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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Recalling Life's Pilgrimages

It's not often that I find myself reading Marc Barnes at Bad Catholic and agreeing with how he presents topics to his readers. A recent post he made titled "The Difference Between a Pilgrim and a Tourist" really caught me off guard.

I have had many chances to play both the tourist and the pilgrim in my life and occasionally I've left as the tourist and returned as the pilgrim and visa versa. For example on a music "ambassadorship" I attended across Europe our group was often asked to sing in various churches and historical sites. One of which was St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, Italy. It was a beautiful experience. I entered the church, finding the tabernacle and genuflecting per all Catholic churches we entered and we were ushered off by someone behind the Communion Rail to perform. Our first piece was a double choir piece called "Music Be Praised" the acoustics were wonderful and the tones we hit just lingered in the air. The next piece we sang was "O Magnum Mysterium" or "Great Mystery". In a Cathedral of that magnitude, there was no doubt for me, that my voice was lifted in prayer and hopefully also being echoed by St. Mark, whose relics are interred there. I entered in a tourist amongst those paying patrons seeking the frescos and ornately decorated facades and left a pilgrim honored to sing before Christ, his martyrs and saints.

In his post Marc has this to say.
The pilgrim does not walk into a cathedral because it is "a sight," but because he believes God allows himself to be present between the pillars. The tourist walks into the same cathedral because he believes culture is there, but what he does not recognize - drifting past the statues, tombs, and ribbon-rising incense - is that the culture is there because of the God and cannot be "experienced" in it's fullness without this raison d'etre [purpose], this thing, this fact that has basilicas, chapels and shrines roaring out of otherwise dignified villages in a constant fire-alarm of clanging bells, streaming people, drifting smoke, sprinkled water, and pitiful pleas for salvation. The second-hand experience is not the experience. To see something because it is a "sight" is not to see it for precisely what it is.
This reminds me of one "accidental" pilgrimage I found in my own life.

Living where I did after college, I found myself in a unique predicament. I lived in a town with around 20 Catholic Churches within a 25 mile radius. Two of these Churches were actually Cathedrals. The Twin Ports area of Minnesota and Wisconsin are both blessed enough to have their own Cathedral and they couldn't be more different from each other. During college I bounced between the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, and two other parishes for Mass, Confession, and volunteering in youth ministry. I knew I wanted to find a place where I could engage with all these aspects in one location.

It wasn't until I had completed school and was working full time my boyfriend pitched me an idea, why not start attending masses and the sacraments with him. It wasn't a bad idea and although "across the bridge" into Wisconsin, it was a trip over that I was making frequently. That summer I fell in love with the people, what they did and how they served. It also happened that the rector of the Cathedral also served the small, local Newman Center which my boyfriend had gotten me involved in. Soon I had registered with the parish and was becoming a part of the community.

Engagement Spot
Copyright 2011 Derek MontgomeryUsed With Permission
When my boyfriend asked me to marry him we both knew we wanted to be married at the Cathedral of Christ the King. This put us in a strange predicament when reading the bulletin, it stated that in order to be married at the Cathedral, you needed to be a member for a minimum of 6 months. I did the math and I had only been a member for four months. My fiance told me not to worry and scheduled a meeting with the Rector and it turned out he had been a member since he began school there 2 years ago.

We eagerly began planning the "rest of our lives" when I accepted a job in Iowa. If you've been keeping track of the states, I lived in MN, he lived in WI and now I'm moving to IA. We sped up our wedding classes and "completed" them, on the stipulation that we would have a meeting every time I came home for a visit. We completed 6 meetings and the FOCUS test and results in 3 weeks. Along with me getting everything together for our wedding.

I moved and was quite lonely. The job wasn't anything like they promised and I was looking forward to any chance I had to go home. Especially the big, comfy Cathedral that we were going to be married in. The priest I worked for gave me extended time off for the wedding which was much longer than I was supposed to receive over the following three years. Greatful I soaked up the winter and spent time with my friends and family, working when I could and attending to last minute details.

When I could, I would "run away" to the Cathedral in order to find peace, quiet and a shred of sanity. I couldn't wait to embark on our new life and every time I was there I couldn't help but imagine the love and grace we would share there in a very short time.

Duluth + January = Brrr
Copyright 2011 Derek MontgomeryUsed With Permission
When the wedding day came, it was a slightly blizzardy January morning and we wouldn't have it any other way. We were going to be married. Most of my fondest memories of that day were contained in that Cathedral before God and with our families because we were standing there faithfully before each other and God.

Since then we have moved back to Minnesota and are quite a distance away from the Cathedral of Christ the King. We still go there whenever we are in the area which is about 2 or 3 times a year. We see people who remember us, but the most important is the presence of God that resides there. I am always moved to my knees in awe and wonder and I pray that I never lose that and only seek to gain that where ever I attend mass.

I found purpose there, my feelings and experiences are different because I can see the threads that God has woven together in my life surrounding this one place. Even today as we belong to a wonderful community that we hope we never have to leave, our deepest prayer is always to return there to be in union with that community as best we can.

In two weeks, we will be able to seek another pilgrimage there. I will see if there are times that we can receive Reconciliation and attend more than a weekend mass. I will gladly pray and rejoice in the Cathedral and know that God walks amid the pillars and is present all through that sacred place.
Copyright 2011 Derek MontgomeryUsed With Permission
Until then I will prepare for that pilgrimage by always entering into my home church with the same devotion and respect that the Cathedral of Christ the King evokes in me as well.