It has been exactly 2 years, 9 months, and 4 days since my last pilgrimage.
In May of 2019, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit the Holy Land with my home parish. Looking back, it was such an easy journey – without the burden of COVID restrictions and new policies, it seems unbelievable that at one point we could just hop on a plane and go anywhere with few consequences or obstacles.
This pilgrimage was a beautifully fruitful one; it’s this pilgrimage I pondered when the following Easter, due to the pandemic, I celebrated alone and away from my family. It’s the pilgrimage that helped me see more concretely the life our Lord lived, the suffering he endured, and the intense love He displayed on the cross.
Ever since my first pilgrimage to India in 2015, pilgrimage has become a regular occurrence in my life. Shortly after returning from the Holy Land, I was already planning my next great adventure – a pilgrimage to Poland and Germany in May of 2020. Needless to say, that pilgrimage never panned out, and had to be put further back on the backburner due to continued restrictions. But my desire for adventure, rest, and deep prayer was soon satisfied when the opportunity to travel to Medjugorje this March opened up.
The invitation for this pilgrimage came out of nowhere, but in the great providence of God, came exactly when I needed it to. A year of isolation followed by a year of catching up for time lost left me hungry for the stability of God’s voice in my life. With the details of my hopes for the future getting fuzzy and my faith life at a seeming standstill, I knew this was the perfect time for me to go to this holy site that had been on my list of places to go for several years. With almost no hesitation, I was all in for this journey to Medjugorje.
Now that I’m only a couple of days away from departure, my heart is dead set on preparing for the experience that awaits me. I’m pondering the intentions I want at the center of my prayer and the answers that I hope to receive after many days engulfed in silence and worship. Not only do I hope to get something while I’m away, but I know that I also must give something. I must belong to Christ, I must be prepared to hear His voice. I need to make myself capable of grasping the truth and the love that He desires to freely place into my hands. I need to begin that journey now, and to be honest, God was already inviting me on that journey when I first was invited to Medjugorje.
A pilgrimage is more than a vacation, it’s more than an opportunity for exotic travel and fun memories. A pilgrimage is an invitation – an invitation to grow, to rest, to be bathed in the love of God. The way in which we receive this invitation is completely up to us – how prepared will I be to comprehend the gifts that are going to be bestowed upon me? As my pilgrimage to Medjugorje draws nearer and nearer, here are the things that I am placing daily in my life so that I can enter more prayerfully into my time away (and things that you, too, can practice when you go on your next holy adventure):
What do I want from this pilgrimage?
Are there answers you’ve been trying to find, wounds you’ve been trying to heal? What is the driving force that is making you seek more clearly the voice of God? Have this detail in mind, and bring it up in prayer, asking the Lord for His guidance on this matter specifically.
Prayer and Fasting
While prayer is practiced and encouraged in our daily lives, fasting has become somewhat of a lost art. In fasting, we are separated from the comforts of life that can sometimes be a buffer between ourselves and the Lord. With the worldly satisfaction of food and fullness eliminated for a day, we are called to rely more fully on the Lord and are more open to His voice. Practicing these two things in combination before a pilgrimage can be a great help in readying yourself for the quiet whispers and revelations that are awaiting you.
Journaling has been a part of my prayer life for several years now. Oftentimes the most fruitful thing to come from journaling is looking back at months past and seeing the ways in which the Lord has answered and directed my prayers and life. Journaling before, during, and after a pilgrimage can help keep your thoughts in order and can help you realize the less dramatic ways that the Lord has been forming your heart and constantly providing what you need.
One of my most favorite pilgrimage practices is asking those around me how I can pray for them while I’m away. I am always surprised by the people who reach out and ask for me to keep their petitions close. The vulnerability that many of my close friends and not-so-close acquaintances share with me is quite beautiful and allows me to practice deeper compassion for the wounds and worries of their hearts. Another favorite practice of mine is bringing notecards along with me and writing a note in the place where I specifically prayed for them and then delivering that to them upon my return to the U.S.
Though not the most exciting part of pilgrimage preparation for me, it is definitely one of the most important. Being in a state of grace is imperative when making any effort to grow nearer to the heart of Christ and can allow you to walk away with the small healings that may be necessary to encounter Christ more fully. As a bonus, you can ask the priest in the confessional for a quick blessing on the way out, for protection and special graces as you begin your pilgrimage.