In early June, six dear friends had the great and unique privilege of sharing a walking pilgrimage from Our Lady of Good Help in Champion to The National Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill outside of Milwaukee. I was among these six walking pilgrims, led by Fr. Andrew Kurz and his coordinator of all things, Paul. The pilgrimage is called “The Wisconsin Way.”
I had high hopes for a grand “aha God moment” on this retreat. After all, we were dedicating three days to prayer and walking. We walked an average of 10 miles a day, traveling the other miles by van. We prayed the Rosary, offered prayers for our friends and families in need, and celebrated Mass daily. We visited numerous chapels along the road dedicated to Mary or to other saints. Each stop allowed time for prayer and reflection. We experienced prayer and overnight hospitality with the Eastern Rite Monks of Holy Resurrection Monastery.
On such a pilgrimage, it seemed reasonable to anticipate and hope for an “aha” moment, some grand gesture by God to let me know God’s plans for me. Or maybe I would receive a sign indicating that health would be awarded to those in my life who are suffering. Or maybe I would have a mystical vision. I have always been a little envious of people who have had really powerful moments of God, what I call the “aha” moment. For me, they are elusive, but I was hopeful!
After three days of walking, praying, and enjoying the companionship of my friends, I heard in the closing prayer of the final Mass in our pilgrimage, “God is love.” Although it was not the “aha” moment that I sought, it summed up my entire pilgrimage experience.
I walked for three days with people I love. I walked with joy and peace in my heart. I participated in simple acts of faith, praying for others, witnessing for Christ, sharing in relationships. I learned about the love others have for God and the saints as we visited the churches, shrines, and chapels along the road. We heard the stories reflecting the history of these holy sites and the people who were inspired to build them. And we benefited from the hospitality of the many who guided us, cooked for us, and shared their space so we could rest and shower. God is love. Love was everywhere. God was everywhere – not in just one single “aha” moment.
Sunday, I attended Mass at St. John’s in Birchwood. I joke that my family has dual citizenship, because we belong to both St. John’s in Birchwood and St. Joseph in Menomonie. In churches everywhere, people have not been able to all celebrate Mass together for a long time. Slowly, we are getting back together and back to community. Still in retreat high, I felt more mindful of the joy in people as they celebrated Mass and received Jesus in the word and Eucharist. The community shined as they gathered and greeted each other. Tears were brought to my eyes and to the eyes of others as some of us saw each other for the first time in a year.
At the end of Mass, I heard once again, “God is love. God is relationship.” That seems pretty “aha!”
Pam Sirinek is a member of St. John’s, Birchwood, and the coordinator of parish ministries at St. Joseph, Menomonie, in the Diocese of La Crosse.