Virgin Mary statue and sunset at the Catholic Church Chanthaburi province, Thailand.

A Commentary by Mary Blicharz on “A Guide to Meditating with the Saints” section in The Pilgrim’s Italy by James and Colleen Heater

When going on pilgrimage, there can be many distractions that take one away from the purpose of the journey and make the experience feel more like tourism.  It becomes difficult to get that spiritual feeling which brings pilgrims together.  The “Guide to Meditation” section in James and Colleen’s The Pilgrim’s Italy gives sound advice on how to prepare to combat such circumstances.

The section begins with “practice before you go.”  Indeed, if one is not in the habit of ignoring distractions, it would be near impossible to push unwanted thoughts away when the time comes to do so.  James and Colleen, then, provide a description of a favorable environment for focusing.  Finding a quiet room helps to create physical distance between the self and the distractions.  Next is to relax.  The authors write, “the body must be relaxed… But you don’t want to be so relaxed that you fall asleep.”  Once the outward distractions gone,  the inner ones must be dealt with.  Clearing the house of the mind takes time and patience.  Colleen and James use breathing as the tool for practicing focus advising, “Each time you catch your mind going hither and yon, gently bring it back to your breathing.”

Now, one may “open their heart” and begin to listen.  At this point, the breathing exercise is convenient, as one can then “visualize offering pain to God on the exhalation, then allow unconditional love to replenish the heart on the inhalation.”

Once all this is achieved, a prayer to the saints, or saint of choice, can aid in receiving the spiritual experience sought after.  Again, getting to this point, takes time, practice, and patience.  If at all possible, begin preparations for any pilgrimage with this exercise of the mind and soul.

Resources: The Pilgrim’s Italy: A Travel Guide to the Saints by James and Colleen Heater (Inner Travel Books: Nevada City, CA), 2008.