The expert’s guide to an armchair pilgrimage

There are a lot of reasons a person can’t head out on a pilgrimage. Some can’t afford it. Others can’t get away because of family or work obligations. And still others aren’t able to travel because of health or age. Then, too, some of us — including yours truly — are what could be known as ita haerent in luto. (It sounds better in Latin, and it means a “stick-in-the-mud.”)

Whatever the reason, you can make a pilgrimage without leaving the comfort of your living room or giving up your very own bed and very own pillow. This can be the summer for your religious stay-at-home vacation, your “staycation” — for your “armchair pilgrimage,” spending time on a spiritual trek that involves no trekking.

How to begin?

As with any pilgrimage, it starts with some pretrip planning: where to go, what to pack, how to get there, and what to see and do once you arrive.

Where to go?

Is there a particular Marian image or devotion you’ve always loved or is a part of your cultural heritage? Guadalupe in Mexico, Knock in Ireland, La Vang in Vietnam? Is there a saint whose life and spirituality touch your heart? Thérèse of Lisieux? Faustina in Krakow? Catherine of Siena?

Is there a church, shrine or site that intrigues you? The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem? Notre Dame in Paris? The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington? Is there an anniversary (the 2017 centennial of Fatima, for example) you’d like to celebrate? Do you wish you could attend a canonization?

What to pack?

No need to worry about appropriate clothes and comfortable walking shoes. No concerns about a passport or prescriptions. Instead, go to confession. (Yes, this means leaving the house, unless the priest comes to visit you.)

Start with a soul ready and eager to spend some time with your Heavenly Father, his beloved Son and the love between them — the Holy Spirit. Prepare yourself to learn more about, and draw closer to, Our Lord, the Blessed Mother or that favorite saint.

How to get there?

Gather some material (books, periodicals, DVDs, website URLs, Google maps) on that devotion, that saint and spirituality, that church or shrine, that anniversary, as if you were going there. You are. Not physically, but spiritually.

There will be no rushing to the airport, standing in line, boarding a plane and spending the next six to 12 hours wedged between a woman who won’t stop talking and a man who apparently ate a whole head of garlic for breakfast.

You’re doing this from home. So instead pray for those who are traveling: Some for vacation, some for work. Some to see a loved one who is ill, attend a class reunion or bury a dear friend or family member. Some leaving home for the first time, others finally getting back for a visit. Pray for those who can’t travel. Those who are unable to stand, who lack mobility, who spend all day in a bed or most of the day in a wheelchair.

You’re not getting on a plane but, imagining that chatty seatmate, pray for those who are lonely and have no one to talk to. Shuddering at the thought of that garlic-infused fellow sitting next to you, pray for those who, for whatever reason, others find difficult to be around.

What to see and do once you ‘arrive’

Make yourself get up and stay up at 2 in the morning so your internal clock goes wonky. No. Wait. It’s your bed. Your pillow. So — at whatever time of day best fits your schedule — over the next few days (for an hour, more or less, each day), visit that shrine or church by moseying through that written material.

Light a candle. (You’d be stopping by the racks of votive candles if you were there, wouldn’t you?) Take in the sights through that DVD or online video. Pause for a while at the particular image, the surrounding art, the basilica, the plaza, your fellow pilgrims.

You can be a part of it while being so far from it. You can be swept up in it as you meditate, pray for loved ones and thank God for the many, many blessing and graces he continues to bestow on you. You can pray the Rosary privately and pray with those attending Mass there. (Some shrine websites have live, online “streaming” Masses and other services. Others have recorded ones.)

At some point over these days, if possible, you can visit your own parish (“visit” meaning really go there) and attend Mass and receive Communion. Yes, online is good, but there’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to the Real Presence.

Before you leave

Stop at the gift shop or a souvenir store. (There has to be one of those, right? At least one.) What would you like to get for yourself and for your loved ones back home? Order a rosary, medal, plaque, statue or other sacramental online. Pick up a related book.

And, if you want to venture out, stop by the local Catholic bookstore in your area to do that. Get something nice, which you would do if you had traveled all that way and spent all that money for your pilgrimage. Which you can do since you didn’t spend a dime for this spiritual journey.

And don’t forget to make a donation! You’d do that, too, if you were physically there. To that shrine or church. To the religious order that staffs it or to the ministry of those associated with it. To your favorite apostolate or charity.

Home again

It can be tough returning home after making a pilgrimage (or a retreat, for that matter). You can feel you’ve changed but everyone and everything back at the old homestead or workplace has remained the same. It’s easy to get swept up in petty concerns and habits.

How do you keep that “pilgrimage feeling”? How do you maintain those promises you’ve made to yourself? Ask the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother for help, turn to the saint whose home or grave you’ve visited and start planning your next “trip.”

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.

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