Be on a pilgrimage where you are

Imagine you’re given $30 and a one-way bus ticket to Mexico. Your goal is to take what you need — a clean shirt, some socks and underwear, perhaps, and some toiletries — and live by begging. Oh, yes, and also find your way back home in six weeks, preferably by joining a group of migrants crossing the border into the U.S.

Sounds challenging?

So I was amazed when someone remarked that a Jesuit novice from Omaha was leaving on just such a journey. I don’t know the man, and although I’ve wondered how and if he survived, I haven’t heard. I guess I need to find out.

What I did learn is that this kind of pilgrimage is the norm for a Midwestern Jesuit novice. A novice is by definition a “beginner” and men spend their first two years with the Jesuits as novices. During that time, they make a 30-day silent retreat based on the spiritual exercises of their founder, Saint Ignatius.

And, for guys from Milwaukee, Omaha and other points, they also go traveling for six weeks in an effort to journey with the poor, leaving behind all the privileges of status. It’s pilgrimage at its most basic.

There’s a new book out by a Jesuit priest named Casey Beaumier that traces his novice pilgrimage. Father Beaumier took his knapsack and $30 and hiked in Appalachia where he tried to figure out how to meet Maya Angelou, a woman whose writings had deeply inspired him in college.

His journey to Angelou is recounted in “A Purposeful Path: How Far Can You Go with $30, a Bus Ticket, and a Dream.”

This is not a book review, since I just ordered the book. But I did spend half an hour listening to a talk given at Boston College by Father Beaumier. I found his story amusing and appealing. The talk can be found at

It’s a bit of a cliché to say we’re all pilgrims. Or, as Beaumier says, we’re all “pilgrims on the fly — we’re on a journey.”

People travel extensively nowadays. But a trip to a vacation spot, or a pricey tour, does not necessarily make a pilgrimage. Likewise, staying in our own environment does not mean we’re not pilgrims. A pilgrimage might take us to the local shelter or a refugee program across town or even a thoughtful walk to morning Mass. We can’t all hike out of Mexico, but we can journey out of our comfort zone.

A pilgrim is on a spiritual quest. A pilgrim is not just looking at new sights, but is looking into her heart for insight, to see what God is saying as she experiences the world. A pilgrim is conscious of the movement of the Spirit.

A pilgrim travels lightly, only the bare essentials. Maybe you can’t hike the Camino de Santiago this summer, but perhaps traveling lightly on your own path might be your pilgrimage.

“The bad spirit wants you to carry things that weigh you down,” said Father Beaumier. The traveling novice is forced to leave behind material things. But, we too, can lay down some of what burdens us.

Although it’s not Lent, maybe a pilgrimage for us would be finding what weighs us down — a food, a drink, a bad habit, a shopping compulsion — and give it up for a period of time. “Fasting” from some indulgence helps strengthen my weak spirit and reminds me to pray. It helps me see things with new eyes.

Another Jesuit, Daniel Berrigan, wrote a simple prayer for any of us pilgrims: “I pray you make new this hireling heart.”

The writer, formerly from Anchorage, now lives in Omaha, Neb.

'Be on a pilgrimage where you are'
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