The Power of Pilgrimage

(3 minute read)

The day was finally here. I had studied, packed, and planned. I set my alarm, got up early, and arrived on time. I was ready. 

We boarded the bus and drove north. My classmates and I were off on a long-awaited class trip: we would spend the next several days together touring some of the most iconic places in Italy: Florence, Arezzo, Siena, and Assisi.

As the bus teetered up the steep mountain road to Assisi, I was struck by the simple realness of the place. Even though I felt as excited as a little kid arriving at a theme park, this place was not a stylized interpretation of a fairytale. This was an actual, real life medieval city. Buildings crammed together on narrow, bumpy, winding streets. Churches without heat or air conditioning and very few electric lights. Limited public restrooms. 

And yet, in spite of the lack of modern conveniences, or perhaps because of it, I could sense the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare as soon as we stepped off the bus. 

Learning about St. Francis of Assisi and his good friend St. Clare is one thing. You can read all the books, watch all the YouTube videos, and say all the prayers. But to actually walk the streets that they walked and pray in the chapels where they prayed and look out at the view of the valley below Assisi that they grew up with is a completely different experience. It lends itself to a deeper knowledge of these two great saints, and with that comes a different relationship with them.

So often, people assume that knowing a lot about Jesus will be enough. But knowing about Jesus doesn’t fully satisfy the longing in our hearts for a relationship with him. We can read the right books and say the right words and do the right things, but without a personal encounter with the living God we won’t be able to have the richly deep relationship that we are all longing for. 

Like physically going on a pilgrimage to a holy place, there is something fundamentally different about encountering Jesus personally. An encounter with the Lord makes Jesus real to us. And it leaves us forever changed. 

After that trip, I never related to St. Francis or St. Clare the same way again. They were no longer abstract ideas but real people who lived in a real medieval town on top of a tall mountain in the middle of a beautiful countryside. They are now my friends. 

The same is true of God: when we encounter His truth, beauty, and goodness with open hearts we come to know in the depths of our souls that God is a real, living person rather than just an abstract idea. And with that knowledge comes a desire to respond and live in relationship with Him in this life and forever in the next.

You don’t have to book a flight to a faraway holy site to encounter the Lord. He is with us always, calling to us in each moment, desiring a relationship with us. This week, may we ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and our hearts so that we are ready to respond when we encounter the Lord in the pilgrimage of our daily lives. 

Photo of Assisi: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Assisi_Plains_South_Perugia_Italy_Sep19_D72_12040.jpg

Painting of Sts. Clare and Francis:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/5061291490CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Written by Catherine Sullivan

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