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The Cross that Gives Meaning

"Why am I here? Why walk?" A pilgrim seeks answers.

CLU Pilgrimage (Photo by Margaret Stokman)

From August 11 to 15, I and nearly thirty other members of CLU from the United States and Canada came together for a walking pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin. This is the fifth year that CLU has done this pilgrimage. We walked roughly fifty miles over the span of three-and-a-half days and spent our nights sleeping in different parishes spread out along the beautiful Wisconsin countryside. 

This was my second walking pilgrimage. As I was driving to Wisconsin, the question that filled my heart was Why? Why am I driving, for a second time, nearly 1000 miles round-trip to go and spend three-and-a-half days walking fifty miles? What is it that makes me think that this is where I am supposed to be?

As we gathered that first night, my initial thought was that I was walking this pilgrimage for others. I thought I already knew how the pilgrimage would go, that it would be solely a moment of me encountering what it was like for Jesus to carry the cross of others towards Calvary. 

However, I quickly learned how unreasonable this was! The next day we began by reading Fr. Carron’s message to the 2019 Czestochowa pilgrims: Someone may think: “I am already clear about my intentions, I have a definite path. . . ” But then why walk? We walk in order to discover that we are never all set, because our need is so deep that no image made by ourselves is sufficient to satisfy it completely.

I already had a preconceived image of why I was here on pilgrimage! I was convicted by Fr. Carron’s statement. What would be the point of me walking fifty miles if I already knew how God was going to be working on my heart before we even started walking? I realized I had to return to the question that I had while I was driving: Why was I here?

As we walked in silence or prayed the rosary, my mind was filled with what had happened to me over the three months that preceded the pilgrimage. During these months, I was ordained to the diaconate and assigned to minister for the summer in a parish in Sioux Falls. The summer had been filled with me encountering the limits of my humanity. I thought that, by being ordained, all of my problems would go away. I thought that I would instantly become more patient, I would know what to say—in short, that I would become perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). However, I found myself to be the same old “me,” broken and in need.  

In the silence of the pilgrimage, I wrestled with all of this. It felt like my inadequacies were overwhelming me. As the miles wore one, I became more and more convicted of the finiteness of my being and I found myself yearning for someone to help. I started to understand the truth of another statement of Fr. Carron: Therefore, look at your need with seriousness, and this will fill you with reasons for walking. I found myself certain of the need to walk to find the One who could help. As the miles continued, I found myself looking more and more for an Other (Ps 121:1).

As we were walking, I frequently gazed upon the cross that we were following. The more I looked upon the cross, the more I became certain that Christ was the one who is the answer to all of our needs. I was tired and wearied of this cross of mine that is my need. I was tired by my faults and failures of the past summer. I wanted to give up and walk away from this pilgrimage. I wanted to give up and just go home, but I felt Christ inviting me to take up my cross and follow him (Mt 16:24), and so I followed. I followed him by following the cross our group carried. 

Photo by Margaret Stokman

I didn’t know where Christ was leading me during this pilgrimage, but I followed because there was something about that cross that seemed to be the answer to my weariness. The more I followed, the more certain I was that I was supposed to be following him because I had nowhere else to go. Even if I left and went home, my need wouldn’t be answered. Only His words and His cross carried with them a promise of salvation.

The cross led me all the way to the pilgrimage site. We arrived at the shrine, and I went down to the chapel where Our Lady appeared to Sister Adele 160 years earlier. As I knelt before the statue of Our Lady, the words of Our Lady of Guadalupe came to mind: Am I not your mother? The cross led me to my mother. She would embrace me just as I was, with all my needs and brokenness. In her arms, I could find that rest that my heart yearns for because I know that she will bring me, my needs and all, to her son (Jn 2:3). 

At the end of the pilgrimage, I found my heart filled with gratitude. I was grateful to follow the cross that gave meaning to my life by taking into account all of my needs and brokenness. I came to discover the truth of Fr. Carron’s letter to pilgrims: 

A pilgrimage reminds you that you are not alone, that you are not abandoned to yourselves and your efforts, because there is someone who says: “Let’s go, let’s go together to discover how we can live.” If you give space to that spark of awareness in you, you will allow Christ and Our Lady to respond to your desire for life and for the future. Then, you will discover that only Christ can answer the boundless need of your heart. As Father Giussani always said: “Christ proposes himself as the answer to what ‘I’ am and only an attentive, tender, and impassioned awareness of my own self can make me open and lead me to acknowledge, admire, thank, and live Christ. Without this awareness, even Jesus Christ becomes just a name (At the Origin of the Christian Claim, 6).

Michael, Sioux Falls, South Dakota


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