It’s been a while since I’ve written, but for good reason. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may know that I recently traveled to Portugal and Spain for a pilgrimage to Fatima. This next sequence of blog posts will dig a bit deeper into what I learned on my journey.
First things first. Who is Mary?
I’m Catholic. And in the Catholic faith we have a strong devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Which is always a tricky subject to broach with my non-Catholic friends. I get it – “Why do you pray to Mary?” “Do Catholics worship Mary?” “Why don’t you just go right to God?” – are all totally legit questions.
The short answer is, no, we do not worship Mary. Mary, our Mother given to us by Jesus as he died on the cross, is the handmaid of the Lord. She gave up everything in order to bring Jesus into this world. She said “yes” to God’s call. She totally had the free will, just like we all have free will, to say “no.” And because of her “yes,” because of her humility and sanctity, we honor her. We also believe that she prays for us to her Son (i.e. Jesus) and she hears our prayers and loves us, because we are her children.
She’s pretty cool and important.
And she’s why I traveled across the world to Fatima.
(For more quick and easy resources on the Catholic view of Mary, check out this article.)
Throughout Church history, Mary has appeared to various people. I won’t get too far into the nitty-gritty of it, but I did find a good resource that explains some common questions on Marian apparitions, here. No one is required to believe in these apparitions for their salvation. Believing in these apparitions is only meant to bring us closer to our faith. And the Church goes through a very, very long and stringent process in order to determine whether an apparition is true, or not.
Again, not going to get into the nitty-gritty.
But I do happen to believe in some of them, including Our Lady appearing at Fatima, Portugal to three little children. This year marks the 100 year anniversary of those apparitions and the day the “sun danced” in the sky. You can read more here… or if you prefer secular news, here. (Or reach out to me. I’m happy to have a conversation! firstname.lastname@example.org).
Because of this remarkable event, many, many people from across the world pilgrimed to the Fatima shrine to pray and remember what happened 100 years ago.
I was so lucky and blessed enough to be able to go.
Why I Went on a Pilgrimage
My Heart Before
Yes, I ventured on this journey to celebrate and honor Mary appearing 100 years ago, but I also had many things I was wrestling with inside of my heart and within my soul. Maybe you read my last post on love and vulnerability. And then the one I posted earlier in the year on all I had been struggling with.
And you may know my story. For years, I wrestled with an eating disorder. I was slave to counting calories, stepping on the scale, starving myself, and then gorging myself, and obsessing over what I was eating. It was no way to live. But I was addicted, and sick, and it stuck with me for years.
When I started healing, I naturally gained weight, which I was not mentally prepared for. This threw me into a tailspin of anxiety and depression. Some days were good. A lot of days were bad.
I realized over the years that a lot of my issues stemmed from what the world was telling me. I needed to look and act a certain way. I needed to be skinny in order to be loved and be pretty. I needed to be in a relationship to know I’m deserving of love. I needed to have blonde hair. I needed to have it all together all of the time.
But I believed them, whether I wanted to admit it or not.
And because I was so rooted in the world and what the world wanted me to believe, I set myself up for a lot of heartbreak. I told myself I wasn’t enough and that I wasn’t pretty. I found myself in relationships that were painful and full of red flags. And I lived the fast, secular life after graduating college.
I believed and loved God with all of my heart. My faith brought me through my eating disorder. And I considered myself a “devout” Catholic, but I had one foot in spirituality and one foot in this world. And it filled my heart with pain.
God’s Ways Are Obscure
Then, earlier this year, I hit a breaking point. Nothing catastrophic happened to get me there. And many catastrophic things happened in my life prior to this revelation, which you’d think would push me to this point, but we can never understand God’s ways.
So, nothing special happened, but I got fed up with the way I was living my life. With the bout of depression I was trying so hard to work myself out of. With the life that was unfulfilled and not pleasing to God or myself. So I said, “I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE.”
And then, after breaking up with my boyfriend that morning, I laid in bed crying, and stumbled upon Leah Darrow’s pilgrimage to Spain and Portugal. With tears streaming down my face, I texted my mom and said, “I’M GOING.”
And she said, “You have to go.”
My Heart During and After
I ventured onto the pilgrimage with a broken, weary, and stressed out heart. I was really wrestling with my self-worth.
“How could God love me? Someone who has done so many wrong things? How could anyone love me, for that matter?”
I was embarrassed of how I’d lived my life. Living for me. For the next good time. And I was sad that I let so many years go to vanity and my mental sickness. I knew God loved and forgave me and was calling me back home, but I couldn’t get over how I’d been living my life.
I made a vow to myself and to God that I would let these pains and wounds go while on this pilgrimage and that I’d come back renewed in spirit and in faith.
There were many times I heard God speak to my heart, calm my mind, and give me the solace I’d been looking for during the trip. But one time in particular (this is just one time… and these moments happened many times), I was in church at the Shrine of our Lady of Fatima, and I felt immense peace come over my heart.
And I prayed saying, “I made it. I’m here.”
And I let it go. I gave my pain and worry to God and said, “I’m leaving this here. It no longer serves me.”
And then I sobbed like a baby and my friend was like, “Are you okay?” And I cried some more.
You Don’t Have to Go on a Pilgrimage to Be Healed
You may be wrestling with some of the same things I did. And you may feel like you’re unforgivable, broken goods, or so far gone.
It’s a painful place to be. But you can start over again and you don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to leave your old life behind. You don’t even have to leave your couch to ask God for His love and forgiveness. You can do it right here and right now.
Make the commitment to yourself to forgive yourself and accept God’s forgiveness. And truly, truly let it go.
The sooner you forgive yourself and others for all of the wrongs in your life, the sooner you can work on being healed, on seeing your self worth, and on living a life that’s vibrant and full of love.
If you have questions on the Catholic faith, on my pilgrimage, or on how you can learn to forgive yourself, email me at email@example.com or by using the contact form below.