Fr. James M. McNamara
Many people like to travel. Many people of faith prefer to go on a pilgrimage rather than a tour. A pilgrimage is different from a tour. On a tour you go to see places. On a pilgrimage you go to meet a person. Specifically, on a pilgrimage you go in search of God. In the routine of daily life within our familiar surroundings, we tend to be busy and unreflective. In this setting it may be hard for God to gain our attention or, to reverse the perspective, it may be hard for us to be attentive to God’s presence.
On a pilgrimage we displace ourselves so that we can go in search of God. We displace ourselves from all that is comfortable and familiar so that God may speak to our hearts in a new way. Whether it be the variables of travel, the unfamiliar language and customs of a new place or the opportunities for discovery, pilgrimage puts us outside our own routine and our own comfort zone so that we can look for God in new ways and with fresh perspective. On one level this means letting go of our American standards and expectations to open ourselves to the hospitality that is given in a distant land. On a spiritual level it means making ourselves available to God so that we can be surprised by grace.
For over 20 years I have brought people to Assisi, Italy, the birthplace of Saint Francis for a six day retreat. When I began I spoke about the entire town of Assisi being the retreat house. That remains true and yet, since it was not only a pilgrimage but also a retreat, I expected people to keep some silence. I have discovered that, in this setting people found their way in prayer though not necessarily in the traditional frame of a retreat. Many times people came to terms with past hurts or disappointments with family members or with disillusionment with God. Being displaced from the familiar and the routine set the stage for these breakthroughs.
A pilgrimage also involves the joy of being with other pilgrims who share the journey to God. Assisi is not the only place for pilgrimage. The Holy Land, Greece in the footsteps of St. Paul and Marian shrines like Lourdes, Medjugorie and Fatima are also wonderful pilgrimage destinations. 206Tours out of Hauppauge was founded over 25 years ago specifically in devotion to the apparitions at Medjugorie. They have been a great source of blessings to the pilgrims I have led to holy places over the years.
I encourage you to make a pilgrimage and/or a retreat as a way to get closer to God and to let go of anything that can burden your heart or keep you from love.
–Father James M. McNamara