Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eeekk...And my Pilgrimage

Sorry for my absence. I went on vacation for the long weekend and have been buckling down for midterms for the past 2 weeks...and I still have 2 1/2 more weeks to go. How does that make any sense? lol Mid-terms should come at one time! Not one every week for 5 weeks! But alas, I suppose I get more time to study for each one. Keep me in your prayers.

I gave up my Saturday study plans to go on a pilgrimage to the First American Martyr's Shrine in Auriesville, NY. We had to leave campus verrrrry early, and alas I looked like a fool sleeping in the car ride up while some of the others were jamming out to their iPods :P ah well, we college kids will take any opportunity to sleep, as we are always running on low battery.

It was bitterly cold out (does anyone else think it's been an awfully cold fall so far?!) and the shrine was *obviously* an outdoor activity. First we spent some time in the gift shop, where I spotted the religious medals. Some had these red dots and patches on the back and were classified as "relics"...but I thought there was no way they were true saint relics, as they were merely $3-4 each. Can anyone explain this to me? Do any of you own these relic medals?

After wrapping that up, we headed over to the chapel for mass, but unfortunately no one was showing up and we were dumbfounded. There was supposed to be a mass being held everyday, so where was it? We finally found it in the coliseum church, *which was beautiful!*, but we came in during the sermon! Mass was already half over! Ugh. Needless to say I was utterly BUMMED! But the Lord seemed to be testing me and guiding me toward being a more patient and flexible servant today, as nothing was truly going "smoothly".

(The Coliseum Church, photo provided by Ten Kids and a Dog)

As you can see, the church looked like an old Fort. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of this church, as the alter (the 4-way in it had 4 alters due to the square shape it had) was in the center of the building and the pews encircled it. Simply awesome! While at church I noticed many families with the mothers (and their young daughters!) wearing chapel veils! I have yet to see any woman wear a veil to any church/mass I have been to and this was so powerful, I didn't want to stop staring...I was taking it all in. It's such a good feeling to see strong faith and piety being displayed outwardly, especially in the case of the veil, as I believe it to be required in the prayer life of us ladies. These parents were not only living their faith as a couple, with Christ obviously at the center of their lives, but they were setting great examples for their children (especially their daughters!). I was just very very pleased.

The grounds of the shrine were amazing. We took a quick look around before watching a video in the media center about the martyrs and Kateri Tekakwitha (the first Native American saint...or almost saint) The story of the martyrs was very powerful, but the story truly came alive and hit you as you walked the grounds and relived the events of their lives.

Saint Isaac Jogues was a priest who tried to evangelize and spread the faith to the Mohawk tribes. This was not ok with these natives and they became incensed by the practices of Jogues and his friend Rene Goupil. St. Rene and St. Isaac were walking around the village of Ossernenon, after a morning of intense prayer, and they came across two young Native American men. One of the men killed Rene with a tomahawk, but spared Jogues. As I walked the path leading to the Ravine (where Jogues would later bury his companion), I read the story again, but this time they had accounts written by Jogues. It was horrific to "re-live" this event in our Church's history.

(Note: gets a little graphic)

Jogues, distraught over witnessing this insane act, had to give his friend his last rights and prepare his body for burial. However, he was forced to leave and the native children tied a rope around the neck of Rene's body and pulled him to the Ravine. Jogues later took Rene and placed him in the Ravine, under heavy rocks, for burial later, but when he came back, the body had been removed. The natives placed the body in an area where other waste was placed for dogs, foxes, and other animals to feast upon. Thus, Jogues found the remains a year later, only bones were left. The bones were properly buried in the Ravine.

Some time later, Jogues blessed his food with the sign of the cross and his Mohawk friend quickly warned him to stop his "crossing" immediately, as that was what cost Rene his life.

I was overcome with relief...relief that I didn't have to live in a time where my faith could cost me my life. But I immediately felt guilty. I should be ready to give up my life at any time, and this story proves how fragile life really is and how strong beliefs are. Our lives are not our own, as they belong to the Creator himself, but our faith can be. We need to cultivate our faith every single day, we need to ensure it grows and doesn't weaken or plateau.

We must listen to these stories of the martyrs and learn from them, as we could be put in this situation at any moment. Perhaps not to such an extreme degree, our lives may not be threatened, but we are put to this test everyday. We are pressured into abandoning our Christian faith all the time, through politics, college, the music we listen to, the friends we love, even sometimes our own families. I can relate to St. Isaac in that I have been threatened to hide my outward signs of faith. Did he do so? No, he did not deny the Lord, and he would later be martyred for his religious zeal.

Throughout the Ravine are various bridges and shrines, all very close to the water-way in which St. Rene was buried. I was so moved, and I realized the need I had for Christ, the hunger I had for His Word, and the deep desire I had to know Him better. I sat in front of the statue of Jesus laying in a stone alcove, and I just meditated on His passion. What had he ever done to me to deserve such torment? Any how could I, regretting each an every sin I have committed against him, be afraid to suffer pain, ridicule, and even death for His sake?He is my Creator, Father, and everything!...and yet He still gets placed on the "back burner" of my life so often. I know now how imperative it is that He become the Lord of my life, and that I make every effort to strengthen our relationship now.

As I looked around, I saw the families from the mass looking on with the same deeply contemplative expressions I must have had, and I felt the unity. So often I feel alone in my walk, but I'm really not, as I have a huge family of believers struggling through the same trials and sufferings. We are one body: us everyday modern believers, the saints & martyrs, and those souls from generations past. Yet, while we are such an amazingly complex and beautiful Body, we-The Church- are just people and we are incredibly flawed. It hit me that I constantly put my faith in people all too much, and when they offend me or let me down in some way, I lose a little faith in my spiritual journey. We are made perfect through Christ, but I will never live to see this perfection played out, not until after death. Thus, the only One I should be putting my faith in is Jesus. Yes, people and relationships are vitally important in this life, especially for a healthy spiritual life, but I need to stop letting myself get so disappointed when they become tricky and messy.

Jesus is the beginning & the end: focus on Him with all your heart, soul, and might!
Visiting this shrine was amazing, despite the little bumps in the road & the weather. It just reinforced my need for Jesus and brought it so forcefully to the forefront of my heart, that I couldn't help but act on it & share with you my experience. I really encourage a visit to this shrine if you are ever in the area, and if not, or if you are not Catholic, to simply google & read the lives of these martyrs & of Kateri, as they are very relevant to this amazing faith we share. These men and women are an encouragement and a reminder that this life is a battle: you're either for God or against Him, don't allow yourselves to become lukewarm, and always strive to be readily willing to give up your pleasure, comfort, and lives for the Most High.