Each pilgrim that passed through the gates of the Magis Villa in Lisbon, Portugal, received a green bracelet. It was hastily wrapped around each pilgrim wrist, an easily recognizable and differentiating feature for those Jesuit-affiliated travelers in a city awash in pilgrims.
Attached to that simple green bracelet was a squarish piece of paper. It had two markings. The first was a QR code, a block of dots and squares and squiggles that transported the pilgrim to a particular corner of the internet. The second was a line of text.
You are here.
Naturally, I assumed that scanning the QR code above those words – You are here – would bring me to a map. Maybe even a map that showed my exact location. After all, it was my first time in Lisbon. I get lost easily.
That was not the corner of the internet, though, to which that QR code sent me. The QR code simply brought the curious pilgrim to the official Magis site, where said pilgrim could learn all about the Ignatian-inspired weeklong immersion experience that preceded World Youth Day.
The diligent pilgrim could scroll down and eventually stumble upon a map. But that wasn’t really the point. And I was struck by the apparent disconnect between the words and the digital destination.
“This thing is supposed to tell me where I am! Wherever here is! Why does the code just bring me to a website?”
It took more of the week than it should have for me to realize that those words – You are here – were meant to stand on their own. Or, at least, that they could. That the whole point of the pilgrim experience is to sink down into the present: the place, the moment, the people, the sense.
You are here. Nowhere else. You are needed here.
And that was the reminder wrapped around each pilgrim wrist, a constant reorientation of focus to bring the fullness of ourselves to the present time and place. It wasn’t meant to be a map that brought us somewhere else; it was meant to be a touchstone that grounded us in where we already were. An invitation to rejoice then and there.
In many ways, that’s the nature of pilgrimage. That was a key theme of the Magis experience that I and so many other Jesuit-affiliated individuals participated in in the days leading up to World Youth Day. Be where you are; be focused on who and what is around you. That’s as relevant to Portugal-bound pilgrims as it is to you and me going about our daily lives.
Our God of infinite delight is already meeting us where we already are.
In his remarks to celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola and close out the Magis experience, Fr. Arturo Sosa, the superior general of the Society of Jesus, reminded all of us that this moment in church history in which we all find ourselves is one in which the meaning of the word catholic is becoming increasingly clear and relevant.
Catholic, of course, means universal. And at the closing Mass, surrounded by pilgrims from every corner of the world, we could readily feel the catholicity of our spiritual journeys.
Fr. General was inviting us to recognize our God at work in places and people vastly different than ourselves. Our God who sinks into our lived experience and also calls us out to encounter the stories of others.
And still, around our wrists dangled those green bracelets. You are here.
I think this seeming paradox is core to all of our spiritual lives. God invites us deeper into ourselves, to sink into who and what we are right where we are. To not miss the Spirit at work in the quiet, mundane moments of our lives.
And yet, as Fr. General reminded us, God calls us forth from that place, from our unique and sacred selves, to encounter that same Spirit blowing about the world in innumerable creative ways.
But we must begin with ourselves, where we are, who we are. We must do that work of self-discovery, recognizing our inherent goodness before we can go out and do the same for others.
We can only love our neighbor so well as we love ourselves. And that love of self – that love that God is constantly desiring in our lives – begins right where we already are.
You are here.
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.