Brothers and sisters: I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Last August, I walked a 110km, seven-day pilgrimage from Middle Musquodoboit to our Archdiocesan Cathedral in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After completing my Master’s degree in July, I worked for a month to build strength and endurance, break in hiking shoes, collect the necessary gear, and prepare my heart for the journey. Kind friends lent me a backpacking bag, cot, and walking sticks, and I invested in a water reservoir, wool socks, and footcare supplies. By early August I was not fully conditioned to the daily walking distance, but neither was I willing to back down from the challenge.
On Day One, I started with a full pack; I aimed to be as prepared as possible, stuffing my bag with food, water, extra clothes, toiletries, blister care items, and my bible. I hardly used any of it, ended that day slightly sore, and decided to shed a couple items the next morning. More items were abandoned the following day. Over the week, I learned what was essential and what I could afford to leave with kind volunteers who transported our sleeping gear. This process of “letting go” was key in becoming a pilgrim, and I was increasingly motivated to lighten my load as I realized that it would alleviate stress on my muscles and joints and enable me to enjoy the way — living simply, with greater reliance on God's providence.
My most painful day was Day Four. By then I had multiple blisters on my feet, my body was sore, my pace was slow. I was late to leave and, as I started the day’s trek I made the mistake of checking my email inbox to find a job interview rejection. I expressed my disappointment in prayer, grumbling as I walked. I was nowhere close to having St. Paul’s ability to “count everything as loss.” At the first water station I entrusted my walking sticks to a volunteer, to release more weight, but soon my hips informed me that that was a mistake, and I continued with increased pain and discomfort. However, in my moments of suffering, Christ helped me move through and beyond my hurt to press forward toward the goal.
First, God put two fellow pilgrims on my path who shared child-like joy and wonder; their vulnerability brought me outside of myself. He drew my attention to wildflowers on the roadside, which I picked for a friend’s birthday bouquet. Another pilgrim caught up to me and lent me her walking stick for a section. With each painful step, God invited me to deeper surrender, and He gifted me with joy through community. I ended that day rejoicing and giving thanks for everything.
Each day God, similarly, invites us to spiritual pilgrimage — calling us to “[forget] what lies behind and [strain] forward to what lies ahead.” He is our companion as we journey, and our destination. Even as we encounter suffering, He is always prepared to transform it and grant us freedom and new life.