A dear friend and I were talking about our upcoming summer travels. She was taking a mission trip to Africa. I was traveling to the decidedly first-world locations of England, France and Ireland.
“It’s a pilgrimage,” I explained, “like an old-fashioned, medieval pilgrimage—but, well, with planes.”
She gave me a very gracious but confused smile, and I just felt so lame. Why should I go on a pilgrimage instead of a mission trip? Wasn’t my friend doing more good with her trip than I would be with mine?
In a world that expects to see obvious marks of faith in acts of service, it can be hard to discern the value in spending time and money at shrines and apparition sites. This makes cultivating the virtue of faith, a virtue with invisible rewards, just as vital as performing Corporal Works of Mercy. Here are ways a pilgrimage made as a sincere act of faith is time and money well-spent.
5 Ways to Make Your Pilgrimage an Act of Faith
- Make it about relationship. Are you afraid your pilgrimage just looks like a thinly veiled vacation? A vacation with Jesus can do the same thing for you as a vacation with a spouse: clear away everyday distractions, make space to renew affection between each other, and make good memories together. Such memories can nourish spouses through the ups and downs of a relationship. Your relationship with Christ deserves such nourishment, too.
- Choose the better portion. We live in a Martha world. It’s so easy to find ourselves “burdened with much serving.” A pilgrimage draws us simply to sit and listen at the feet of Jesus. Such time-wasting with God also can prevent us from thinking we can ever out-serve Him.
- Make it a gift for your Father who sees in secret. Believe it or not, the Corporal Works of Mercy often have the danger of pride lurking around the corner. Meanwhile, it can look selfish to take a pilgrimage. Unlike the Corporal, the Spiritual works, like those undertaken on a pilgrimage, are done mostly in secret, where Jesus promises that your heavenly father sees and will reward you.
- Be grateful for your part. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul instructs us that we are one body in Christ with many parts, and each part does something different. If your friend’s part is to do something visibly charitable, but your part right now is invisible and spiritual, that does not lessen either Christian’s part in Christ’s goodness.
Who says you can’t do both? Find some act of service to do while you’re on your pilgrimage. Locate a food cupboard or equivalent and make a donation. Find a parish church in the region you’ll be visiting and provide them a gift card or equivalent to a local (non-touristy) clothing store. Visit a cemetery and pick up any trash you may find. Practice patience towards your fellow pilgrims.
Whether short-term mission work or inner-mission work, travel of any kind is humbling. When we step away from home and follow where Jesus calls, whether that’s France or Africa, we open our hands for gifts untold. Sometimes those gifts are for others. Sometimes they’re for our own needy hearts. If a pilgrimage is your gift today, embrace it in faith!
Erin McCole Cupp is a homeschooling Catholic mom and lay Dominican. While she lives in the Philadelphia countryside with her husband and three children, she is a Pilgrim at heart, always journeying closer to Christ and the Catholic faith.