If you’ve been following me on social media, you know that I recently concluded my project, Marian Pilgrimage: Discovering Mary Across the USA and turned in the manuscript for the resulting book entitled, My Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena (A Marian Pilgrimage Across America).
The project was an awesome journey for me, and a true gift from God. I met many amazing people, had astounding experiences, and visited incredible places of grace from which our Blessed Mother Mary carries on her mission of leading the world to Christ. It was at times nerve-racking, grueling, once or twice a bit scary, and even at times frustrating – especially when mr. nasty guy dug his grubby little mitts into my plans and equipment. Clearly, he was not pleased with my project! Above all, it was a joyful journey filled with memories and insights from which I have grown spiritually.
But, was it fun? No. It wasn’t fun in the way most people mean it. During every trip, well-meaning folk sent to me messages and emails recommending popular attractions that I should see while I was in the area. :Oh, you can’t miss this…Oh, you can’t miss that…” Their intentions were pure and generous and touched my heart because it showed that they were really into my project! What a blessing!
I thanked them, but kept to my Marian Pilgrimage itinerary. Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve loved to take in all the extras, especially since the opportunity might not present itself again. I certainly appreciated my surroundings wherever I went and learned what I could as I went along. America is packed with great places and great people who have great stories to tell and I would’ve loved to enjoy whatever I could of it. However, I was on pilgrimage, not vacation.
And what is a pilgrimage, really? It’s a holy journey to a sacred destination with the purpose of atoning for one’s sins, living a spiritual experience, imploring graces, and even miracles with the ultimate goal of drawing closer to God. For that reason, a pilgrimage should “cost” something in terms of self-imposed hardships that require a level of sacrifice.
The Catholic Church encourages us to go on pilgrimage to advance our spiritual maturity.
“Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal in prayer. For pilgrims seeking living water, shrines are special places for living the forms of Christian prayer.” (CCC, 2691)
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once gave a beautiful definition of pilgrimage.
“To go on pilgrimages is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art, or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.” (Benedict XVI, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella, 2010)
For me, Marian Pilgrimage was a way to step out of myself and to encounter God through the beautiful being he created to bear his Son – the Blessed Virgin Mary. Additionally, I wanted to be focused entirely on that encounter so that I could re-create it for you in the pages of My Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena. I didn’t want fun; I wanted sacrifice, sacrifice that I offered for my readers and for our country so that we could fall more deeply in love with our Blessed Mother and reunite and reclaim the United States for her and her Son.
Admittedly, there also was a personal reason I kept primarily to my state of pilgrimage. I had to conduct most of the trips on my own, leaving my beloved husband behind at home, holding up the fort. I would’ve preferred to have him along but that was not financially nor logistically feasible. As it was, Marian Pilgrimage caused us significant debt since it was entirely self-funded! Believe me, my husband encouraged me to have fun and enjoy myself along the way, but without him, I just couldn’t do it.
About halfway through Marian Pilgrimage, someone remarked to me, “Boy! You must be having a blast on all these trips!” The assumption was that I was living the high life as I traveled. Well, in one way it was a “high life” because it was definitely a heavenly journey during which I felt especially close to our Blessed Mother and particularly wrapped in God’s Divine Providence. And, in one way I did have a “blast,” because it was exciting for me to discover – for you – at least nine of the remarkable places dedicated to Mary throughout our great nation.
Fun? No. Joyful? Absolutely.