Twelve years ago, I became a pilgrim, walking nearly 500 miles across northern Spain to arrive in Santiago de Compostela via the Camino Frances. But in the 12 subsequent years, I realized that as a Catholic I have always been a pilgrim.
To be a pilgrim is to be on a journey with a specific destination in mind, usually religious in nature. To what or to whom am I headed? This question is one that we can clearly answer as Catholics – to beatitude, and to God.
That destination matters. It allows for orientation and course correction. It does not mean that the journey is meaningless – far from it – but it does mean something different than “the journey is the destination.” If I am not aimed towards where I want to be, the journey will ultimately be in vain.
In reflecting on what I am learning through Metanoia Catholic, to be a coach is to help others orient themselves towards God and beatitude. Is that not a pilgrimage? The physical distance may be short in our minds and brains and synapses, but there is movement towards God.
I embarked on that first official pilgrimage in my early 30s, feeling a bit at a crossroads. I spent six weeks walking through a country where I did not speak the language, knew no one, and had very little idea of what was coming next, guidebook notwithstanding. Twelve years later, in the fall of 2022, I felt at a similar crossroads.
Coming through the grief of losing my mother to cancer in March 2020, I was seeking consolation and grappling with some big emotions. I stumbled across this thing called Catholic Coaching and dove in. Here was another place where I did not speak the language, knew no one, and did not know what was coming next. But I heard a voice saying to me, “Let’s do something new together,” and knew that another pilgrimage called.
As I did for that first pilgrimage, I tried to gather all the information I could. With a vast array of podcasts, blog posts, lessons within the Metanoia Catholic Academy, and even a few coaching sessions, I quickly was overwhelmed, but not discouraged. With every podcast and coaching session, I found myself feeling seen and understood, and I began to feel a tug towards the path of bringing others into that same space.
If I really want to accomplish something, I need a big goal. My motto for my Camino was, “One step at a time,” while also having a big goal of walking 500 miles. With coaching, while I was still only at the early stages, it seemed that my timing was just right to join the upcoming Catholic Coaching Certification class. So I crunched some numbers, prayed for wisdom, and journaled my way into signing up. On the day of our first class, I felt the same apprehension I had the day I left for Spain 12 years ago – what have I gotten myself into?!
One of the things I have discovered in my journaling is that I have a lot of all or nothing thinking. And perhaps my pilgrimage method is a bit like that – I don’t want to just go for a walk, I want to walk across Spain; I don’t want to just be coached, I want to get certified! But something happens when you embark on a pilgrimage. You take one step in the direction of your goal. Then another. And another. Sometimes that step is on straight, even paths. Other times, it’s a hard slog up and over the Pyrenees. It’s sometimes arriving at the wrong bus stop and having to walk across a city a second time. But every day there is progress of some sort. I moved closer to my goal, even if I was hurting, or took the scenic route, or was grumpy and didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Yes, there is a conscious decision to become a pilgrim, a training in method. But the art of being a pilgrim, if you will, is in the daily step by step movement. By the end of 40 days of walking, my body was so habituated that I naturally would get up every morning and begin walking.
And so it is with coaching – I am now about halfway through my Catholic Coaching Certification training. The drills are working their magic, but there are many miles to go on this journey. Still, I recognize the grace in listening to others and walking with them on our shared pilgrimage. I know that the path to God is made up of every small step we take. And that every small step adds up until we reach our final destination.
This summer, I walked my third Camino with my father – a short one, only about 75 miles.
I realized that walking with my dad was like coaching. He had a goal and destination that I shared. I knew a bit more about what lay ahead but was also walking a new path with him. I could help him look for the yellow arrows marking the path, but ultimately he had to take each step to bring himself closer and closer to our goal. He had his own pack to carry and his own mind to wrestle with. My job was to help him get on the right road and walk beside him.
Together, we walked in honor of my mother, and with the grace of God, the intercession of St. James, and the blessing of perfect weather, arrived in Santiago de Compostela on what would have been her 70th birthday.
About the Author
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jen Bess and I like to take long walks. I’m currently working on my Catholic Coaching Certification while maintaining my day job in higher education. Originally from Chicago, I now live in South Carolina with my dog, Killian. I’m the proud aunt of two nephews and a niece, and have completed three pilgrimages on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela: the Camino Frances, the Camino Portugues, and the Camino Ingles. I love to help others uncover their strengths, create goals, and orient themselves to the good. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.