by Matthew Wagner
Four Sacred Heart seminarians from the Diocese of Winona spent their precious Seminarian Off-campus Weekend, October 13-16, making a pilgrimage to beauty. Second-year theologian Matthew Wagner recounts insights from the journey to the Falls of Niagara made with his diocesan brothers David Kruse (Theo 1) Th Hoang (Theo 3), and Brian Mulligan (Theo 3).
Have you been to Niagara Falls? Brian asked, looking at the three of us in hope that even if we had, we wouldn't be opposed to going again for our Off-campus Weekend. I have a connection about two miles away from the Falls where we could stay for a few nights.
I think you're the only one. David said. I don't care where we go. I just want to get outside for the weekend.
I'll call the priest that I know, and we'll see if we can work it out, Brian responded. And it all worked out. This is how things typically work out for the Winona seminarians.
Niagara Falls straddles the border of the United States and Canada, offering a multitude of views of the iconic waterfall from the American side as well as the Canadian. As we arrived at the bridge from Canada to New York Thursday night, we came across a scene that was beyond what we could hope for or even expected: the smell of fresh water; the thundering falls backlit with an array of colors; and a breathtaking scene of stars illuminating the skyline of Niagara Falls, New York. The sight seemed both foreign and yet similar to our diocese; a place of natural majesty scattered across three hundred some miles covering the bottom of Minnesota. We discovered our pilgrimage to beauty.
Jesus tells us to consider the ravens and the lilies because they don't put any effort into their own growth. He blesses them just how he created them. Beyond just our daily activities, being out in God's creation is a lifestyle; it's not something you do only when you have free time.
Especially at seminary, being outside helps get you back into the natural rhythm and atmosphere of life. There's something in our human nature that gets us in touch with what God created us to be when we get out into God's creation. It's almost as if we're returning home.
We brother seminarians have camped on Latsch Island and hiked up the infamous Sugar Loaf Trail, both near Winona. We have also kayaked down the Mississippi River, which seems like a quiet stream in comparison to the whitewater rapids of the Niagara River we found ourselves next to. After a few miles of hiking, the thought hit David. This is it, he said, staring at the water crashing against the moss-covered rocks. We didn't come here to keep hiking on and on. This is it! I wanted to hike further up the gorge, but he was right. We had found it.
Pope Benedict XVI noted on his 2010 apostolic visit to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona, To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.
In the area surrounding Niagara Falls, these mighty and gushing waters are an emphatic reminder that what God creates is infinitely more satisfying than any casino or clothing boutique that may try to complement such transcendental beauty. What began as a desire to go beyond the borders of Detroit and spend the weekend together as friends, evolved into a greatalthough all-too-shortpilgrimage to beauty. We were able to find God in the beauty of his creation, returning once again to the ever-perduring experience of pilgrimage.
Matthew WagnerMatthew Wagner is a second-year theology seminarian for the Diocese of Winona.