Pilgrimage: A journey to a sacred place.
Last Sunday, I went on a small pilgrimage. Although, I hadn’t planned it as such. The week before I was troubled about Summer plans. In January, I had committed to a volunteer position for a week in July that involves a bit of preparation and training. The question of whether or not the event would be cancelled was weighing on me as well as the question of whether or not I felt safe enough for me to still be involved. I’d be working with a good sized group.
With all of the changes in the world, my priorities and day to day have shifted, and I didn’t want to commit time and energy to something that was likely to be cancelled.
My stomach in knots, I turned to the Rosary and prayed that the issue would be swiftly and gently resolved. There are others that you can ask for their aid in swift resolution, but for the gentle part I needed a mother.
I did not promise anything in return, but as I prayed along the beads I got the image of four dark red roses sitting at the foot of the Blessed Mother’s statue, and knew that if my prayer was answered, I would need to make this offering at one of her shrines.
A few days later, the organizer requested a conference call with key volunteers. He let us know about a location change, and we also discussed if we could safely pull it off. The door was open for backing out, and after a night of sleeping on it, I went through that door. I let them know that I could help with some preparation, if it still goes forward, but will not be at the event.
The knots in my stomach undone, there was just one thing left to do – find an open shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every church that I’ve been in has a spot for the Holy Mother. It’s usually somewhere off to the side. There are candles that you can light for a small donation and kneelers if you want to pray. Easy to pop in and pop out. But now, the churches are locked. I needed to find a place that has a shrine outside and accessible.
My husband reminded me of a shrine near a parish hall that hosted a scout event. I wasn’t sure if it would be open. The statue was located behind the church and the school, behind the school gates. With everything closed would I still be able to reach it? I decided to give it a shot.
I told him my plans to walk there and make the offering, and he mentioned that it’s a pilgrimage. I hadn’t realized until that moment that it was. The thought that I could walk outside my front door be on a pilgrimage excited me and got me into the right mindset.
I picked the four roses from the garden, wrapped them in wet paper towels and a cup, and went on my way. It was hot, and I said Hail Marys as I walked to the church. It was about a mile away.
It certainly felt like a pilgrimage. My neighborhood is almost a foreign place now. Everyone crosses the street to keep distance and pulls up their face coverings when we pass. There were numerous signs in front yards congratulating graduating seniors who will not be able to collect diplomas on stage in front of their family and friends.
After getting a little lost, I found my way to the Church. The driveway to the back was closed with the gates locked shut. I eagerly walked to the front and climbed the stairs hoping that there would be an open way to the back. At the top of the stairs, I saw a gate slightly open, and tears sprung to my eyes.
I don’t cry easily. I’ve got too many Scorpio and Capricorn placements for the emotions to rise to the point of actual tears, but there they were. Thank goodness I had my sunglasses on because I met a man as I walked through the gate. He was holding a Rosary and walking around praying. He told me that the gate was open everyday for those who want to come and pray.
After chatting for a couple of minutes, I made my way to the shrine. It was directly across from the gate. A statue of the Virgin holding the baby Jesus on her hip. She is tucked in a stone grotto painted light blue on the inside with some stairs leading up. The little area is fenced, and I opened a low gate to go inside.
Just a few days after May Day, the Lady was still crowned with flowers and flowers all around her. I was not the only one to make a pilgrimage there. I sat on the steps thinking about how I know what it feels like to hold a child like that. How your body shifts to support theirs. After more tears and some prayers, I made my offering and went back home feeling elated. I didn’t realize how much I needed her consolation until I was there. It was deeply moving and completely unexpected. I left feeling that in her all things are possible.
These are rough times, but I’m grateful for this experience because I don’t think that I would have ever thought to do this in mild times. Maybe I would have driven to a church, dropped off the flowers while saying a quick prayer and rushing on to the next thing. Maybe I would have not even thought to ask for her help in the first place. I certainly didn’t think to ask for consolation, but was open to circumstances that put me there to receive it.
Almost a week now after the pilgrimage, and I still feel uplifted and optimistic. I’m looking closely for the possibilities that are all around me, and I feel the gentle hand of the mother.