In the summer of 2018, I boarded a plane to Poland. I’d signed up for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ pilgrimage with the Sisters of Life. The trip would be a two-week long journey, following in the footsteps of Saint John Paul II and his papal pilgrimage to Poland. I didn’t know any of the other women on the trip, and I didn’t know what to expect.
The week prior to leaving, our trip chaplain, Father Jonathan, sent us an email with some instruction and thoughts about the pilgrimage, including this quote from Pope Benedict XVI’s first papal publication:
“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” Deus Caritas Est 1.
Before I left for Poland, I thought I knew God. I was a cradle Catholic. I read theological texts. I had lengthy apologetics discussions. I made it to daily Mass as much as I could. But over the fourteen days in Poland, I encountered Jesus.
Whether or not we are able to make a physical pilgrimage, we are all called to live as pilgrims. During Mass, the priest’s words remind us that we are “a pilgrim church on earth.” We are journeying to our true home: Heaven. Living as a pilgrim means shifting our perspective toward eternity. Here are five ways to make an everyday pilgrimage.
- Carry specific intentions
Before leaving for Poland, Father Jonathan reminded us that “we never make a pilgrimage simply for ourselves.” He instructed us to ask our family and friends for prayer intentions that we would bring on our pilgrimage.
We are called to live for others, to lay down our lives for those around us. One simple way to do this is by praying for specific people around you. Ask them about what’s going on in their lives, and how you can pray about it -- and then actually pray for them by name. I find it helpful to physically write down a list of people and their intentions.
2. Look for God
Going on pilgrimage heightened my awareness of the divine. Normal, everyday encounters like chatting with the waiter at a restaurant or saying hello to a stranger in passing seemed invested with meaning and significance. I was constantly looking for God in the people I met and the interactions I had.
Cultivate an awareness of God by looking for him during your day -- even in the most mundane circumstances. Brother Lawrence says, “practice the presence of God.” Whether you’re finishing your laundry, or doing homework, or walking to class, look for the presence of God around you.
3. Make prayer a habit
I spent much more time in prayer on pilgrimage than I ever had at home. Between daily Mass, a holy hour, long bus rides, and plenty of free time in between, I was easily spending two to four hours per day in prayer and silent reflection.
At first, this felt like a lot. Mass every day?! An entire hour of silence before me? What more could I possibly have to say to God? I realized that it wasn’t about me saying anything more to God, or even getting something out of Mass or holy hour. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “prayer...is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends.” And friends who can sit in silence together are the best friends of all.
Prayer is habitual, and like any other habit, it requires commitment and routine. Commit to a time to pray for half an hour or so each day, and try sticking to it for two weeks to build a routine.
4. Try different spiritual practices
On pilgrimage, the Sister of Life led us through many types of prayer and meditation. This was particularly helpful for me to discover what type of prayer worked best for me.
The sisters taught us the “ARRR” method:
Acknowledge how you’re doing right in that moment. How are you really feeling? Are you upset, at peace, anxious? Are you hungry for lunch? Frustrated at God?
Relate this to God. Talk to Him about what you’re feeling or ask Him a question.
Receive what God is saying. The sisters would remind us that God always responds -- we never leave prayer empty handed. This doesn’t mean we always get a clearcut answer or a specific word, but we will always meet God in prayer. And to this day, I’ve found that to be true.
Respond to the word you receive. How will you move forward? Is there a specific action you need to take?
There are many other methods of prayer, such as lectio divina, Ignatian meditation (one of my favorites), the Rosary, or prayer journaling. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, and don’t be afraid to try different methods. Time spent in prayer is never wasted.
5. Choose companions for the journey
One of the most common questions about Catholicism is “why do you pray to saints?” I’d always answered that by saying something along the lines of “Why do you ask for others to pray for you here on earth? We belong to a communion of saints which exists both in our physical reality and the spiritual reality.”
I had a conceptual understanding of why and how to ask for the intercession of saints, but while I was on pilgrimage, I encountered the reality of their intercession. While in Poland, we constantly asked for the intercession of Polish saints -- St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Faustina, St. John Paul II, Our Lady of Czestochowa, and St. Edith Stein. We visited Maximilian Kolbe’s cell in Auschwitz, the boyhood home of John Paul II, and the convent where St. Faustina wrote her diary.
Encountering the places where these saints lived, walked, and prayed brought a whole new understanding of their presence. We aren’t meant to walk the journey to Heaven alone. Who better to walk alongside us than saints who can pray for us, ask for intercession, and guide us back to Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to stories of saints who you should get to know -- and spend time reading about them.
Now more than ever, we are aware of the suffering, destruction, and hurt that surrounds us. But framing this suffering in the context of a pilgrimage shifts our view. Being a pilgrim means recognizing that we aren’t on a vacation, or taking the easy path. As C.S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Olivia Rogers is a K-State alumna, ’20. She is currently a first year law student, and loves journaling, to-do lists, and sunset drives.