Pilgrimage reawakens spiritual life

This past February, I was blessed to be on the diocesan pilgrimage with Bishop Robert Gruss. It was a whirlwind pilgrimage, as we visited France, Spain and Portugal in 10 days. The weather wasn’t the greatest, but praying at these holy sites and pondering the Blessed Mother’s appearances to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, St. James in Zaragoza, and Lucia, Jacinta and

Francisco in Fatima was absolutely the best!

As a bonus, we stopped at Avila and Salamanca to reflect on the courageous lives of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, each of whom became bold witnesses for renewal in the church in the middle 1500s. We need witnesses like them today, people who are willing to give testimony to the power Christ in their lives.

Pope Paul the VI, in his 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

The call to be witnesses is not a new one in the church. Toward the end of the Acts of the Apostles we hear how the Lord stood next to St. Paul and said, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome” Acts 23:11. In all times and in all places, we are called to bear witness and to give our personal testimony of Christ to others. And it isn’t always easy.

On the pilgrimage, we were staying at Lourdes and I had a beautiful view from the balcony of my hotel room of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Our last morning in Lourdes, I found myself on the balcony about 3:30 a.m., praying and taking it all in one last time.

I was surprised to hear the door of the balcony next to me open as a gentleman walked out onto it. I greeted him and started to make some small talk with him. I found myself sharing with him how he was going to love Lourdes. I told him how our Blessed Mother Mary appeared to a teenage girl named Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, and how Lourdes, through the intercession of Blessed Mother Mary and St. Bernadette, has become a place of both spiritual and physical healing for many people around the world.

Many spiritual lives have been re-awakened and renewed in Jesus Christ here. Mary always points to her son, Jesus — the way, the truth and the life. I finished by saying, “I pray and hope that Jesus through Mary will touch your life in a new way while you are in Lourdes.”

He looked at me and, without saying a word, walked back into his hotel room and shut the door. I was stunned by his action.

Were my words offensive to him? Maybe he had a bad experience of church growing up or felt that God never answers his prayer. Perhaps I was boring him with all this talk about Jesus and Mary? Or maybe he was just having a bad day. Whatever it was, he was not interested in what I had to say.

I have thought about this experience a number of times since then. Looking back on this encounter, I should have first invited the Holy Spirit into my heart and asked him what he wanted me to share with this person. Perhaps it would have been better to share my personal story of how the Lord Jesus is working in my life, in particular of beholding Our Lady.

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians the call to discipleship invites us to share not only the Gospel, but our very selves. In our stewardship initiative this is where “lively faith” enters — sharing the Gospel and ourselves with others. This is how faith is caught. It becomes contagious and alive.

As we continue to hear lay witness speakers in our parishes witnessing on generous hospitality and lively faith, I encourage you to think about your personal testimony, your story.

Summer is a perfect time to meet new people in the many events, activities and travels of this season. We meet people at the baseball park,

camping, while on a family vacation or perhaps on the balcony of a hotel room. Summertime gives us many opportunities to give witness to our faith in Jesus — to share the joy of the Gospel. Are you ready?

Here are a few questions I have found helpful. I invite you to take them before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Pray and journal on these questions. They will help you prepare in an

intentional way to give your testimony if the opportunity arises.

*What event or series of events in your life lead you to the place where you first said “yes” to God?

*What was your life like before that?

*How have you experienced the invitation to follow Christ?

*How have you experienced Christ longing for you?

* is your life like now? How have things changed because of your decision to follow Christ?

*What are the little ways you see God moving in your life?

*What keeps you connected to Christ and his church?

*Remember, when you are about to give your testimony, first pray to the Holy Spirit that he will give you the words to speak from your heart. Oh, and then remind me to do the same, won’t you?

*Keep it simple. Be direct. Beintentional. Be discreet. Be bold.