By Fr. Corey Close
A few weeks ago, the entire Prince of Peace High School here in Clinton went on a pilgrimage to La Crosse, Wis., to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine. It was done in honor of the Year of Faith and was a truly remarkable experience which I was able to participate in. We filled two buses with all of the teens and teachers at seven in the morning and began our journey. On the way up I was able to play a game of “Stump the Father,” where anyone who asked a religious question that I did not know the answer to would get a piece of candy. It was a fun way to pass the time and to get to know some of the students.
We arrived in La Crosse around 10:30 a.m. and then began our day of prayer. The students were divided into five groups and were led to five different stations: a rosary walk, a memorial to the unborn children, Stations of the Cross, the church, and a small votive candle chapel at the bottom of the hill. As we arrived, we were told that the volunteer who would have done the tours for us in the small chapel was sick, so we wouldn’t have anyone to give the talks. Due to my knowledge of art history (my father is an art historian), and my own religious knowledge, I volunteered to take her place. I was given a small booklet with information regarding the chapel, and I read it as I went up the hill.
I love giving tours and it was a real joy for me to be able to do this service for the pilgrimage. I gave two tours, ate lunch, and then gave three more tours. After the final talk, a golf cart and its driver were waiting to take me up to the church to say Mass. I was whisked up the hill, got quickly vested and then said Mass. It was an awesome experience, as the church is gorgeous, and it was a real honor to say Mass for the pilgrimage group. Afterwards, we rushed down the hill, got in our buses, and headed home.
It really was a full day, but an amazing one, which gave me time to reflect on my relationship with Mary. In my homily, I talked about how I’ve always struggled with trying to have a Marian devotion. Despite that fact, I know there’s never been a time in my life that Mary hasn’t cared for me. Even in my poor attempts at saying the rosary, I’ve always felt her presence caring for me and praying for me. I told the group: you might not be ready to meet Mary or even God in prayer today, but I hope that one day, perhaps through the aid of this pilgrimage, you will meet them. They love us all so very much.
For me, I said, one source of great comfort is that I cannot earn God or Mary’s love; I’ve tried and failed. Rather, we are loved unconditionally, and for this I am so grateful. I am also thankful because the pilgrimage reminded me that while we can and should try to pray as best we can, and even though our efforts may fall quite short, we are loved so amazingly and so gratuitously. Even our feeble efforts, like a child’s drawing, can bring great joy to God and Mary. If we make our hearts open, they will draw us to themselves. Even if our efforts fail, God and Mary will love us no less, and will still be there, even when we don’t feel their presence. God bless.
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)