I first met John Valters Paintner through his wife Christine at an Abbey of the Arts retreat in Washington and had the chance to get to know him a bit better on my pilgrimage to Ireland with Abbey of the Arts this past spring. Since moving abroad, John has joined the Abbey of the Arts as Prior, teaching online classes, guiding pilgrimages, and inspiring Dancing Monks along with Christine. Because his life has become a pilgrimage of sorts, I knew he’d have many tales to tell here at A Sacred Journey. John will join us as our Pilgrim in Residence throughout the month of December, sharing tales of a life-long pilgrim each week until Christmas. Learn more about John here. -Lacy
My first pilgrimage was completely unintentional.
Sure I went to the World Youth Day (a Vatican-run gathering of Catholic young adults from across the globe) on a parish-sponsored trip, but my motivation was to hang out in Europe on the cheap. There was no great ‘burning bush’ moment of calling.
The year was 1991 and Pope John Paul II had called for a gathering of Catholic youth (18-35) from around the world to meet him in his home country of Poland. I had grown up in a very Catholic family and had always been very active in my faith (acolyte, youth ministry, Eucharistic minister, youth leader, etc.). But at that time I was attending community college and working part-time, so I had other things on my mind.
When our parish decided to put a delegation together, I was not one of the first people to sign up. It was only after I voiced some jealousy over my friends who were going that my parents offered to pay for half the trip. A month in Europe, with my friends, at half-price . . . I was sold.
What was the trip about?
The journey was quite an experience. I’d never been outside the U.S. before and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We flew to Poland and I found myself in a culture very foreign to my own. I did not understand the language and while everything looked similar, it was all just a bit off: cars parked everywhere, no coffee filters, and strange foods. But my friends were there and someone else was in charge. I sat back and enjoyed myself, making new friends and savoring the time.
Then at the concluding liturgy on the last day of the World Youth Day, the Pope himself issued a challenge (a command really): don’t be afraid to be holy. I don’t know why this phrase, among everything I’d heard and experienced the week leading up to this, stuck in my heart and mind so firmly.
But I was fired up. I was ready to get back home and to not be afraid to be holy!
Only we had another week of travel in Europe before heading home. It gave me time to ponder and reflect on this new, papal calling: don’t be afraid to be holy. I was ready. I was willing. I just had no idea what it really meant to be holy. It took me a while once I was back in the States to come to terms with what this pilgrimage had taught me, had called me to be. In many ways, I’m still trying to discover and define what “being holy” means for me. But it was my first step on a life-long pilgrimage.
What does it mean for you to “be holy” and, more to the point, courageously so?
PS: A young me (below), between my trip to Poland and marrying the woman on my left.