Pilgrim Toes, Thirst, and the Canonization of Mother Teresa

The weekend of Mother Teresa’s canonization began quite peacefully. The Romans were slowly returning home from their month-long summer break —  boy do they know how to live — and the crowds in Rome were smaller than we had expected.

There was a part of me that wondered how the Italians were going to pull off a huge ordeal like a canonization when they were so sluggishly returning to their routines.

It seems people were avoiding St. Peter’s because they feared the crowds — that was a big win for us!  Thank you Jesus for smaller lines at St. Peter’s and easier access to good food and gelato — I don’t think this tired pilgrim could have handled the crowds for an entire weekend!

St. Peter's square -probably the emptiest I have ever seen it.
Only 2 days before the canonization.  Where was everybody?  Great for our family of 8 –no major lines to contend with.

We were now almost a week into our family pilgrimage.  We had experienced struggles and inconveniences as we traveled around Italy, but they were such grace-filled days  that nothing could get us down — lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of hydration, lack of clothing — nothing could affect just how blessed we felt.

But slowly I began to grow weary.  I was starting to feel a bit beat up after all of our adventures.  My run through O’Hare airport at the beginning of our trip did a number on my big toes.  They were strangely, annoyingly numb and tingly — like they had fallen asleep –but they never woke up. 🙁

And my clothes still hadn’t arrived.  🙁

I was also incredibly dehydrated.  I heard stories of the difficulty in finding a bathroom in Rome, so perhaps I should have been thanking God for my dehydration.  The need to find bathrooms in Rome wasn’t really a big issue — so  yay for dehydration!

It didn’t help that I was nursing a baby and sweating from morning till night.  So to say I was thirsty didn’t even begin to touch on it — it was an insatiable thirst that just couldn’t be satisfied by any amount of water.

I chugged water like a frat boy at a tailgate party, but no matter how much I drank, I just couldn’t satisfy my thirst.

At first, I was like, “Yes, the life of a pilgrim!  Bring it on!”, but by the time I reached Rome I was like, “This pilgrim thing is getting old”.

This is really nice, but nobody wants to arrive at a party that is poorly attended.
Trying not to cry as I wear this shirt for the 3rd time in 6 days and attempt to ignore my tingling big toes.  

And I’m Catholic — so I know that all of the exhaustion, the tingly toes, the thirst, the lack of cute clothes, it all had redemptive value.  I knew it — and yet I was so over being uncomfortable. I just wanted to be able to brush my hair and put on some new clothes and to not be so darn thirsty all the time!

And then I thought about Pope Benedict XVI.  His words reminded me why I was on this pilgrimage in the first place:

“The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

Yes, Papa Bene, you are right.  We aren’t made for comfort.  And that was consoling to me.  And I chose to go on a family pilgrimage, rather than just a family vacation because I wanted to step away from my daily routine to see what God had in store for us — to hear what He had to teach us.  He was trying to teach me something!

Pilgrimages are journeys meant to teach us something about life. I knew there were things God was trying to teach me, but I couldn’t figure out what they were.  As I began our walk to St. Peter’s Square for the canonization, I tried to make sense of the past few days in light of Mother Teresa’s work.  I had the next 6 hours to figure it out.

And it turns out, I didn’t need to worry about where all the people were.  They were all walking in with us.

We walked our quiet street and then found ourselves in the midst of pilgrims from around the world...so cool being Catholic!
We walked our quiet street, turned a corner,  and found ourselves in the midst of pilgrims from around the world…so cool being Catholic!  

They had journeyed from all over the world and  had converged on this little square to celebrate the life of this amazing woman.

Where had they been hiding all weekend?
Where had they been hiding all weekend?
People as far as the eye could see.
People as far as the eye could see.

I had no idea how we were going to navigate through the crowds with 6 kids in tow. I had worries about losing a child in the crowds, but it was surprisingly peaceful.  We walked to a great little spot — about as far as you could get without having the VIP seats.

Pretty Sweet Seats!
Pretty Sweet Seats!

And then, we all sat down. That’s right — we decided to stake our claim to  16 square feet of St. Peter’s square so that we wouldn’t be required to stand in the hot Roman sun for the next 6 hours.  We had brought books and water and a few snacks for the little ones.  And we peacefully waited for the Mass to begin.

Staking our ground at the canonization.
Staking our ground at the canonization.

Well, we were relatively peaceful, but this happened from time to time:

He was done with the heat and crowds -- he must take after me.
He was done with the heat and crowds — poor kid!

