We arrived at the ferry to Gozo with one minute to spare. After a series of mishaps, from being trapped in a parking garage to taking the wrong exit on one of Malta's many roundabouts, our hopes of making the 9 a.m. ferry were fading fast. When we pulled up to the dock, we were the last car allowed on the boat.

My colleagues and I were visiting Malta to learn more about the island's Society of Christian Doctrine founded by St. George Preca. On a day trip to the nearby island of Gozo -- with the help of our nearly departed ferry -- we had the chance to visit the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Ta' Pinu, where it is believed that a peasant woman named Karmni Grima had a series of mystical experiences.

On her way to daily Mass, she heard a voice asking her to pray three Hail Marys for the three days that Our Lord was in the tomb. Grima's aging parish church was badly in need of repair at the time, and after a series of miracles attributed to the Our Lady of the Assumption, the church was rebuilt and consecrated in 1932.

In the back of the church is a striking image of Our Lady of the Assumption and hundreds of ex-votos left by faithful pilgrims who were healed of various illnesses and handicaps. Among the many offerings of thanks to Our Lady are dozens of paintings of ships that were left by 19th-century mariners in thanksgiving for safe passage across rough seas.

Moved by the stories of infants surviving against impossible odds and people spared from death after traumatic accidents, I found myself especially fascinated by the stories of the seafarers. There was something about those older stories that was totally miraculous and totally foreign to me.

The images were a reminder that travel was not always the comfortably insulated experience of first-class flights or conveniently timed ferry rides. In fact, the word "travel" comes from the word "travail" and the two words used to convey the same sense, painful or laborious effort.

Nearly all of the maritime images depicted sailing ships braving an angry sea with an image of Our Lord in the clouds looking down serenely. One can imagine the sailors praying the same prayer as the apostles, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!"

As pilgrims to the shrine of Ta' Pinu we were spared the labor that many pilgrims used to endure to make similar journeys. Our biggest travails as modern travelers were bad airplane food and a rather uncomfortable rental car.

What we often miss when we avoid trouble and travail are opportunities for grace. The contingencies of life leave spaces for God's grace to work. Technologies like safe air travel and ferries big enough to carry cars (God forbid we go to a remote island without motorized transport and air conditioning), eliminate many of the uncertainties that would make us far more dependent on the cooperation of nature and the providence of God.

Making the 9 a.m. ferry was a small but important grace that day. It gave me time to reflect on the experience of those who came before me under much harsher conditions. Lacking modern conveniences, their sense of grace and security was not derived from an effortless dependence on technology but by a strenuous effort buoyed by a loving God.

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Robinson is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.