"Big Four" Highlights


Make an Advent Pilgrimage

Journey to Jesus through Mary with your family

By Father Hugh Gillespie, SMM

There is a beautiful, double dynamic within the Scripture readings during the season of Advent: the approach of the Lord who comes to his people, and the corresponding movement of his people toward the Lord as they step out of the routine of their lives to go where he is to be found.

The Marian Shrine in Lourdes, France, is one of the world's most popular places of pilgrimage.
CNS photo/Paul Haring

The liturgy of Christmas provides a pair of striking examples of this double dynamic of the Lord and his people. The Christ Child is born into the world to save his people from their sins, and is greeted by pilgrims from near and far – the shepherds of the surrounding fields and the magi from the East. In both their journeying and their finding of the Christ Child in the arms of Mary his mother, the wise men and the shepherds have provided the Church with a compelling example of the power and importance of a pilgrimage to a Marian Shrine as a means of truly experiencing an intimate and deeply personal encounter with Our Lord.

If we would truly meet Our Savior in the most direct, safe and effective way, St. Louis de Montfort notes, we can do no better than to travel along the same route that he has taken in coming to us – the path of entrusting ourselves into the care of Our Lady. Undertaking a family pilgrimage to a center of devotion to the Blessed Mother, such as a Marian shrine, is a marvelous way of making this important spiritual truth a concrete reality in lives. In fact, the family that sets out on a pilgrimage together gives the Lord a significant gift from the beginning by setting aside the time and energy for the journey. The Lord, who is never to be outdone in generosity, certainly blesses those who move toward him in this way, beginning with a strengthening of the bonds of unity among those who journey together. One way in which a family can consciously work to obtain this great blessing of a deeper unity is for its members to decide together on a common intention for which they will all pray during the pilgrimage. This intention can be included in the prayer that the family says before leaving home at the beginning of the journey, and should be a part of the family’s prayer while it seeks Our Lady’s intercession at the shrine.

Marian shrines typically offer a great wealth of tactile ways of expressing and engaging the fullness of our faith: statues, paintings, outdoor Way of the Cross trails, rosary walks with all 20 mysteries, churches built at the request of the Blessed Mother, candles that provide warm brightness and water that offers cool refreshment or even healing. All of these physical phenomena serve as beautiful witnesses to the power of faith-filled trust in Our Lord and Our Lady. Shrines built in honor of Our Lady also tend to have a rich tradition, as places where history has not only been lived but prayed, often filled with visible signs of the thousands of acts of piety that have come to expression upon their grounds. Such things bring us into intimate contact with the larger Body of Christ, not just as it exists in our own day and age but also as it has been handed down by previous generations of believers. Experienced in this way, a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine can become a significant moment in the history of one’s own family, a moment that can produce rich and abundant fruit should a family continue to return to the shrine – perhaps on an annual basis – or an initial experience to build upon with visits to other Marian sanctuaries. In this way, a family can become conscious of the history of prayerful intentions and moments of grace that have come to its members through these visits.

Our Lady is that one who is truly “full of grace” not simply for herself, but especially for us, and a visit to one of her shrines can be a powerful reminder that even, perhaps especially, today, as on that first and greatest Christmas, wise men will continue to find Christ in the arms of his Mother.

Fr. Hugh Gillespie, SMM, is a mission preacher and retreat master belonging to the Company of Mary, the religious community founded by St. Louis de Montfort. He is managing editor for Montfort Publications.