By Michael Sullivan, father of Benedict, 11th grade
“Do you want to go on the Three Heart’s Pilgrimage?” my wife Kelly asked adding, “Miriam, Therese and Augustine want to go, and Benedict would love it if you did.” I briefly considered the thirty-five miles and wondered when was the last time I walked a mile or more before jumping in saying, “sure, let’s do it.” In the time between that decision and leaving, our family suffered a broken arm, lice infestation, loss of hot water, a strange untraceable stench in our family van, the standing freezer dying (and all the food spoiling), and the boiler breaking down and needing replacement. I thought that the walk would be the hard part.
Jesus told us that we would suffer persecution in this life, but all this warfare just for going on pilgrimage?! Why would something so bizarre and pointless in the eyes of the world provoke Satan to do his best to block our pilgrim family on our way? Driving the ten hours with my oldest children from Chicago to meet up with the other St. Martin families in the St. Louis & Zelle Martin chapter, I considered this question.
There must be something very powerful about going on a pilgrimage. We walked under the banner of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Most Chaste Heart of St. Joseph as “a penitential walk offering our physical and spiritual sacrifices for the defense of the traditional family and the sanctity of life – while pursing that which is Good, True, and Beautiful.” We consecrated our families to the Three Hearts in an “act towards restoring Christian culture, the family, and society, so we may all live according to Our Lord’s Divine plan.” Wouldn’t that be great! Looking around at the current state of the culture, I’ve come to believe that a pilgrimage must be a kind of weapon of last resort for the Christian, and I think I might know why.
Ancient Irish lore tells of “thin places” where the veil between this world and the invisible one is uniquely porous or thin. Ireland is filled with thin places where heaven and earth come together in a lingering kiss. That’s what a pilgrimage is – not so much a “thin place” as a “thin time” – a lingering touch where it is on earth as it is in heaven and we journey from here to there, where there is a more wonderous place than where we began. Everything takes on a greater significance and power when on pilgrimage: the intentions we offer, the penances we suffer, the confessions we make, the communion we receive, and the songs we carry. When all hope seems lost, go on offense, go on pilgrimage!
Meeting a people on offense, that was what it was like entering the encampment and glancing in the eyes of my fellow pilgrims. It was like a family reunion of people I’ve never met seeing the familiar light in their eyes, the joy in their hearts, and the clarity in their faces. Were we the Israelites leaving Babylon, or the army of the West preparing to march on Mordor? There was something wonderful, vivifying, and weighty about it all.
Over the next two days of penance and prayer with the Kingfishers and the other pilgrims, the potent moments and sights filled me with sure hope. Seeing barefoot pilgrims, bandaged feet and beaming smiles, St. Martin’s lads carrying an injured brother, the icon of the Blessed Mother under an old oak tree, singing ballads to shorten the miles, wayside confessions, healthy & hearty soup, the triumphant entry into the monastery gates, all this gathered into a mighty prayer joining spirit, soul, and protesting body to the prayer of the whole pilgrim Church advancing to the New Jerusalem.
Saying goodbye again to Benedict and returning with my other children, we arrived home and I could barely move to get out of the car as Kelly met us on the driveway, but my heart was more free to love as I ought. In some small but sure way, our hearts turned more fully to the Father like Jesus’, surrendered more fully to the Holy Spirit like the Immaculata’s, and resolved more chastely to live and work completely for Jesus’ mission like Joseph’s. That is why Satan hates pilgrimages; they awaken us to be who we truely are: bearers of the Three Hearts. In our short journey, in our humble and broken way, we go on pilgrimage to set the kingdom of darkness on its heals and the world on fire! “So,” Kelly hugged me and whispered in my ear, “will you go next year?” I answered, “Will you?”