As you know, the Superiors of religious communities and their novices were invited to the Canonization mass of St. Junipero Serra with Pope Francis at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC two weeks ago and S. Marlene and I accepted the invitation. We had a smooth and hassle free trip all the way from the monastery garage door in Watertown, SD to Reagan Nat’l Airport. With help on the ground there from S. Marlene’s niece and her husband who live and work in the greater DC, area every detail from lodging to commuting around the many road closures was attended to so that we could enjoy our short time there to the fullest.
The morning of the Canonization mass we headed to the Metro from our downtown hotel, with our prized entry tickets in hand to the campus of Catholic University arriving at about 9:45am or so with a relatively small contingent of others who were ready to start passing through the understandably tight security provided by the TSA, Metro Police, Secret Service and Homeland Security. Our tickets had us entering through the “Purple Gate via Harewood Rd, NE” which on the map, looked pretty simple and not too far from the Metro…unless the Secret Service closes a major road. And close one they did.
We inched along in the queue thinking we were making our way to the purple gate but were turned away from the Orange Gate, the Red Gate, and the Yellow Gate (we DID NOT even attempt the Green Gate!), were shuffled here, there and around this now very secure campus perimeter. We didn’t really know where we were going because we didn’t have a map but followed behind excited seminarians, young novices and the religious men and women in charge of them. But not all trekkers were moving quickly.
The Catholic U blue-shirted ushers did their best to relieve all the concerns about the unexpected trek through road construction and neighborhoods that took us up & down steep hills toward the now elusive “Purple Gate.” Each time we asked they kept saying “It isn’t too far now, you are almost there.” We encountered those who were hobbling because of poor health or “mature-aged” legs. We stopped several times in the shade to rest or sip water and talk to others. Little did we know that this detour would end up being almost three miles and that S. Marlene’s mature-aged legs would come to know it.
At about the half-way point while inching our way up a pretty steep hill we looked at each other and said almost in unison, “This is a pilgrimage now.” We wondered about and prayed for the bent over couple who held hands as they slowly hobbled along to see our Holy Father, the many elderly religious we had passed by who couldn’t keep up with their young charges and the man who had tripped on a ragged sidewalk receiving a head injury serious enough for an ambulance call. We prayed they all would make it to the Basilica in time to be cleared by security for mass. Soon enough we started to recall out loud our sisters at home who were in need of prayer, healing or just struggling in some way. This recognition of the struggles, pain, needs, and efforts of others helped us both in small ways: S. Marlene with taking the next step and me not to worry so much about her.
Our trip had morphed into something unexpected and had taken on new meaning. Even though we finally arrived at the elusive “Purple Gate,” passed through security several hours later, got some food and made it to our “appointed sections and ticketed seats” the reality was (and still is) we had arrived, but the pilgrimage was not over. This trip was one leg of the pilgrimage each of our hearts embarks on the day we are baptized and WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW THE THE TRIP TURNS OUT.
When we think about the word pilgrimage it may bring to mind scenes of an arduous journey with much hardship or sacrifice, but with a great reward and sometimes that is true. S. Marlene and I were inconvenienced and sore but it was not a horrible hardship or an arduous sacrifice. Rather, it was a challenging privilege to travel as representatives of our community carrying the struggles, pain, needs, and efforts of others along with us. But that is what we are called to each and everyday, isn’t it? Carrying others lovingly with us in our hearts, in our prayer as a pilgrim people fully responsible for how it “all turns out.”
In one of his letters, Saint Augustine reminds us that “not by journeying but by loving we draw near to God. To Him who is everywhere present and everywhere entire we approach not by our feet but by our hearts” (Ep. clv, 672, in P. L. XXXII) I am blessed to have journeyed on varied pilgrimages, some arduous, physically and others an all-out spiritual hardship. While it is a privilege and a blessing go to faraway places that inspire, sharing it with others of importance, we don’t need to travel all over to encounter God, to have a movement of great magnitude within us. No. It is seeking God, encountering God in each leg of our pilgrimage that spurs the restless heart onward to journeys end all the while acknowledging we are the one responsible for how it all turns out.