Places where we experience the Holy are more common than people who embody holiness. As we watch Pope Francis visit our hemisphere, this seems to be the point neglected by many commentators. The crowds are coming as pilgrims to places where they expect a blessing. No matter what the form our religion takes, we are called to extraordinary prayer in particular places and by contact with those we consider to be Holy. It is important to recognize this fact without getting too analytical.
For me personally, I can list specific times and places where I was nurtured into a better faith by simply being in a particular place or with a particular person. I was alone on Patmos Island two days after 911. The altar rail at Grace Church in Bangor during the late 70s. There was a Holy woman who opened her home to the Young Life group which introduced me to Christ. There are more, they may not make sense, though, to you.
At a nearby United Methodist camp, many counselors take their youth to a chapel, hollowed out with rough benches and a cross barely distinguishable from the surrounding trees. “Green Cathedral is a Holy place,” we tell them. The Friday evening message is often transformative, not because the counselor offers the invitation properly, but because we honor in that moment that we are all pilgrims in need of a Holy place, as a catalyst, to move us to the next level.