BY HANNAH CRITES
There is an incredible difference between traveling as a tourist and traveling as a pilgrim. We all know the difference. Tourists travel with their faces behind the camera lens trying to see and do everything at once. Pilgrims travel with meaning – with intention. They travel with something higher than themselves in mind.
I went to Lourdes, France last week and decided to travel as a pilgrim. I wanted to go see where the Blessed Mother appeared and venerate her. I had no idea what the Lord had in mind for me when I got there.
He had three lessons he wanted me to learn while there, three crucial lessons, that I seemed to lack in my life at that current moment. The first lesson was patience.
Getting to Lourdes was rough. It’s a 24-hour train ride with a station change in Paris and had to allow myself enough time to get there. I arrived and thought that all the stress was over. I ran into a hotel worker who spoke very little English and struggled to check in with this huge language barrier. Check in involved miming and pulling up Google translate to help. I’ve had my fair share of language difficulties, but nothing compared to this.
I arrived at the shrine, ready to enter into a prayerful 24 hours in Lourdes. I headed over to the grotto for the evening Marian procession and purchased my candle. The procession is supposed to be a prayerful recitation of the rosary for any intention brought to Lourdes. Hundreds of people follow an illuminated cross throughout the sanctuary with lit candles in deep mediation.
I some how ended up in the middle of a group of seventy middle school aged children from the same church. There were not enough adults supervising them; only a sweet little nun, a priest, and an exhausted looking youth minister. The group was very loud. They chased each other around and would scream and try to blow each others candles out. They were having a good time, but the procession is supposed to be prayerful. Many of the surrounding pilgrims, including myself, got very annoyed.
This is where patience comes in. I realized they were just kids and they came to Lourdes with intentions of their own, whether they realized it or not. I began to notice a few kids within the group who separated themselves from the rest and were taking the procession seriously. Some kids followed their example and it was beautiful to watch. They were just kids and I marveled at there faith and prayed for them. Despite what there peers were doing, they had the nerve to turn from it, and in the end, they most likely had a very powerful experience in Lourdes.
I became aware that the Lord had things he wanted to teach me during my visit. It was kind of like a retreat where there are different themes throughout the weekend, the first was patience.
The second lesson was humility. Anyone who has been to Lourdes knows that the baths teach everyone who goes about humility. I will spare the details of my very uncomfortable, awkward bath. Looking back, it’s quite comical how strange my experience was, but at the same time it was beautiful and I felt so fulfilled and satisfied by it. Yes it was uncomfortable, but I have never felt so humble in my life.
The third lesson was in mercy. One of the many services that Lourdes offers is the opportunity to go to confession. They have perpetual confession and it is full. I went into the confessional and was warmly welcomed by the priest. How often can one say that about meeting the priest in confession, that they felt welcomed to confession?
This priest was wonderful. He was from Scotland so his accent was a gift from the Lord in itself. Besides that, he made me feel like I was being heard. He smiled at me throughout the entire confession: beginning, middle and end. He never stopped smiling, which may sound creepy, but it was so comforting and I truly felt forgiven for my sins. He spoke and every word came directly from the Holy Spirit. He reminded me how much the Lord loves me and gave me advice. It hit home hard. I left feeling taller and taking longer strides. I felt so alive, so joyful. I felt like my spirit was soaring to new heights. It still has yet to come down. I’m still soaring.
I left Lourdes feeling changed. I was so excited to go back to campus and share my experience. It is marvelous, the lessons the Lord has to teach us in a simple trip like Lourdes was. I’m so grateful he gave me the eyes to see them.