The Necessity of Pain: A Pilgrim’s Reflection

The Necessity of Pain (1)

I’ve been collecting my thoughts for this post for a while which is why things have been a bit quieter the last two weeks. I had the opportunity to travel again probably the last trip I’ll squeeze in before the wedding and our honeymoon, in fact, most people told me I was crazy for taking the time to do this trip but it’s actually a very important one to me…because I went on a pilgrimage.

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Wayside Cross at the Ravine at the Auriesville Shrine.

The pilgrimage was just three days, and it was made via hiking and with some time in the support car after I injured my foot and ankle. It is exactly what you’re thinking a pilgrimage is, that means it’s a spiritual trip, there’s a lot of prayer, a lot of private meditation, a lot of sacrifice, and mortification that occurs, but I been doing it for three years now and it’s something I think everyone should try to do one just once, because it teaches you one essential thing about life that I believe most of us have forgotten:

Pain and Suffering are not a bad things.

Let’s be honest here, we complain on a daily basis.  Why me? Man, did this HAVE to happen to me? How could this happen? It’s not fair. Of COURSE it happened to me I have the worst luck. And on and on and on we go, until any minor discomfort is a major catastrophe.

But we were not made for comfort.

Everything that is good for us takes effort. Did you ever notice that? Right down to eating right, and working out. Every good decision requires extra care, planning, and a certain amount of upset of what we would “RATHER” be doing.

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Noonan Road, pilgrims are blessed with beautiful scenery to ease their aching feet.

And for the vast majority of us (myself included) we spend our lives trying to figure out ways to somehow remove ourselves from or cheat ourselves of pain and suffering.

But pilgrimage teaches you that running from your pain and suffering is denying yourself the pain and suffering that will purify your spirit.

There’s nothing more stark and real than hobbling along a lonely stretch of highway, your feet blistered, your legs fatigued and your neck raw from your pack chaffing and realizing that you want to keep going. The idea seems a bit crazy at first, and all pilgrims joke about our obsession with pain but once you make pilgrimage once you’ll realize the secret about pain and suffering.

It is cathartic. It is transformative. It is essential.

When you have no where to run from the things that are plaguing your life, when you are completely free from the distractions that everyday life tells you are important, and when there is no one to speak to as you lay in your tent at night except God, you find yourself facing all of the things you’ve shoved aside. There’s nowhere to hide and somewhere between the agony of walking on your blisters, and the muscle aches that throb into your very bones you gain clarity about the things in life that really matter.

And 90% of what you leave behind when you make pilgrimage won’t make the cut. 

So often in our culture we’re taught that weakness is a bad thing, that being weak, or giving in to pain or admitting we need help makes us helpless. A good pilgrim knows that the only way to complete a pilgrimage is to understand and accept their own limitations in humility. Because pilgrimage is not a macho contest, it’s not about who can walk the farthest, or the longest, or get the most painful blisters and keep pressing on. I can personally attest to the fact that the way I’ve made it through each of my pilgrimages is by praying my way through. I can’t take credit for completing them myself. It’s only been my reliance on God and my other pilgrims that has pulled me through…and it’s a sobering thought to have to come face-to-face with your own human frailty and accept it.

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In the support vehicle after my feet gave out…humility is something I’ve learned from making pilgrimage.

Pain and suffering especially for pilgrims teaches you to know when you need to stop struggling alone…and start struggling with the help someone who is stronger than you. It’s not wrong to say I am not a super hero. I am not invincible. It takes STRENGTH to be humble, it’s a realization you can only come to after exhausting yourself and pushing yourself to your absolute limits.

And then there’s the joy of reaching your destination. Despite the pain, and the suffering, almost all pilgrims make it to their final destination. Which makes the suffering that much sweeter, and shows you that pain is not an inhibitor, it’s a motivator. It pushes you and makes what you achieve that much more valuable to you.

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Entrance to the Ravine, where St. Rene Goupil rests eternally. His body was buried there and never found.

Perhaps you’ll read this and you’ll decide “This girl is nuts, no one should willingly take on something where they know she’ll be suffering.” To which I will just smile and respectfully disagree.

You don’t need to make pilgrimage to understand the benefits of pain and suffering, but  I guarantee that on pilgrimage you’ll gain a much more intimate knowledge of it’s absolute necessity.  And it may not be physical pain, it may be self doubt, or anxiety, or  emotional strain from dealing with people you may not like, or coming to terms with things about yourself that you’ve been hiding behind being busy, or have willfully ignored them because you’re ashamed or have grown comfortable with your own flaws (perhaps even have made excuses for them).

On Pilgrimage there’s no room for complacency. Everything is laid bare and you have many hours of solitude, where even if you’re with a group, you are alone with your own thoughts. I urge you to make a pilgrimage if you can.

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The expansive grounds at the Shrine in Auriesville

Discover the intimate transformative power that mortification of the body and spirit can have on your life. No matter what you believe set an intention, and make pilgrimage…it will change you for the better…forever.

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This post is dedicated to the North American Martyrs and for all those whose intentions carried me through my pilgrimage.
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