We were visiting Washington D.C. the summer my dad received a phone call that a parishioner had been involved in a terrible farm accident. Leo Kraft sustained a crushed pelvis when a tractor ran over him. He was lucky to be alive.
Dad was the pastor of the small Presbyterian church where Leo and his wife Zoan worshipped. We cut our vacation short and returned home to the rural community where we lived so that dad could be with Leo and the family.
After weeks of recovery, Leo was finally released from the hospital and returned home. I remember
the day I was riding my bike down the street that passed in front of our house (the manse) and the Presbyterian church less than a block away. I noticed Leo and Zoan as they walked inside the church. It was the middle of the week, so it was odd that someone was going to church. We didn't have around the clock adoration time like many Catholic parishes do. So the only time people gathered at church was on Sunday mornings or for fellowship and scheduled events. If there was an event at church, we would have known it. We were the pastor's family, after all.
As I watched, Leo and his wife walked through the front doors and up the aisle, where they kneeled to pray. I felt warm inside. I knew what they were doing. They were thanking God for sparing Leo's life. It was a rare thing to see a Presbyterian doing something like that. They were usually "proper" and didn't do the overtly holy things I remembered from our years in the Wesleyan denomination (dad was a Wesleyan pastor before he became Presbyterian pastor). Wesleyans were always praying and hitting their knees in those Wesleyan churches.
As Protestants, we believed you could pray anywhere. One place was as good as the next. The church offered the whole community a place to pray, but praying on one's own could be done anywhere.
So why did Leo feel the need to hobble to the car in those first days following his release from the hospital and why did he slowly mount the front steps of the church when there was no easy access for one who was recently handicapped, and why did he walk with his wife to the front of the church and kneel when it must have been painful after all he'd been through?
It's simple, really.
Somewhere inside of us, Protestant and Catholic alike, we know that there are holy places - places set aside for our most fervent prayer time, places where we know God shows up and we can commune with Him.
Churches. Shrines. Grottos. Monasteries. The Holy Land. Lourdes. Fatima. Knock.
The bedside of a loved one who is dying.
It is a Catholic concept - this going to a place because we anticipate God will meet us. Sure, Catholics believe they can pray anywhere.
But they also know that there are holy places where one meets God more substantially.
If there are unholy places - and there are - then there are holy places.
If one can expect the demons to dance in places where evil people do evil things, then we know there must be holy places where holy people do holy things.
In those moments when we long to come close to Christ, we know that it requires some kind of pilgrimage.
It's like the Holy Spirit is sending us. Yes. It is a kind of divine sending and a divine visitation.
Pilgrimage. Perhaps it's a simple as driving to your church and kneeling before the Tabernacle. Perhaps it is as wonderful as planning a trip to France or Mexico or Rome or Israel.
Yes, we can bow our heads anywhere and encounter God, but somewhere inside, we all know that there is something holy about taking a journey with the expectation of encountering Christ when we reach that holy destination.