I mentioned to Luminas in my post on superstition that I would tell about my pilgrimage to visit the relics of St. Maria Goretti. For a change of pace, I opted for a narrative form in writing about this trip, which I hope pleases my readers. Since the narrative is long, this story will be told in two parts.
When October with her cold rain smotes the hard asphalt, then do Americans long to go on pilgrimages. At least, so I thought as I lunched during my early shift on October 27th. The news reported that my area and the whole route along the four hour drive to Duluth, Georgia would be immersed in the fringe of a tropical storm. This made me begin to doubt the wisdom of my pilgrimage to see St. Maria Goretti’s relics, which were then on tour in the United States–a fact I had only learned of four days before. But, I reflected on a few things: 1) this was a once in a lifetime opportunity; 2) my parents had generously provided the funds I lacked for the trip; and 3) inclement weather ought to prevent neither the worship of God nor the veneration of His friends, the saints. Did torrential rain stop the pilgrims from reaching Fatima on October 13, 1917? Moreover, did it prevent me from making my tearful first confession after a five year break from the Sacrament of Reconciliation? (Confession had been mandatory in grammar school, but I soon avoided the sacrament when it ceased to be required in high school.) Negative in both cases! So, I affirmed my resolve to go.
The first order of business was to clean off my car, which had become dirtied with a unique combination of dust, pollen, and tree sap such as I have only encountered in Alabama. With the weather cooperating, this was accomplished. I then took care of some other necessary business and hydrated myself, which I felt would carry me through the mountains east of my abode. Taking my rosary, which I intended to become a third class relic, and a pouch of tobacco, I at last started the long trip by 1:30 PM. Part of me regretted staying late for work, but I figured that I should have plenty of time to make the 6:30 solemn Mass–all the while forgetting that this was 6:30 PM Eastern Standard Time, not Central Time. Then, I imagined partaking of a nice dinner after Mass, forgetting that, having been awake since 2 AM, I would be in no mood to stop for anything besides a cup of coffee or tea. Even with my decision to return to bed posthaste, I fear that my guardian angel worked overtime for my sake.
The mountains of northern Alabama during the fall impress the traveler with its leaves of alternating red and orange, which canopy one as an impending autumnal sea undulating with the wind. Many of the vistas provided by the rolling mountains provided wonderful views. Also, the heavy squalls forecast proved but intermittent. The frequent, opaque banks of fog, which reduced visibility at times to thirty feet, on the curving, rising, and falling mountain highway provided a worse problem. Yet, I knew that traffic was light and figured that I would be alright as long as I cleaved to the correct side of the double yellow line dividing the highway–an argument made more acceptable to me by the nicotine infusing my nervous system. There are few travelling companions who so reduce the stress of a long trip as a pipe of rum infused tobacco.
My other great companion was an audiobook of George MacDonald’s Lilith, which, like most of that literary master’s works, is available for free on Librivox. (I know, it took an eight hour round trip to finally convince me to read it!) Lilith strikes me as the most fantastic of MacDonald’s works, and I highly appreciated the allegorical nature of the fantasy world–in the very highest tradition of medieval and Renaissance English literature, in which the hero must discover his “true name” before he can leave. It contains a surprising array of philosophical and theological revelations (Some of which go clear over my head), as well as the damnable heresy of Universalism. Universalism denies that there is a hell, but, to MacDonald’s eye, there exists a very hellish purgatory from which even the devil shall be purified. But, contrary to MacDonald’s opinion, the reason the damned can never be freed from hell is because their will has turned against both God and repentance: even if they were offered grace, they would refuse it! This is completely unlike the souls in Purgatory, who yearn for God and become ever purer in their constant repentance Even MacDonald seems to recognize this on some level, as the prime sins of the damned in Lilith are pride, vanity, lying, and, in many cases, a will of adamant not to do good to their fellow creatures.
At any rate, let me get back to the journey. As I might have expected, not eating since 8:30 AM began to take a toll on me around 3 PM. While driving through small towns in search of a major artery of transportation, I was tempted by everything from the Outback to Waffle House and eventually succumbed to the golden arches of MacDonald’s. Inside, I waited a few minuted before the manager occupied the empty register, for which he apologized profusely. He noted that my Devils jacket (a hockey team I have never favored but this jacket proved perfect for early mornings in Alabama) said “New Jersey” on it, which led to a short conversation about how I had moved down here recently. He rather appreciated my compliments to the South, and I was pleased by his friendliness, which proved more than merely mercantile from the kindness he extended to patrons obviously down on their luck.
No other incidents worthy of note took place until I reached St. Monica’s Church in Duluth….[continued in tomorrow’s post]