Life is interesting. Mine has been blessed with opportunity, something I sometimes take for granted and even neglect at times.
As a cradle Catholic, I have been blessed with a strong network of family and friends who share my faith and have helped to nurture it. My mom is a cradle Catholic. My dad is a convert (often among the most firm in their faith, in my opinion). My grandmother ran a religious goods store, was an outspoken pro-lifer, and even hosted a Catholic talk show on local TV.
My grandmother's work in media, along with my own love of movies, kindled in me a desire to work in the media industry. I began taking classes at a local community college and started my first full-time job at a Catholic fulfillment company in Sycamore, IL. There, my work included handling and shipping Catholic literature, movies, and faith formation programs.
I was regularly working with religious goods – just as my grandmother had years before. My co-workers were nice. The content I came in daily contact with was intriguing. It showcased the breadth and depth of Catholic literature and social teaching. And a great perk of the workplace was the opportunity to pray with Our Lord several times during the day in the second floor chapel. Clearly Someone was letting me know that faith and career need not be mutually exclusive.
After this summer of enlightenment, I headed to Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. I had not put much prayer or discernment into choosing Benedictine. My parents deemed the college agreeable for furthering not only my education but my faith as well, and I was willing to go with the flow. However, it did meet the one criterion I insisted upon: I wanted a higher education which would contribute to a deepening of my faith. This was the desire close to my heart which I held on to.
Throughout the summer, I received questions and encouragement from peers and loving adults. I found affirmation in respected friends or relatives who had attended Benedictine – a friend of the family’s daughter, even an old youth group leader. It seemed as though everyone I met had ties to Benedictine College. A few days before I left, a priest informed me that the FOCUS missionaries originated there – a group I had just read about. The vast array of connections back to my local area was comforting.
Even though I hadn’t put a lot of thought into choosing a college, God did. He gave me the grace and put the people I needed in my path to affirm the decision.
Another one of the places I have found such grace is on pilgrimage. A pilgrimage engages body, mind, and soul and offers the pilgrim a deeper appreciation for his faith and for the way God works in the lives of ordinary people. A pilgrim takes in extraordinary sights, employing the physical senses to heighten the spiritual senses. One admires and appreciates art, architecture, and relics – tangible reminders of the beautiful relationships between God and His children who came before us.
During a pilgrimage to Italy, my family and I walked in the footsteps and visited the burial places of many great saints. Last year my mom and brother made a pilgrimage to Ireland, the “land of saints and scholars,” which is especially appropriate since my brother is now in seminary. Our family also hopes to pilgrimage to Poland in the near future.
A pilgrimage is more than a mere walk from Point A to Point B. A pilgrimage is a learning experience and a period of spiritual growth and renewal. In some sense, my time at Benedictine College thus far has been a pilgrimage, a chance for deepening and strengthening my Catholic roots. Relics such as those of Pope St. John Paul II and St. John Vianney have visited the college during my time there, and they have been such a blessing. Perpetual adoration at St. Benedict's Parish and a campus Bible study have also enlivened my relationship with Christ.
Life is a path, and every stepping stone along the way is an opportunity for conversion. Christ in the Eucharist serves as the life-giving source sustaining us on our travels. Our mortal existence on this earth is a pilgrimage toward life everlasting; every moment an opportunity for getting closer to our heavenly destination.