On July 4, we celebrated the 246th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Resounding through history from 1776 until now are the words the document rightly declares as truth: that each person is endowed by their Creator—God—the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Through the Holy Spirit-inspired words of the Bible, we Christians know the true meaning of those rights. Without God there is no life, for it is He who “gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25). Liberty is found by aligning our will with God’s and striving to live holy lives, lives free from “the yoke of slavery” to sin (Gal 5:1). And the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of God, for “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord” (Ps 144:15).
Seeking God is a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute search. We seek Him in Mass and in the sacraments. We seek Him in the private reading of and reflection on Scripture and in Bible studies with others. We seek Him through prayer, sometimes in the quiet of adoration and sometimes in quick aspirations offered in times of stress. These efforts are a constant part of our our crazy-busy lives.
But sometimes, God invites us to pursue Him away from the frenetic pace of our regular routine. Sometimes He calls us away to focus our pursuit through an extra-ordinary experience. Sometimes He calls us on pilgrimage.
Pilgrimages provide special freedoms of their own to help us grow closer to God. On pilgrimage, there is liberation from daily distractions and stress—work, cooking, cleaning, taxiing kids, juggling schedules, even watching the evening news. Just show up when and where you’re asked, and the guides and drivers take it from there.
Shed of such daily responsibilities, pilgrims are free to seek and hear God in one-of-a-kind ways. Perhaps it’s during a moving confession in Medjugorje. Maybe it’s during Mass with the Pope and several million peers at World Youth Day. It might be looking upon the burial site of St. Peter in Rome or in conversing with companions on the Camino de Santiago. It could be in considering the role of evangelization while following St. Paul’s journey through Greece. Or perhaps it’s in touching the site of Christ’s crucifixion, contemplating His unfathomable love and gift of our salvation.
Every Christian is a pilgrim seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—in other words, seeking God. When He calls us to leave our daily routines and focus on Him through a specific pilgrimage experience, may we free our hearts to say “yes” to Him in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
(Natalie Hoefer is a reporter for The Criterion, the paper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and is a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.)