The Pilgrim Saint

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius, who called himself The Pilgrim, and I hope it’s a blessed one for you.  Did you know that, unlike the celebrations we have on our birthdays, in the Catholic Church the day we recognize canonized saints is on the date of their death.  Just a bit of trivia for you to ponder.

This morning, I made a little pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Hanover, PA.  I’ve written before about this church, built in the 1700’s by the early Jesuit “rider” priests, who would travel on horseback for much of the year, celebrating the sacraments throughout this part of country.  When they left a town or village, it might be many months before the people there would see a priest again.  I was happy to see the little chapel filled, not a seat to be had at the beginning of Mass.

The words from the first reading (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1) really spoke to me,

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to the Church of God, just as I try to please all people in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

For the last nine years, I have been trying to imitate, in my own limited way, many of the practices found in St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises.  Some days/weeks/months, I do pretty well, and others, not so much.  Thus is the spiritual life for most of us in the 21st century.  But the line above from 1st Corinthians reminds us that, no matter who we try to follow (imitate), our main objective and desire should always be to follow the One who knows our name, Jesus Christ.  He is the way, the truth and the life.  When we lose sight of that, and try to make everything about us, or about this or that person’s methods, then we’ll risk  missing our intended mark. We can have various guides such as Ignatius, but following and imitating Jesus must be our aim.

It used to be that in times past, people left the safety of their homes and livelihood for a pilgrimage that lasted months and/or years.  Often to a holy place or the Holy Land, many never came back.  Today, most of us can easily make a pilgrimage, even if it’s just for a few hours.  We don’t have to spend a lot of money or take a week off to visit a holy place, somewhere where others travel to, a place where we can pray, strengthen our faith, and find some peace.  Whether it’s with a group or by ourselves, it’s worth the effort.

This morning, just by chance, the last seat in the Basilica chapel was next to me  (yes, I had taken my morning shower).  A lady rushed in right before Mass and sat next to me.  After Mass, she told me I looked familiar.  As soon as I saw her face, I remembered that she used to go to church with me back in Maryland.  I hadn’t seen her for years.  We reminisced about happy memories, then went our separate ways.  If she would have sat anywhere else, we probably would have never made contact.  I’m so glad I made the effort to make my little pilgrimage this morning, for multiple reasons, and I’m grateful to God for putting it on my heart to go.  I hope you’ll make an effort this summer to make your own little pilgrimage.  God will be with you, each step of the way. Do it for God’s greater glory!


31 Days with St. Ignatius

Yesterday, I had the chance to make a little pilgrimage with a good friend.  We started with Mass at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg MD, then traveled to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Hanover, PA.  Dating from the 1700’s this beautiful basilica, in the middle of farm country, is the oldest stone Catholic Church in the United States and the first US church Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Jesuits founded the church, which is now under diocesan leadership, but the Jesuit presence is clearly felt.  Seeing relics of St. Ignatius, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Francis Xavier and St. Peter Canisius here was a blessing.  This church, rich in history, was a wonderful place for reflection, before traveling to the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA, not too far from Philadelphia. Countless Jesuits were educated here, and we were able to spend a few hours in quiet prayer and reflection.  This would be a great place to make a retreat, with it’s hundreds of acres of grounds, walking paths and quiet places to sit and relax.  This photo of the St. Ignatius statue was taken here.  Before we headed home, we stopped by the Jesuit cemetery on the grounds, and visited the grave of Servant of God Walter Ciszek, who spent many years in the Soviet gulag because of his priestly ministry.    Overall, it was a wonderful, peaceful, prayerful day and oh how I needed it.

Each year, Loyola Press provides 31 days of web postings leading to St. Ignatius’s Feast Day, July 31st.  They have been doing this for several years, and my friends and I love to participate.  I hope you will too.  Please join us here.

Have a blessed week, and let’s please pray for one another!