At various points in my life I have been able to make a pilgrimage. Three places in particular come to mind. On two occasions, I was blessed to be able to spend several days at the Couvent St. Gildard in Nevers, France, where the remains of St Bernadette Soubirous repose. To be able to walk in those places dear to her and then being entirely alone in the Chapel with her was a blessed experience, one I will always treasure. On several occasions, I have visited the convent and Chapel on the Rue du Bac in Paris, where the Blessed Virgin gave St Catherine Labouré the Miraculous Medal – this Chapel is featured in the images on this page. And most recently, I was able to visit Rome during the Year of Mercy, and to walk through the Holy Door at St Peter’s Basilica.
A pilgrimage is a journey, particularly one of faith. It has a purpose – although on many occasions, what we are looking for is different to what we ultimately find. Pope Benedict spoke about the nature of pilgrimage in 2010 –
“To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where He has revealed Himself, where His grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”
Although we tend to associate pilgrimage with journeying to a particular holy place, this need not be the case; that ‘stepping out of ourselves’ can take place anywhere. That said, there is no doubting that certain locations tend to be a concentrated focus of divine grace. At Rue du Bac, for example, the Mother of God asked that people “come to the foot of this Altar – there, great graces will be shed on all who ask for them”. Many people each year take Her at Her word and visit Her shrine there – and receive from Her hands the graces She promised. There are many such places throughout the world.
Pilgrimage is about journey – but perhaps not so much about miles travelled, as it is about the journey we are prepared to make outwith ourselves; it is a journey of the heart more than the feet.
It can be as simple as visiting the local Church – so long as once there, we open our hearts to the Lord and allow His grace to shine on us, to act within us, to change and transform us, to make us renewed.
Today, let us pray for the grace of God to open our hearts and to allow Him to be active within us – that, even though we might not go far from home, our hearts have moved a little closer to Him.