This past week, I marked anniversaries of two important events in my life, and both involved pilgrimages. The first pilgrimage began the last week of April of 2009. Easter was late that year, and I held off getting a routine medical checkup until after all the events of Holy Week were over. As I recall, I went to get some blood work done on Monday or Tuesday, in anticipation of my check up the following week. I wasn’t expecting a call from my doctor that Friday, but when his name came up on caller id, I figured something was up. And it was. The lab results showed that I had Type II diabetes. I can still recall leaning my kitchen counter as he gave me the details of what this would mean for the rest of my life.
That phone call ushered in a series of changes in my life that I’m still working on every day. It became a type of spiritual pilgrimage for me, and pilgrimages usually involve several things, including prayer and movement. This particular pilgrimage involved a lot of both, and to be honest, I’ve very grateful for the experience, since it helped me encounter the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which has made a huge and positive impact on my life.
A year ago today, I had the blessing to make another pilgrimage, this one to Spain and Italy, where I was to visit many of the sites connected to St. Ignatius. After an very long overnight flight from Chicago, my fellow pilgrims and I landed in Madrid. Colleagues from Loyola Press joyfully met us at the gate, and before making our way to the bus, we stopped at the terminal’s coffee shop for one of the best cups of coffee I think I’ve ever had (and needed). From there, we stopped first at Toledo, then on to Avila. We were blessed to be in Avila during year-long celebration of the 500th anniversary marking the death of their town’s greatest saint,Teresa of Avila.
As we approached her home town, I was struck by the very high walls which completely surrounded the city. I learned later that they are Romanesque in style and date from medieval times. Seeing those amazingly strong walls and knowing that St. Teresa was not the only saint to be born behind them, I understood how Avila has been known for centuries as the “town of stones and saints.”
This morning, as I sit typing these words, I thought about the connection between those walls and illness. For many people, especially those with chronic illnesses like Type II diabetes, working to improve one’s health might seem as daunting as scaling the fortified walls of Avila. With the right tools, prayer, perseverance, and support, health improvement can be achieved. I know because it happened to me.
It didn’t happen quickly. Pilgrimages take time and effort. Sometimes, you want to give up. More to come…