“Pilgrims – not Tourists”
This was the message of a talk given to our group of 29 university-age students by Fr. Allan MacDonald before setting off for World Youth Day in Brazil. For three weeks, we weren’t going to be in control of things: we wouldn’t be able to pick exactly what we’d want to eat; we might not be sleeping in beds; we might have to walk a couple of kilometers with all of our luggage on our backs. We were warned it would be hard, but that that was part of being on a pilgrimage.
I hadn’t fully prepared myself for all this. I knew the trip would be challenging, but not as challenging as it was… and in an extremely surprising way, wasn’t.
If not for the talk, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the 21-day trip. But by going into the pilgrimage with exactly that mentality – that of a pilgrim – God worked in my heart in an unforeseen way. I’m an introvert who has always needed her alone time and her space: two things I was not expecting to regularly have on this journey. I found, however, that I was much more able to cope than expected. It took me a little while to connect the dots, but I eventually figured out that it was because I was living without worldly expectations. I made a conscious decision to be a pilgrim, and it affected my entire outlook on life.
This didn’t mean that the trip became easy. In many ways it was became less so: I was challenged in my relationships, in my attitude, in my prayer-life, and in many other aspects of myself; it was more that those challenges were easier to face. Instead of complaining or dwelling on hardships, I genuinely offered them up, asked Jesus for help with them, and then let go of them. They were still there, but I found that I cared less about them than I ever thought I could. As the trip went on, I became more and more detached from worldly comforts, and I really liked it.
And then it was over. Cue the planes. Cue the tears. Cue the friendship withdrawal. I’d grown close to some thirty-odd people in a very short amount of time – speaking to them every day, crying with them, sleeping on top of some of the girls (our accommodations were a bit cramped at the end) – and now we were travelling back to all over the country. Going from intense closeness to intense solitude (spending the long weekend at my grandparents’ cottage, which had limited cell reception and no concept of what wireless internet was) brought on a whole new set of challenges. But I was okay with that.
You hear about going through culture shock when travelling to new countries. I experienced a bit of that when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro; I experienced a heap of that when I arrived back in Canada. We are a culture of opulence, and I was blessed to experience so little of that in Brazil. Living on the relatively bare necessities forces you to remember what’s important, and allows you to grow in those important things. Coming back to ease and comfort was not the relief I expected, but a wake-up call.
Before the trip, I’d been living a tourist life: going through my day-to-day, expecting everything to be secure, predictable, convenient. It allowed me to become passive. It allowed me to become lazy in my spiritual life. When I returned, I chose to continue living the pilgrim life. It’s what allowed me to be okay with the new challenges of friendship withdrawal; it’s what’s now encouraging me to write this joyfully instead of dreading the responsibility; and it’s what holds me accountable to a continuous and devoted prayer-life, because Christ must be at the center of a pilgrim’s journey.
I’m not saying give up most of your wardrobe and replace your bed with a decent sleeping bag, but I am challenging you to live life with the pilgrimage mentality. Don’t expect comfort. Be thankful to God for what you do get to enjoy, and offer up the things you don’t. Pray often. After all, we’re not really home yet – we’re pilgrims on the way there.
By Thérèse Barrett