I had a unique “field trip” this past Tuesday, to The Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Indiana. The head of our St. Isaac Jogues Rosary Group mothered all of us, arranging our day’s itinerary to celebrate our group’s 10-year anniversary, driving us down to the Shrine, and even distributing breakfast sandwiches and water bottles to us for the journey. Hearing that I had left the house with mismatched gloves, she ran into her house and presented me with a fuzzy set she kept on hand for emergencies. (Pun intended.) More than once that day, I grinned and told her, “Thanks, Mom!” Mothering = Comfort.
Another highlight of the road trip was sitting in the back passenger seat next to another mom, whose family had immigrated to the U.S. years ago from Iraq. As we bit into our fast food sandwiches, I remarked that her usual daily breakfast was probably much different. She described her boiled egg that she served with a flat bread native to her homeland.
“It’s like that Mexican bread,” she said.
“Yes, like that.”
From those simple beginnings, our conversation branched into her childhood memories. She described the beauty of growing up Catholic in Iraq. Yes, her area had lovely Catholic churches and schools, and a full network of priests, religious and lay Catholics that helped form her as a child. Everyone got along well together in those days. Muslim and Christian neighbors more than co-existed — they were friends.
I could tell from her stories, that current pace in America was hyper-charged, compared to her former life in her homeland. She remembered meals hand-crafted in kitchens, and enjoyed around a full, family table. She learned to be a good cook the traditional way, at her mother’s side. Here in America, people ate out all the time, and schedules conflicted with the traditional family time at table.
My seatmate’s and my conversation quieted as we arrived at the Shrine. We set out along the beautiful Way of the Cross with its locally-quarried stone, trees and foliage reflecting those in the Holy Land, and sculpted bronze figures of Jesus, His Apostles, and other main figures from the Passion narrative. Our group of nine shared a different kind of communication, as we meditated and lifted up our personal intentions.
The day left me with many impressions that will take some time to unpack. One, was a renewed sense of the universality of the Church. Transcending geographical barriers, my Iraqi friend and I had similar upbringings within the heart of our Church. It made our conversation warm and easy.
Second, was the reminder of the fragile nature of all we hold dear. How swiftly that healthy network of churches and neighbors in Iraq was shattered by terrorists’ attacks.
Third, I found myself reflecting yet again on this fact — our hectic, fast-paced American lifestyles take family members too much away from each other on a daily basis.
It was a lot to consider, but when our pilgrimage group wended its way to the Station of the Crucifixion, there was only one thing to do: let everything be still for that moment and unite ourselves with our Jesus on the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, joined individuals all precious to God, with ancestral roots in Iraq, the Philippines, France, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Italy.
The best pilgrimages leave long-lasting effects. I needed my faithful getaway and re-centering at the Cross. I’m not the only one. Surfing social media these days, it’s easy to sense peoples’ angst. Things beloved and familiar to us in culture and in our daily lives seem to be untethering and flapping in the wind, like some unruly canvas on a refugee tent. Yet, we must stay tied to the things that matter most, no matter where life leads us.
As moms, we are good comforters amidst strife. And any one of us who has flipped out under the day’s pressure, can attest that we can do nothing by our own power. Political voices are raging; family members, friends and the Stranger on the Street are daily giving us a piece of their minds with flushed cheeks and maybe not the greatest courtesy. But we can be powerful in offering some antidotes to the current craziness — we can start by working to carve out a homey place where family, friends, love and faith may thrive. Come hell or high water, we can still strive to make our homes and work zones places of respect and refuge.
Only Divine guidance will help us step our way toward these goals. We must peel ourselves from the daily news to focus on Jesus at Mass, in the adoration chapel, in His Word, and in each other’s hearts. This is not a safe world, but we are called to nurture it. How we do that, can be as simple as offering a breakfast sandwich, a pair of warm gloves, a listening ear and a prayer, to cheer a fellow-pilgrim on her journey. The safest place I know is nestled in God’s arms. Let’s remind each other by words and example, to return and rest there.
Copyright 2016 Marianna Bartholomew