When my husband and I got married we were blessed to meet the now-Saint John Paul II in person. I wore my wedding dress and Pope John Paul II made the Sign of the Cross over us, took our hands in his, and gave us a nod. It will forever be seared in our memory as one of the best moments of our life.
It happened that our honeymoon coincided with Thanksgiving Day while we were in Rome. We found so much to be grateful for in Rome, however, on Thanksgiving Day, we both felt a bit odd. The Italians do not celebrate Thanksgiving. No one in Europe does as it is a distinctive American celebration. Old habits of celebration die hard and we were going to miss our mashed potatoes, sliced turkey, and pumpkin pie. We had never been away from home on Thanksgiving Day and it would be the first time in our lives that we had never celebrated the holiday.
Blessedly, a friend who was studying for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome made sure we got a traditional American Thanksgiving meal. We felt settled again. We were relieved to be with other Americans in Rome celebrating our great feast of Thanksgiving. It was a Thanksgiving to remember for another special reason. That morning, we got to tour the Sistine Chapel, where the popes are chosen under Michelangelo’s magnificent scenes depicting God and human nature. God’s gift to us that Thanksgiving was that there was only one other person inside the Sistine Chapel when we showed up.
We had the Sistine Chapel essentially to ourselves! Afterwards, we ate Thanksgiving dinner with wonderful men studying for the priesthood including the traditional turkey and mashed potatoes. We were counting our blessings all day long and have continued to be grateful for them as we approach our 17th wedding anniversary.
That’s how blessings work. God gives them to us before we even think of thanking Him for them. He sings over us when we think there is nothing worth singing about. I’ve received many blessings by going on pilgrimages. I didn’t seek them out – God always decided which ones were best for me. I’ve found that is the most exciting way to get them. God always has something in store for you when you pilgrimage. What has happened to me on pilgrimages has provided reflection for years. I’ve lived on those journeys and I reach back to them in good times and in bad. I’ve seen how God works our good in all things and even the little things like wishing for a Thanksgiving meal in Rome!