My pilgrimage on the Ignatian Way came to an abrupt halt because of a large blister at the bottom of my foot. But my pilgrimage was not a complete loss.
The Lord and I had some great quality time together. I had no earth-shattering revelations out there. But I learned four lessons: that God is in charge; to put my trust totally in Him; to converse with God in very personal ways; that one can find Jesus in people. Let me share these experiences with you.
God is in Charge—Always
I started my pilgrimage with the thought that I would have no expectations. I would try to go where God led me. Day 1 tested that expectation even without me realizing it. A flight delay altered the first few days of my trip. I realized that God was in charge. I needed to be open to whatever came along.
The second instance was developing the blister. Having that was more frustrating than painful. But it was so bad that the doctors recommended I not proceed any further on my pilgrimage. I felt that perhaps my wound was God’s way of saying, “You have had enough. You have finished your pilgrimage. It is time to go home and reflect on what you learned.”
The third instance was when I took a wrong turn. I took a left turn instead of a right. I asked a hiker I encountered how much further it was to my destination. He told me I was going the wrong way. I insisted that I was following a marked path to where I wanted to go. He kind of gave up on me and let me proceed on. A few hundred meters forward I saw a signpost that pointed to my town. I had been going the wrong way and had to double-back! I lost an hour in the process. The thought that came to me in this instance was: we can be on the right path, following all the right markers in life, and yet be going in the wrong direction or going backwards. We need to be careful in our faith. We need to be humble and respect guidance that we may receive from others or the Lord.
Having Trust in God
The hills and mountains of the Basque Country in Northern Spain, though not terribly high in elevation, are steep. Many Basque people are physically fit. To my embarrassment, two octogenarians, a man and a woman, passed me up on a mountain trail. I asked the Lord many times to stay with me and to help me conquer those hills.
Another time I found myself lost. I thought I knew where I was in one city. The architecture of the buildings all seemed about the same. So, when I could not find a certain landmark, I got a little frustrated. I asked the Lord for help. Before trying to find the route, I slowed myself down, had a little something to eat, filled my water bottle, and checked my GPS. Just as I set out, I looked-up and there was my landmark right in front of me. I don’t know how I missed it. I felt that just putting my trust in God calmed me down and helped me see clearly.
About 99.9% of the time I was alone on the road, especially in the forest, but I was never afraid. I never felt threatened or that I was in a situation that I would be harmed or injured. I always asked God to be by my side and to protect me; and He did!
Conversing with God
Have you ever had God all to yourself? You truly learn to converse with Him in very personal ways in those instances, especially if that is your purpose.
I told God that this pilgrimage was going to be our “alone time,” and it certainly was. As I mentioned above, I was alone with God for much of the time that I was on my pilgrimage.
On one of those steep climbs I could feel myself rushing. I then heard a voice say to me, “Michael, why are you rushing? The slower you go, the more time we have together.” I just had to smile and then I started to laugh. I said, “You’re right, Lord.” I don’t know how long I laughed about this, but it made the journey that day a little brighter. The only word I could come-up with to describe God at that moment was, “Character!”
The Lord and I went over things that we had discussed prior to my pilgrimage. He either reaffirmed them or made them a little clearer.
I found myself speaking out loud to God. “Lord, help me up this hill;” “Thank you, Lord for this beauty;” “I trust you, Lord.”
Encountering Jesus in Others
I heard somewhere that Americans stand-out when they are in a foreign country. It is obvious to the natives who the Americans are by the way they carry themselves, their mannerisms, the way they dress, and so on. Apparently, I was no exception.
I found some Basque people to be a bit reserved around a foreigner like me. But once we had a bit of encounter, they were very nice. I had people correct my Spanish. They weren’t being mean. They wanted me to speak correctly and not look silly. If I spoke a bit of Basque, I would get a bemused look. They weren’t making fun of me — they loved it.
I tried to be Christ-like to everyone I encountered. I would wave, smile, and greet people in Basque. Even those people that seemed disinterested would respond back.
I met a couple from Chile. I first saw them in Loyola but did not speak to them there. I encountered them on my third, and final, day on the road. They were planning on tackling the entire pilgrimage to Manresa. We conversed in a mix of Spanish and English. We have continued to keep in touch even after I returned home. They have much devotion to the Faith. This was not Esteban’s first pilgrimage. He gave me some wise words about what pilgrimage is.
When I arrived at my hotel on that third day, it was becoming evident to me that I might not be able to carry on. When I made my situation known to the hotel staff they went over-and-above to help me. Zara, the lady at the front desk, offered to take me to the doctor. Her boss, Joseba, took me to the next town for medical care, driving me to and from the clinic. Both Joseba and Zara did all sorts of little things without hesitation to help make my situation better. They did not do these things because they had to; they did them because they wanted to. I will forever be grateful to them.
These four people that I encountered demonstrated to me that Jesus can be found in others.
Those three days being on the road and my overall time in Spain were chuck-full of lessons from the Lord. Even though I had to “abandon” my physical pilgrimage, as others have told me, life itself is a pilgrimage to God.
I hope that you take the time for your own pilgrimage in whatever form that might be. And in your pilgrimage, I hope God inspires you and reveals more of Himself to you. But most importantly, I hope He makes you smile!
Copyright 2018 Michael T Carrillo