Day 7 – Travel Prayers!

The shift button is broken on this keyboard, and I think it’s God’s humor in the midst of all this chaos. As I grew up, Mom and Dad had us say our travel prayers every morning before school, and eventually we came to love and appreciate the shift we undergo in the midst of deliberate time set aside for prayer and thanksgiving.

That shift is the transition and predisposition toward instability and chaos, and that’s NOT the kind of spontaneity that we long to encounter! Rather, our sins drive a wedge between us and God in such a way that our world necessitates constant change, uncertainty, and indeed…transition. Though I wasn’t disposed toward hearing the truth at the time, my high school president once said, “Change provides the opportunity for virtuous actions”.

And so…to integrate this change in our hearts, instead of just getting bitter and sad that we will no longer be with our wonderful host families in Warsaw, we spent much of our busride in prayer and reflection over where we have seen the stability of the Kingdom of God most clearly over this past week! My oh my, what a great busride it became…

The memories are overwhelming, but the strength these experiences have instilled in us is sure to give way to even greater acts of mercy when we come back home. After all, this pilgrimage is not another retreat program or packaged vacation set up by a generic travel agent–this is a celebration of the good, true, and beautiful in our glorious Catholic faith, not so we can check off which corporal or spiritual works of mercy we fulfilled during these two weeks, NO! We realized just how much we have to get outside of that ideology and seek the TRUTH who is Christ Himself!

Rather, this pilgrimage is empowering us and filling us up with so much joy and authentic spontaneity that the random chaos that often accompanies our journey home as we are hit with the cultural desolation of secularism will not overcome us! God’s mercy, when received fully, is enough to banish our self-hatred and miserable naval gazing so as to encounter the other’s true self…instead of the emptiness of our own self-interested reflections which we project onto the other. Fr. Stanislaus and the community of Corpus Christi in Warsaw, Poland showered us with mercy and gifts all week long, and the relationship has only just begun!

My host family Mark has already extended the invitation to come back and visit again soon, and he’s even talked about booking us cheaper flights with a longer stay in Niepekelanow, inviting my whole family even…if God wills it of course! But you see?! His invitation wasn’t some obligatory remark that we sometimes passively share at funeral visitations or declines toward hospitality or party invitations. He really meant it, and watching their cultural Catholicism felt a lot different than the cultural Catholicism which often swallows up our young people in our sports-driven culture back home! They really believe Jesus came back from the dead and is alive and working within us each day, and their devotions bring the Traditions and Scripture alive in new and beautiful ways. It’s no wonder that our beloved St. John Paul the Great was so spectacular, considering the environment he inherited!

This morning began with Sunday Mass with our beautiful community one last time. Our choir friends brought us back up during Communion and the final hymn for another powerful round of “BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL” and then we got to meet a young priest from Connecticut, Fr. Macin (Mah-sheen) who grew up at that parish and who was there to celebrate the Mass with his WYD contingency of over 35 pilgrims! It was  oinspiring to hear his words of joy and consolation, especially when he used the insane Poke’mon GO App as a form of evangelization for young people! This new ardor made for an even greater social hour with our new friends, and suddenly, the buzz of activity surrounding the impending transition to Krakow began.

This is when I comment on the FOOD our families began to almost shove down our throats! From a hearty breakfast in the morning, to Sunday Mass with Jesus, to the social  hour with cakes and desserts to a lunch right afterward to a huge picnic in the park with steaks, hotdogs, cotton candy, and more, to Dominique’s 18th birthday surprise drop-in from our group to dinner with our host families, and then…yes to top it all off, MCDONALDS on the way to Krakow (it was our only choice!) we were completely beside ourselves with food, food, and more food!

Yet isn’t this another foreshadowing of the Heavenly Banquet we will enjoy in the Kingdom of God?! Ok, maybe not McDonalds 😄 The Eucharist is what feeds us spiritually, and by God’s grace we have been able to attend Mass every single day while we’ve been here. In fact, the Polish people have made it a point to bring us to Mass without question, for that’s the central point by which we encounter Christ with His Church! And so, with our bellies full, we began to pack for our final departure for Krakow…

Shoving things haphazardly into our packs, stuffed of clothes and other essentials, we began to take in the pure joys of this past week. Whether it was Fr. Stanislaus running down the streets of Warsaw dressed as Captain America (wearing our American flag like a cape and his RWB bandana!) and then rescuing Hope and Kristin at the picnic because we accidentally left them behind en route to our next adventure, and then of course the moment Michael began describing each of our personalities by naming us random foods. Pickles, cinnamon, wild boar, Polish pancakes (that’s Michael), mystery meat, and other hilarious takes on us spread the playful jests out widely for our laughter! Let’s not forget though how cool it was when Julia busted out her saxophone to the tune of “Over the Rainbow” just for us! Oh yes, and…the list never stops because the intimate moments were vast and impossible to fully convey. What we encountered was an environment of Catholic Christian LOVE, just as every family is meant to cultivate on a daily basis!

It’s just not as easy to do as it sounds, for we MUST BE DELIBERATE in our daily lives! It wasn’t just a casual thing they did when they prepared our transportation to and frow Krakow. It wasn’t easy or simple to ensure we were placed with host FAMILIES here at our new parish of St. Bartholomew the Apostle in Mogilany, especially since they’ve probably never even met the people they spent the week calling! It wasn’t the norm to go above and beyond what I feel we would be hard-pressed to share with them should they ever journey to our homeland in America!

Yet, maybe it IS their every day! When you see young children dancing up the steps on the altar…not knocking things over or screaming, but just quietly and innocently exploring the sanctuary, DURING MASS…and then when you see the entire congregation remain focused and undisturbed by such clear violations of the legalistic norms of American Catholicism. My goodness, have we come so far as a culture to lose focus because we see unexpected movement out of the corner of our eye when we could otherwise be peacefully encountering Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?

Ahh, but the Lord is good and He is faithful to the end! Despite the excuses or security / political issues we have facing us in America, I’ve witnessed Polish culture still thriving despite the darkness and evil which overshadowed it for hundreds of years. If they can overcome the emptiness of secular godless “spiritualism”, then so can we! I gave Mark my hoodie from WKU, along with a patriotic rosary for his family. Mark returned the love with his favorite t-shirt of a depiction of Jesus with the Polish words, “Here I am.”

Indeed, Lord Jesus. Here we are, finally in Krakow 2016 for the Jubilee Year of Mercy during the extraordinary World Youth Day! The shift key is still broken, and my patience is wearing, but the transition into the insane is only a cause for a greater self-mastery so as to attain the sanctity of the saints who walked before us.

My final thought comes from the backroads Fr. Stanislaus took us as we worked our way to the final church we toured in Warsaw, the Church of Our Lady of Fatima. On the way, we walked alongside the train tracks, trodding loudly and boisterously upon the old worn-down road when suddenly it hit us…

The darkness of those evil days of the Third Reich brought forth such incomprehensible atrocities, and we were walking along the same roads that many of our Jewish and Catholic brothers and sisters may have walked! Only, they were heading to the Auschwitz Concentration Camps, and their brethren were so scared of their government and the cultural relativism which it embraced that they “chose” to just sing louder”, as if the truth of their screams could be drowned out…I’m sure those poor souls who perished under that regime faced a transition which felt darker and more hopeless than anything imaginable…

Pray we can encounter that darkness so that our light and our joy can be brought to fulfillment within us.

All you holy men and women in Heaven, PRAY FOR US!

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!

In Christ, for Love and Life!

– John Sohl & the WYD 2016 Contingency

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