Editor’s Note: Current office associate Melissa Montrowl is a veteran volunteer at Lourdes. Her recent blog post on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes illuminates the impact the pilgrimage site has made. 

We all know what it feels like to be in the swirling vortex of chaos and busyness known as life. For me, the past month and a half seems to have disappeared. At work, we are in the final countdown before our annual event. In my personal life, I’ve had a long list of people in the category of “Let’s catch up soon!” Add in Lent and a busy and beautiful Triduum weekend, and all I really wanted to do was sleep for a month.

As much as I just wanted to hide and relax for an undetermined amount of time, that definitely was not an option. I was also preparing to leave for Lourdes, France once again to serve the pilgrims, but with one large difference: I was going as a group leader.

By some stroke of grace, I was asked to help lead the mission trip for college students from my alma mater, Franciscan University, who are studying abroad this semester, the very same trip I went on four years ago. And so I found myself dusting off my passport once again and boarding a plane to a place I consider a home away from home.

I arrived in Lourdes feeling emotionally excited, but mentally and physically tired, as well as a bit apprehensive. I was about to be partially responsible for 24 students and fully responsible for the 17 girls. There were 101 ways I could have messed things up and I was acutely aware of all of them, and there was a bed back in Washington, DC that was calling my name, not to mention the pile of work stacking up on my desk waiting for me when I got back.

Me with some of the students after working one afternoon in the baths

Me with some of the students after working one afternoon in the baths

It suddenly hit me though; the lesson I have learned on every mission trip I’ve gone on, the line I hear over and over again: it is in giving that we receive.

Until I remembered that simple truth, I was focusing on all I was giving up. After that, the whole week with the students was like traveling back in time. I was reliving my first experience serving in Lourdes, but from a different point of view—remembering how blown away I was by the experience, how deeply I encountered Mary and met Bernadette, how hooked I was on this life of service.

It was a tiring week. There’s a great physical demand serving in Lourdes, but now there was this brand new dimension of also serving the students. My role was almost maternal-like, making sure they had meal tickets and stayed hydrated. Of course this also meant that when they had personal time, I was most likely taking care of something behind the scenes with my co-leader, Dan. Most of my personal prayer was said on the run, and it was a victory the one night I was in bed before 11:30.

I expected to be burnt out, but of course, just like St. Paul, I experienced the Lord’s strength in my own weakness. I wasn’t perfect, and I knew I wouldn’t be. I was amazed at how much God took care of me that week. However, I probably shouldn’t have been THAT surprised since I know in my head how faithful He is when we do His work.

It is easy to forget what we are doing when we serve others. Yes, we donate our energy and time and think about all of the different things we could be doing with how busy we make our lives. But serving is not all giving. We forget what we receive from serving. There is a cleansing of the soul that we undergo when selflessly acting for others that makes room for the gifts God wants to share with us.

That’s always what I learn from the pilgrims I serve, and this past week I also saw it in the students who came in bright eyed and bushy tailed. In each of those people, I saw the version of myself that wasn’t weighed down by anxiety and uncertainty. Each person reminded me of the sheer joy that comes in serving, not because I have much to give, but because I get to live and receive the love of God, and that is my real source of strength.

The main Basilicas of the sanctuaries lit up at night

The main Basilicas of the sanctuaries lit up at night