A few days ago, a memory popped up on my phone. It was a picture of a small group of pilgrims, myself included, enjoying ice cream in a little shop on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, exactly eight years ago. That afternoon before enjoying our ice cream, we (a total of 49 of us) had arrived in the city upon finishing the Camino Ingles, one route of the ancient Camino de Santiago.
After Santiago, we traveled to Fatima and had a relaxing retreat-like experience for a few days to end our pilgrimage. It was here I heard one of the most profound homilies on Mary as our Mother from our priest spiritual director, just one of many grace-filled moments of this experience. We arrived home on July 3rd of that year, and I promptly struggled through one of the most difficult weekends of that year. Returning from such a close encounter with God turned out to be more challenging than I expected. I threw myself into work by picking up extra shifts, long naps (which I blamed on the jet lag), and trying to spend as much time holding onto the memories and the closeness I felt while in such holy places. Daily Mass with some of my fellow pilgrims surely helped, as did researching my next Camino!
Each year I get a little nostalgic when I see these pictures pop up, and this year it seems to be even stronger. Like many, I had international plans postponed from 2020, initially to this year, but now not until 2022. In the spring, I was to go to the passion play in Oberammergau – a dream of mine for over 15 years. Last fall would have been a working pilgrimage to Israel and Jordan. But international travel is not meant to be for me this year.
However, this year I am not going to try to run away from these nostalgic feelings or ignore longing for a deeper encounter with Christ and His Body, the Church. For they do point to a greater good. This life is but a steppingstone to the next, and each experience one more stop on my pilgrimage of faith.
Also, next week I will be embarking on another pilgrimage of sorts, one I haven’t been able to take in over a year and a half. Tomorrow, I will be returning to my hometown, where I will get to attend Mass at the parish church where I received all my sacraments of initiation, and, most importantly, visit with my family and childhood friends. While it isn’t what most would consider a traditional pilgrimage, it does reflect what a pilgrimage is all about. For any pilgrimage is a journey that draws us closer to God and our heavenly home. And the first place I was introduced to Him was in the very places and through the very people I will be visiting next week.