This is the first time that I have participated in a pilgrimage that was identifiably Marian, and so it provided me a new and unique experience of being on pilgrimage.
The image that I have, it’s like trying to absorb the beauty of a mountain– you can’t do it from just one perspective, you have to go around the mountain and see it from many perspectives to understand its full beauty.
And I see the spiritual life as the same way. There’s not just any one way to pray that will allow you to absorb the fullness of the beauty of the spiritual life. There are many perspectives and views. One of which is through Our Blessed Mother.
Marian devotion truly is an essential and foundational element to a healthy spiritual life. For me, that’s been the blessings of these days, to be able to be more focused on the Marian dimension of prayer.
Mary is the mayor of this town. Everything here really does lead us to Christ through the Blessed Mother.
Medjugorje is truly a spiritual town. At exactly 5 o’clock in the morning, I hear the radio from the house next door starting the Rosary. It comes from their windows through mine, and I’m sure it’s replicated in house after house throughout the village.
You really have a sense that the people here are connected deeply to their Catholic faith, but through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. That rhythm, you can just see it throughout the town.
Of course there are more rosaries for sale in this town than anywhere in the world, which is great, but you just know that Marian devotion is literally part of the rhythm of the life of the people here, and it shows in their gentleness, their kindness, their generosity.
My initial response to being in the presence of Mirjana and talking with her and watching her, is that she really is an ordinary person who’s received an extraordinary gift. But she lives out that extraordinary gift in an ordinary way. She certainly is humble, she’s gentle, she’s kind, she’s helpful. She’s bussing the tables at lunch every day. She sees her mission as one of helping to create an environment where people are able to pray, so she’s a gentle and most often quiet presence. She only is the focus of attention when she’s actually speaking to the group.
In my own mind’s eye, I would say that’s probably how the Blessed Mother was with Our Lord and with Joseph and the people of the village of Nazareth. She probably just did the daily chores that women of Her time did and was just a humble vessel of God’s love. I see Mirjana in very much the same way.
How would you tell someone to prepare to come here?
Bring a good pair of shoes. Walk up and down some stairs. And learn to pray the Rosary from the heart.
Because, like most prayers that are repetitive, they can become rote, meaning they’re just coming from the memorization in our brains. Whereas, authentic prayer is what echoes in the heart. So to learn to pray the Rosary from the heart before you come will enrich your spiritual experience while you’re here.
Like anywhere else in the world, the actual locale is made up of the natural substance of the area. It’s red dirt. It’s sharp rock. It’s elevated terrain.
But what makes it a sacred place is most certainly the presence of the Blessed Mother in a very real and clear way; the impact that the Blessed Mother has in the lives of the people. Apparitions may last a minute, but the affect of an apparition can last a lifetime. That’s what I sense taking place here.
True holiness is found in the hearts of the people who live here, and to a very great degree, in the hearts of the people who come here on pilgrimage.
I’m sure you could come here and not be spiritually moved at all and go home and say there’s nothing to this, but you could only do that if you came, stayed, and left with a closed heart. If you come with an open heart or you open your heart while you’re here, you certainly will have a spiritual experience that will echo in the chambers of your heart long after you’ve gone home.
Pilgrimage is essentially different than a tour. In a pilgrimage, we are pilgrims. That means we’re open to exploring something that we have not seen or experienced before but with a clear destination in mind. In a pilgrimage, the destination is a deeper understanding, a deeper love, a deeper experience of God in our lives.
The pilgrim comes with a mindset of openness to the Lord. If we do that well, then everything in the day can scream God’s glory to us, whether it’s the sunrise, the formation of the rocks, certainly the celebration of the sacraments, but everything can scream the glory and love of the Lord if our hearts are open.
I personally believe it’s important, at least the first time someone comes, to come with an organized pilgrimage group because you can really get caught up into details of where we’re going to stay, where we’re going to eat, all of that, which takes away mental energy from prayer. But if you’ve entrusted the details to a person, a group, that specializes in making spiritual experiences come alive, then all of that energy can just be placed into an openness to experiencing the presence of God. Then you learn from the experience of the people who have been here before you. I would most certainly suggest that people find a group, find a pilgrimage tour that will take care of all of the details so that you can focus on the details of your heart.