just by our arguments.

 

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

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