Monday, August 11, 2014

Reflections on the Walking Pilgrimage to Czestochowa

Yesterday my two kids and I returned from a four day walking pilgrimage from Great Meadows, NJ to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. I was really excited about it, with more than a little apprehension about whether I could physically handle it, or whether my kids would either be crushed or complain bitterly against me for suggesting we do this.

They both loved it. My asthmatic daughter had not one breathing problem. Everyone was tired, but no one complained. I don't want to use the cliche "it was amazing," because really, it was walking. And praying. And sleeping in tents with a couple thousand people doing the same within inches of you. And lining up for porta potties. And eating more wheat than I have in a long time. And being in the hot sun. And no longer caring what you look like. And thinking a chance for both water AND soap in significant quantities is luxurious. And remembering the pain of not understanding the language at Mass, but experiencing how rich it actually makes you feel to suck all the life out of the one bit you do understand.

The whole thing was a grace, and an offering of love.

Things confirmed to me:

i) The key to joy in life is penance. Penance is suffering experienced and offered back to God out of love for Him and for someone else. Like King David said in 2 Sam. 24:24, offering something to God that doesn't cost you anything doesn't cut it. If you want to tell God you love Him, let it cost you your comfort. If you want to tell God you love someone and you want Him to work in them, let it cost you your comfort. Love costs and love seeks to give of itself. When we habitually live for our comforts our lives become grey and empty.

ii) Witnessing to Jesus means telling Him we love Him, in public, so someone else sees and hears. Maybe it isn't the literal act of walking through the streets and singing "I love you Jesus," like we did, but doing that literal act makes it all the clearer in my mind that corporal and spiritual works of mercy are simply ways we tell Jesus we love Him. It is possible, of course, to do right things for wrong reasons, and going through the streets singing about how we love God is a great way to hose out dead stuff.

iii) Other people are really, really important, but they aren't God. And if "people" take up positions in our hearts that need to be filled by God, they are idols and we are idolaters. Only God can purify our hearts and make them at home with Him so that we do not have to bend to whatever our culture demands as the social idolatry du jour. Only God gives us freedom to love people authentically. And true love calls for courage to be different.


There was a moment when I felt grace ripping through my heart right towards the end of the pilgrimage. We were getting ready for our last turn up to the Shrine, and the CFR friar musicians who were leading us with music broke out into this, sung to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama":

Sweet Home Czestochowa
Where the Lady's dressed in blue
Sweet Home Czestochowa
Mom, I'm coming home to you

Now, doing this sort of thing, changing words to pop/rock songs, was the first real way I prayed as a kid. It's just sooo liturgically incorrect! But it's such a pure expression of joy and love, in a nitty-gritty and childlike way for me. I just wept with the joy of being able to be me, asserting *me* into relationship with the Blessed Mother, and by extension, with God, just as I am with all my uniquity. It was like I realized I am fulfilling a desire of God when I am fully me. And that is mind blowing.

The bottom line is: you should do this pilgrimage thing, too. Follow the Lord in penance with people proclaiming how much they love God. It isn't about doing anything perfectly. It's about doing it. And you know what they say about how God is never outdone in generosity. That part's true.

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