But what was perhaps most beautiful to me was the way that the people stood around us so that our little family could experience some shade.  There were people offering us water and holding umbrellas over us — that’s my great big Catholic family!

And despite everybody’s best efforts to shade us, it got really hot in the noonday sun — and the only thing I could do to keep my little baby happy was to nurse him.  Needless to say, I grew very, very thirsty.  And then I began to pray.

And we all began to bake in the sun -- it wasn't pretty :(
And we all began to bake under the Roman sun — not fun 🙁

Making Sense of It All :  I Thirst. I had been walking around Rome with an unquenchable thirst for the entire weekend, and as I sat baking in the sun, it finally hit me: “I thirst”.  Those were the words Mother Teresa had written over every chapel in all of her houses around the world.

Those were some of the last words that Jesus spoke from the cross, and they bear a deep meaning that Mother Teresa shared with her sisters in this letter.  It is worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a few highlights:

“The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes—to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us. And so sad, because it is completely opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that He loves you, but even more—He longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close.  He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy.

Remember this—“I thirst” is something much deeper than Jesus just saying “I love you.” Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you—you can’t begin to know who He wants to be fore you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.”

I was sitting on the ground, full of thirst, and I finally got it.  Jesus was thirsting for me, and that insatiable thirst I was experiencing — that was no accident.  My thirst was nothing in comparison to His thirst for me and His thirst for you!

God thirsts for me — longs for me — and He longs for you.  Until I am willing to spend time with God, I will never hear the things I really need to hear:  that God longs to spend eternity with me!  If I find it unbelievable that I could be loved by God, then I just need to spend more time with Him until I can again see that He loves me –completely!

He thirst for me, and He thirsts for you, and when we spend time with Him, not only will we know that to be true, but we will know what He needs us to do in this world.  He needs you and me to seek out the lost sheep and bring them back to Him –because He thirsts for them too!

Pretty Good Seats
Just about to name her a Saint!

And just as Pope Francis declared her a Saint, there was a cheer that rose amongst the crowd.  I felt a stirring of joy in my heart at that moment.  I sensed God speaking to my heart a truth that I found incredible hard to believe:

He wants to be everything for us, and we are already everything to Him.

Wow, just wow!

So, with the end of the Mass, we lined up to see the Pope drive by.  All the nuns were telling me to hold up my baby so the Pope would bless him, but I was afraid the Pope would drop him as he cried and flailed his arms around –he doesn’t do too well with strangers!

I didn’t want to be tackled by a Swiss Guard as I jumped a few barricades to rescue my baby –so I walked over to the columns to get into the shade and watched from a distance.

But my kids lined up:

Waiting for the Pope.
Waiting for the Pope.

And he drove right by:

It's a Pope drive-by
It’s a Pope drive-by

And as I was walking out through the colonnade, a policeman bumped up against me and his holster pinned my baby’s legs against me.  The baby began to cry.

The momma bear in me came out and I pushed the policeman away with my elbow.  He got angry and began to yell at me — and then I got angry back.  And this was the moment I became Italian!

I started screaming “Ayy!  The bambino!  The bambino!” angrily pointing to the crying baby and throwing my hands in the air in disgust.  All these old Italian ladies behind me saw what happened and started screaming at the policeman too.  He didn’t have a chance.

He slowly sulked away — never to mess with a redhead, her baby, and a bunch of old Italian ladies again.

And did I mention that my bag finally arrived the night before? Oh God is so good to me! I got to wear the dress I brought for the canonization and I got to brush my hair. 🙂

I missed you so much!
I missed you!

We were off to celebrate this amazing day and the official end to our pilgrimage!

Time to party like its 1999!
Time to party like its 1999!

We still had almost a week in Italy, but our pilgrimage had just officially ended.

I am already looking forward to the next pilgrimage — but this one will not be forgotten by any of us anytime soon.

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6 thoughts on “Pilgrim Toes, Thirst, and the Canonization of Mother Teresa

    1. It was the momma bear in me, Alicia 🙂 I couldn’t help myself. The little Italian ladies had my back, though, so no worries there. 🙂

  1. My mom (Aunt Kitty) send me this link. What a beautiful read. As mentioned by cousin Brian I felt like I was right there on your journey. Moira your writing is inspirational and reminds us how truly blessed we all are. What a great example John and you are to family present and future. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Margaret! Aunt Kitty is the best! I’m so glad that you liked it! Your words are really kind — too kind — because we definitely have our faults, big time, but so glad you liked it! God bless you guys!

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