The Pilgrim’s Blessing
Who guides us on our pilgrimage of life,
Be for us our companion on the way,
Our guide at the crossroads,
Our breath in weariness,
Our protection in danger,
Our shelter on the path,
Our shade in the heat,
Our light in the darkness,
Our comfort in discouragement,
Our strength in our intentions.
So that with your grace, we will be safe and sound on the journey
And filled with goodness and joy. Amen
(adapted from the blessing given to the Pilgrims on the Way to Santiago)
A good friend of mine celebrated the year of her 25th Jubilee as a Sister of St. Joseph by going on the pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago, or the way of St. James, in Spain. Specifically, she did the route known as the Camino Frances which is some 500 miles long. Recently, she shared the lessons she learned while on this physical and emotional journey. While I may or may never do the actual pilgrimage, as I was listening to Kathy that day I realized that I too am on a journey, a pilgrimage of sorts, trying to find my way and path in life. Currently, I am in formation with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and am a temporary professed sister. Kathy learned and shared many lessons, and I will share those which resonated with me on my journey of discernment. I see these lessons as applicable no matter what decisions life brings. However, my perspective is that of someone who is discerning religious life as a vowed and consecrated sister.
As she embarked on her journey, Kathy realized it was something she had to do by herself. Even though she knew she had the love and support of community, family, and friends, Kathy knew this journey was one to do on her own. Many years back, as I embarked on my journey of discerning religious life, I too knew I had the support of my loved ones, but I had to do this on my own. By “on my own” or “her own” I mean only with God and self. God is the ever-present source of love and inspiration for me. I also want to make a distinction that I do not do anything in isolation. I get input from community and many trusted friends and family. That was the first lesson: there’s a balance in life of when you need to do something alone or to be alone, and when you need others with you.
That brings me to the next lesson, “to walk your own Camino, and not someone else’s.” Read, “live your own discernment/life journey and not someone else’s.” Kathy shared how she met a lady on the Camino and they quickly became good friends. Soon Kathy realized she was so wrapped up in her friend’s ailments and journey that she was not being authentic to herself and her own journey. This was a major lesson for me on my journey of discernment too. It’s natural and easy to make new and good friends, especially when you embark on a new journey. As I made friends with the people who were with me, I got so wrapped up in their journeys I was not focusing on my own, nor being authentic to myself. A trusted confidante help me to see what I was doing. I changed some of my behaviors and began to focus again on my own journey. This lesson can be especially hard in religious life when your good friends leave the formation process. Nevertheless, I know we are each on our own, authentic journey and have to be true to ourselves.
Next, Kathy shared this quote from a famous Spanish Poet, Antonio Machado, “Wanderer there is no road; the road is made by walking.” The road or path is made because people started using it and kept using it. Over time, it becomes noticeable because of the pattern of walking and eventually it is a well-worn path. Thus, the road was made by walking. There is a pattern to discerning religious life and a path of formation that has developed because over time many people have used it. Upon hearing early discernment stories from my friends who are part of the religious life, there are similarities, and I am sure with better research one could find distinct patterns. The short version of my early discernment story is: thought to be a Catholic sister came to me and denial ensued, then there was much prayer and discussion. Finally, I came out of denial, was ready to let go, and took the leap of faith. The lesson here is that there are many others who have traveled down the path and sharing with one another is helpful as we create and walk the road together. I for one will never forget how helpful it was when I began to talk to others about discernment of religious life.
Then there was a significant lesson on facing the daily journey versus the long journey and staying focused. Yes, Kathy wanted to finish the 500 mile journey. She knew she could only do it one day at a time. The focus each day was knowing her limits and how many miles she could accomplish or needed to accomplish. Yes, I want to ultimately be a Sister of St. Joseph for the rest of my life. However, I can only do that by committing each day to live the vows I made at my first profession as well as committing to live out of our charism as best I can. Each day I also have to be focused or the daily events of life such as cooking, praying, and working will not mean much.
Which brings me to the final lesson to share: “You don’t arrive, you’re always arriving.” Kathy did make it to her destined end point, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela but the next journey began as soon as she had ended that one. She now had the journey back home. I was dismayed when I first heard that discernment does not end with formation, at the time I will make final profession of vows, but it is instead a lifelong process. Now I can see the wisdom in that statement. I do want to always be arriving, ready for whatever may be next. In order to be able to move forward in a healthy manner, I acknowledge endings, let them go, and do not dwell on them. We have a statement as Sisters of St. Joseph that goes along with this perspective too as it states we are moving always towards the more. Movement towards the more speaks volumes to me as I try to guard myself from becoming complacent and it inspires me to keep growing and learning.
The blessing I shared at the beginning asks God to be all that we might need on the journey. A strong relationship with God is the way to survive and make it through the journey. As I reflect on my pilgrimage of discernment and formation upon my two year anniversary of First Vows I am grateful for what is and has been, and am focused on what the more may be calling me to. Blessings to you on your journey fellow pilgrim!