Kate Morgan, Associate Director of Communications, Office of Campus Ministry
On the seventh day of our nine-day pilgrimage to France, I had hit a wall. I was physically and emotionally drained and ready to make the journey home to my husband and my four-year-old son. I had nothing left to give. I was void of sympathy for anyone other than myself, including the students I was chaperoning, and unappreciative toward the beauty of the place we were visiting. I was done. Just done.
The Holy Cross priest who was tasked with meeting us in LeMans had the flu and was unable to join us, and I, as a communications professional and first-time traveler to France, felt ill equipped to provide the guidance and pastoral care our students likely needed. With too many road blocks to navigate, I decided no longer to bother. There was no point. In my mind, it was time to go home.
I lagged behind the first part of the day, fussing and willing it to end. I slept on the bus on the way to Ahuille, the hometown of Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and sulked into the church, built on the site where our University’s founder had been baptized. Since our priest was ill and unable to join us, we were forced to cancel Mass. In an effort to make our time as prayerful as possible, our seminarian, Cathal Kelleher, C.S.C., asked each of us to share a prayer, hymn, song or other reflection that we used in our own lives to better connect with God. I went first and read from the book of James:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food? If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
I love this passage. In fact, I keep a copy of it on the bulletin board in my office above my computer. In my day-to-day life as a Campus Ministry communications specialist, I’m not as interruptible as I should be, so I like to look up and read it when I’m working and someone comes in my office to chat. It reminds me to put down what I’m doing and make time for the people who need me.
Reading James aloud to my fellow pilgrims reminded me that I was not in fact living out my faith through my deeds. I was doing the day all wrong.
I sat in the pew and thought about what I could do to make the day right. In that moment, it was to listen to the students; it was to give them my time.
One by one, each of the 20 students walked to the front of the church to share their prayers. They sang, they talked, they rapped, they read, they shared intimate stories and they brought with them the Holy Spirit. It was palpable. So infectious, in fact, that three French parishioners who were in the church (who didn’t speak any English), asked if they could sing their own song to give thanks to Our Lady.
Since then, I’ve tried to imagine a time when I felt as full with the Holy Spirit as I had in that moment. I cannot. Not when my son was baptized. Not at any Mass. Not in Rome. Not at the Grotto. Not even in Dublin on Palm Sunday when a church full of Irish children read the Passion of Christ. Not any time. Not anywhere.
Tears streamed down my face then just as they do now as I attempt to recount this moment. It was then I understood the true purpose of a pilgrimage: to encounter God during our most difficult, uncomfortable, unfamiliar times. It’s to see him through the things that go wrong. It’s to feel him when we feel hopeless and alone. It’s to rely upon one another for support, courage and strength. It’s to be together in prayer, and to share what makes our inner love lights shine.
I saw God in myself that day, as well as in my colleagues and in our bold, brave, beautiful students. I understood what it means to let go and let the Holy Spirit carry you through, and I witnessed what it means to have and to SHOW faith.
God is with us when it’s ugly; when WE’RE ugly. He manifests himself inside us and inside those who give us strength. The students didn’t need me nearly as much as I needed them that day and God knew it. They broke down my wall and showed me their faith through their deeds. I’m forever grateful to them for their openness and their willingness to share themselves with me. The Holy Spirit was with us all that day just as he’s with us every day. And through him, we all became true pilgrims, and I became a better version of myself.