June 11, 2024 // Perspective

A Pilgrimage to Where Beauty Lies: The Eucharist

I recently returned from a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi with a wonderful group of folks from the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. Several students, staff, and three Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration were part of the 10-day adventure through central Italy to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare. Twelve years prior, I had made a similar pilgrimage while I was a student at the university, so this trip kind of brought things full circle for me.

It was a beautiful time of prayer and renewal. We were able to pray and have Mass in a number of extraordinary sites. We visited all four major basilicas in Rome, prayed in the places where St. Francis received the stigmata and also where he heard the San Damiano crucifix give him his mission: “Francis, rebuild my Church.” And, of course, there was plenty of gelato and cappuccino consumed along the way!

But there was one unexpected place I found myself spending most of my time in prayer – Santa Maria Maggiore in Assisi. It was there that the Church’s first millennial saint – Blessed Carlo Acutis – is entombed. It is quite striking to see his 15-year-old body on full display as he wears blue jeans, Nike sneakers, and a North Sails sweatshirt. Quite literally, it looks as if he is sleeping and could awake at any moment.

Along with several other pilgrims, I sat down on a pew in front of his tomb to spend some intentional time in prayer. I think I got out my rosary and began to pray some of the mysteries. But then, in the depths of my heart, as I looked at Blessed Carlo, I heard these words: “Go spend time in front of the tabernacle. I’m glad you have come to see me, but Jesus in the Eucharist is way more important!” 

And how true were those words that struck right to the heart! Blessed Carlo spent his life always pointing back to the Eucharist. Famously, he called the Eucharist his “highway to heaven.” He also created an entire website detailing the various Eucharistic miracles throughout the history of the Church. In short, he was a young man whose most profound love was for the mystery of Jesus Christ living and present in the most holy Eucharist – and that love is what made him a saint.

After my experience with Blessed Carlo, I found myself with a deepened perspective on the meaning of our pilgrimage. Certainly, it is beautiful to see so many places that are foundational to the Church and to walk in the very places where so many saints have trod. But Blessed Carlo made it clear that the most powerful and treasured gift that the Church has is not the relics of the saints, nor the splendor of her churches, but the Most Blessed Sacrament – because it is Christ Himself.

For the remainder of the pilgrimage, I allowed that insight to deepen within me. Instead of going from church to church primarily to admire the beautiful art and architecture, I sought out the One who is Beauty Himself living and present in the tabernacles of every church. In a certain sense, there was a sadness I felt as so many thousands of tourists passed through the various churches admiring the works of the world’s finest artists but never stopped to say hello to the Divine Artist hidden away in the tabernacle.

May it not be so for us. Blessed Carlo’s words and example should give all of us an opportunity to reclaim the greatest possible treasure we have in the Eucharist. During this time of Eucharistic revival in our diocese and nation, the greatest pilgrimage we can make is not to another country or to a beautiful shrine. The greatest pilgrimage we can make is to a Person – the Eucharistic Jesus. The greatest (and only) source of holiness is Him, and He is available in even the most humble of our parish churches.

Once when Blessed Carlo was given an invitation to visit the Holy Land, he asked the question, “Why would I want to go to the place where Jesus lived when I can go to the place where Jesus lives in the tabernacle across the street?” That love for Jesus in the Eucharist is what made Carlo a saint in the short 15 years of his life here on earth.

That same highway to heaven is open to all of us every time we go to Mass or Eucharistic adoration – and that is truly the most important pilgrimage we will ever make!

Father Brian Isenbarger is Pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Garrett.

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