As the season of spring is upon us, it is easier to remember that the earth is like a sister with whom we share our lives. Grass is a verdant green, flowers bloom and grace the landscape, fragrances tickle our noses, and blue skies with soft white clouds abound. Chaucer wrote in The Canterbury Tales that during this season our hearts and souls awaken and people long to go on Pilgrimages.
And, for myself and others that is true. Whether we call it cabin fever or just feel it is time to leave our homes, many of us desire to get outdoors, garden, walk, meditate, and enjoy the grace of God’s glory. I finally had the opportunity to complete a pilgrimage that I had enrolled in and paid for well over two years ago. Covid delayed the trip, but with vaccines and booster shots in place, our group from St. Meinrad’s under the leadership of newly ordained Fr. Simon Herrmann was ready to begin our journey to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany on May 10, 2022.
Bearing in mind the themes of Laudato Si authored by Pope Francis, I was looking forward to the challenge of praying, reflecting, and acting in accord with taking time for God. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents were from the regions of Poland and Germany, and I anticipated walking in their footsteps. For myself, it was like a journey’s end since none of them ever returned to their homeland, and now I was able to complete the circle and revisit their
countries of birth. I believe that self-care involves being alert to our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. Unless we care for ourselves first, it is obvious that we cannot fully extend quality care to others and our environment. Self-care involves taking time to do for ourselves what is necessary to bring forward the gifts that we hold for others. This is not selfish, but a requirement in giving since an empty container has nothing to share, but one that is filled with many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit has ample abundance for ourselves and others. On this pilgrimage I met many people from various walks of life eager to be of service, and helpful to others in need. Group effort and support made the hardness of the journey lessen, and the joys and memories increase.
We visited shrines and locations that I had heard about all my life and now I would see in person. The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, known as the Queen of Poland, Wadowice, the birthplace of Fr. Karol Wojtyla, later known as Pope Saint John Paul II, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the Shrine of Divine Mercy and St. Faustina, the Infant Jesus of Prague, and the Bavarian Alps and Oberammergau, site of the Passion Play. In ten short days, these highlights are a lot to take in, but in taking time for myself, I was also taking time for God and nourishing my body with locations and devotions that hold significance for many Catholics.
In retrospect, it is a pilgrimage that I will remember for a lifetime and more than that, I now better understand how and why these locations are venerated and visited today. Being mindful of our surroundings, also helps us better understand Pope Francis’ message once again in Laudato Si. Our ecology is fragile, and the people of the earth share a responsibility for her care. Europeans conserve more than we do in the United States. Their practices support
cleanliness, conservation, and clean-up. Three C’s we can all remember to practice in these challenging times for Mother Earth. Steams we passed were clean and clearly visible down to the rocks and fish at the bottom. The air was crisp and fragrant, and little pollution was seen in the skies of large cities. People congregated in town squares, yet litter and garbage had its place. Water was readily available but treated like the significant drink it is and usually ordered from the menu as still or with gas. Little things do add up to make a big difference for everyone and cleanliness not only supports the appearance of the landscape, but our health as well. Spiritually, I was moved by the devotions of many of the local and international pilgrims. Daily, we had Mass and in the short sermons we were reminded that we need to focus on the “main thing” always and be ready to be pruned to have our branches ready to bear good fruit. Short, significant messages that enabled everyone on the pilgrimage to help others in a mindful and physical manner. From lending a hand while walking on cobblestone streets, to helping with luggage, to offering a drink, sharing a good find at a shop, enjoying meals together, praying for good results on Covid testing, and finally making the wait times at airports pleasant by sharing life stories, and backgrounds all enhanced the good times of the journey together.
Life itself is a pilgrimage. You do not have to journey to Europe to find daily opportunities to expand yourself in Body, Mind, and Spirit. Eat healthy, take a walk, reflect on a Saint’s life, and transform yourself and your environment by consciously appreciating the gift we are given in Mother Earth. We are the microcosm of the macrocosm. It makes sense that if we get ourselves
right, we will then contribute positively to making the world right. Begin at the beginning, and that is with each of us. In order to foresee and create a world that holds the vision of the Creator and not the vision of a culture intent on selling us the next best thing, we must first imagine what that could look like. Stop, observe, pray and act in the manner that each of us would want to leave as a legacy for all those who follow in our footsteps. Then, work to make it so.