I’m a planner. I always have — or hope to have — a plan for where I’ll be at a specific time and place.

Throughout last year, 10 days — July 13 through July 22 — were marked off in bold, red letters: pilgrimage in France. As I returned home July 23, I realized even the planner in me never could have accounted for what I experienced during those 10 days.

This summer, I had the opportunity to pilgrimage in France, visiting the cities of Lisieux and Lourdes. Going on this pilgrimage allowed me to understand what I strive for when I plan: purpose. I find meaning in being able to be convinced of a purpose. This purpose for where I am and what I am doing is found in what, or whom, I am directed toward.

For Catholics, this purpose is found in God. Travelling to the boundaries of the spiritual and natural worlds allowed me to perceive purpose more acutely. We come to these places at the invitation to draw closer to God — not only spiritually, but physically. Lisieux is the hometown of one of Catholicism’s greatest contemplative saints, St. Thérѐse. Lourdes is the site where Mary, the mother of God, appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. Lourdes is associated with the spring that Bernadette discovered at Mary’s direction and its miraculous healing waters. The site is home to 70 declared miracles. Each of these miracles underwent rigorous review by a medical committee.

For me, realizing the meaning of the present happened at a time that was unplanned and unexpected. Our day in Lisieux originally felt to me like just a stop along the way to Lourdes. I had thought of our day in Lisieux as a checkmark on a journey, instead of the pilgrimage it was.

The morning had been rushed; it was not until we were in the cathedral where Thérѐse attended daily mass with her family that I finally had a moment to myself. After a three-hourlong bus ride and a stop at the Basilica of St. Thérѐse, I stopped thinking about where we were going — and, more importantly, where I was going — and just was.

I was arrested by the purpose of the present. In the opportunity to just be as I was, in preparation for Mass, I began to see the future not as an indefinite behemoth I needed to define, but the summation of discrete moments such as this one, where I could know my purpose in the moment. I realized that, in this moment, I was fulfilling my ultimate purpose. I realized that I didn’t need to plan.  

As a Catholic, I have always believed in a God whose will is greater than my own. Inevitably, something unexpected and contrary to our life plans will arise; we are only able to make sense of the senseless by understanding God’s will. In this sense, my pilgrimage gave me an acute awareness of what I should strive for not only during my next three years at Georgetown, but also for a lifetime.

In France, I realized that my life’s purpose is not dictated by my own narrow plans for myself. God calls us to so much more. Ultimately, He calls us to encounter Him and to abide eternally in that encounter with Him in Heaven. Pilgrimage shows us the need for purpose in each step we take toward our ultimate goal, whatever it may be.

Madeleine Ostertag is a sophomore in the College and the spiritual chair of Catholic Women at Georgetown. Into the Feminine Genius appears online every other Wednesday.

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