Personal Reflections on World Youth Day: The Papal Pilgrimage

Initially upon arriving in Madrid, we were all very tired.  We had driven all day and arrived to find that were would be sleeping in a gymnasium with 700 other pilgrims with no air conditioning.  We went to the park and played soccer for a while with some of the locals, and that raised spirits, though of course we lost.  

Certain spiritual highlights stick out from Madrid.

The second morning there, Fr. Hough said Mass for us in the park nearby.  The Gospel was about Peter walking in the water.  I had only recently meditated on that Gospel passage during my 8-day retreat, but what I noticed this time was the time that Jesus comes walking on the water.  It is during the 4th watch of the night, between 3-6 am, when they are tired and scared and the night is dark and the waves are high.  That is when Jesus comes.  He often comes to us when we are alone and scared, sinful and exhausted.  It is for us to recognize him in his coming and not to see him as a ghost.  If we will see him, then he will heal us.

After the Opening Ceremony with the Pope, I took part of our group to adoration at a Carmelite Parish on 41 Alcala Street.  I can remember the address, but not the name of the parish at this moment.  The adoration was led by Youth 2000 and was beautiful.  I led the group right up to the front so that we were immediately in front of the first step leading up to the sanctuary.  During prayer, Revelation 3:18 came to me again very strongly, “I advise you to buy….”  If God advises, who are we to reject his advice?  He advises us to buy gold, a white robe, and ointment.  He wants us to be poor, chaste, and obedient, but with his poverty, his chastity, and his obedience, all of which will make us rich, beautiful, and wise.  God will be as generous with us as we are to him.

The next day we did the Stations of the Cross with the Holy Father.  I was deeply moved again by the Tenth Station, “Jesus is Stripped of His Garments.”  This has always traditionally been my favorite station, all the back to saying the stations growing up on The Lord’s Ranch.  But this time the station struck me again in terms of praying for the white robe of purity.  Paul advises us to put off the flesh and to put on the spirit.  And Jesus shows us the way in this station.  Strip of flesh by painful strip of flesh, the old garment he wore during his ministry is torn from his body, and with it all of the dried blood and skin that had stuck to it.  The Old Flesh here does not come off all at once.  It comes off in little pieces, and very painfully.  The Old Flesh is put on too easily but comes off only slowly and painfully.  But it can come off.  Little by little, Jesus is stripped of his old garment and his old flesh, and in its place in the Resurrection he will put on a transformed flesh, the Spirit of God, the white robe of all the martyrs in Revelation.

We resist so often this slow stripping of the flesh because it is so incredibly painful.  But without losing the flesh, we cannot enter Heaven.

We returned again to the Carmelite Church, the first parish of St. John of the Cross, and prayed again.

The next day, Saturday, I attended Mass with the Pope at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Almuneda with another Jesuit scholastic.

We weren’t even supposed to be there.  The day before, the other scholastic had tried to get us tickets to the Mass, even though pre-registration required proof of seminarian status in the form of a letter from the provincial.  Nevertheless, tickets were procured.  Since I was not there, I sent my Jesuit High School ID card with a picture of me wearing clerics.  It worked.  Of course our tickets it turns out were for the bleachers outside of the Cathedral, but we didn’t know this.  Saturday morning we showed out ticket to one person, walked between the bleachers, up the steps, and right into the Cathedral.  No one said anything or stopped us.  We walked up to the front, grabbed two loose chairs, and sat on the right side of the altar, five pews back.  I couldn’t believe that no one else had taken the chairs.

Well, it was an incredible Mass.  We were so close I could see every expression on the Holy Father’s face.  Afterwards, when he announced that John of Avila would be declared a Doctor of the Church, I felt a thrill go down my spine.  There was a relic of John of Avila present so we all went over and venerated it.

It was only afterwards while speaking with a seminarian from the archdiocese of New Orleans who had gone through five screenings just to enter the Church did we realize that we weren’t even supposed to be inside.  God is good.

The final sleepover in the field was only disappointing insofar as the Pope, because of the massive numbers of people, was not able to drive around in the popemobile.  The crowds were so large that security could not be adequate.  However, adoration and benediction were still held, and after the brief thunderstorm, the night cleared up and I slept like a baby.

The hardest part for me in the morning was saying goodbye to our group, since Fr. Hough and I had to leave early to catch our train to Lourdes.  I hugged each of them, and when several started crying, I only barely managed to hold back myself.  These were two of the most spiritually enriching weeks of the last 10 years, and each of those young men was an important part of that.  I encouraged each of them to join the Sodality of Our Lady at Jesuit High School as a practical way of continuing the graces of this pilgrimage.  I have absolutely no doubt that they will return to Jesuit and give it a powerful spiritual shot in the arm.  They received all that they need to do just that.

After a rousing singing of “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam,” Fr. Hough and I left.  Now in Lourdes, Mary is helping me to pray back over my time at World Youth Day.  I pray that the graces from that experience overwhelm Jesuit High School and each individual who comes into contact with our group.  God be praised.


4 Responses to Personal Reflections on World Youth Day: The Papal Pilgrimage

  1. Tom Piatak says:

    Thanks for these powerful reflections.

    • Joe Areopagite says:

      Nathan, you rock. May the Lord continue to send his beautiful, unexpected, and powerful gifts of consolation upon you, and may you continue to console the Church by sharing with us the fruits of your contemplation and action at work. The Company is blessed to have you. Rock on, brother.

  2. had to put this up on FB. Bravo!

  3. Jeremy Call says:

    Good stuff, Nathan. I’m glad the trip went so well. Looking forward to many more in the future! Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to attend, again!


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