Whew, I am finally back from the Chartres pilgrimage! Bit of a long journey back from Chartres and then an overnight stay in London but it was definitely worth it.
This was tough! I’ve only done it once before, but I thought it couldn’t get any harder than that because we were soaked most of the time. I take it all back. Give me the rain but not the heat! I burnt for only the third time in my life and I burnt really badly. Yep, rain and cold is my preferred climate, I have discovered.
You know how I said I would have to take clothes for rain and sun? Well, I was right! Most of the time, we were baking. It was boiling and so humid and it seems that a lot of people (from all the chapters in the pilgrimage) had to take breaks sometimes and get the bus to take them to the next stop. On the second day, Pentecost Sunday, the sun was very strong and I think that’s when everyone burned. Other times, like on the second night, we had thunder storms! On the third and last day, it rained early in the morning (with thunder and lightning) and then it was boiling. Then, just as we were about to walk up the hill to Chartres cathedral, the heavens opened! It cleared up during mass (our chapters were outside) and then it got hot again! Everyone was singing their hearts out as we walked up to the cathedral and I believe that there is no other feeling quite like that. I had to kiss the floor when we got to the top 🙂
It was crazy and really tough but I don’t regret a single step. I wanted to make sure that I did every single step because I knew that I could and that, for me, it was mind over matter. Some people who were with us, like my friend, had quite serious injuries (like arthritis), but they did the vast majority of the pilgrimage (and some who very elderly and had injuries did it all!), because it’s that good. I don’t mean that the walking itself is enjoyable. I mean, in itself, walking is great, but the pilgrimage is quite hellish because of the distance and the terrain, how quickly you have to walk and how short the breaks are. But, the graces that you receive from it are immeasurable. Also, when you finish each day, you know you’ve achieved something amazing, not for yourself, but for God. That is what makes me so proud to join with everyone else – I can’t imagine that anyone is there for their own glory, because it’s so difficult, you’d just give up. You have to keep the focus on God, and that’s what keeps you going.
This is like giving the finger to the Devil 8,000-10,000 times (the number of pilgrims who take part, that is). We’re not here for exercise or to socialise, this is penance and we are doing it for God’s greater glory! There is something amazing about looking in front of you and seeing a long winding line of pilgrims with flags and banners, all walking with a common spiritual goal.
If that wasn’t enough, when you see all the priests wearing a shirt, cassock, cotta and stole (not to mention all the religious in their habits) and walking it all, whilst singing, hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction, you realise how easy you have it. I do not understand how they do it, except by the grace of God.
One of the best things which I have heard that has come out of this pilgrimage is the conversion of a gentleman whose wife has walked the pilgrimage 18 times, praying for his conversion (what a great woman, eh?)! On the first day of the pilgrimage, he made his first Holy Communion. Thanks be to God! What a blessing for him and everyone who knows him. This is what hard penance and a few (!) Hail Marys can achieve.
I know that the Devil must hate this sort of endeavour, and during the pilgrimage, I felt quite down and started to feel very negative about myself. It’s strange, sometimes you get these feelings when you’re in a very holy environment. Of course, when you think about it, that’s quite normal because you become a prime target when you decide to put yourself through suffering for Our Lord. This is something so foreign and bizarre for most people in the modern world, and the Devil wants to do everything to discourage you. However, we have to remember that these things are all about God and not about ourselves. As soon as I finished the pilgrimage, I was on cloud nine, and I still feel like that now. Every bad feeling disappeared. The Devil must be furious 😉
I really feel like a new person now and I am determined to be a better Catholic this year. I’m going to change for the better and make sure that God is at the centre of my life. One of the meditations that we listened to was about Blessed John Henry Newman’s advice regarding achieving perfection in our lives. All the advice is very simple – go to bed early, get up as soon as you wake up, say your prayers as soon as you’re awake, pray the angelus devoutly, make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament on a daily basis and other things. These are all things that I can do and here is this saint telling me that if I do this, I can become a perfect child of God! Well, what am I waiting for? This pilgrimage reminded me that I cannot afford to make excuses; I don’t know when God will take me.
See below the quote on which the meditation was based…
It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection—short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.
We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic—not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings—but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound—we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.
He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.
I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim. If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first—Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
– John Henry Newman, September 27, 1856 Meditations and Devotions II, Meditation 8
Get yourselves on a walking pilgrimage (like the LMS pilgrimage to Walsingham this summer perhaps?), if you possibly can. There is no time like the present to blow away the cobwebs from your spiritual life 🙂
*All the images that I’ve used here can be found on the official Notre Dame de Chretiente website: http://www.nd-chretiente.com/index-site.php?file=2014/photos14&nocol=1&show_heading=list&dir=photos&page_num=1