I just returned from a beautiful pilgrimage to France followed by 7 days of cycling through Dutch countryside to take in the spring flowers. So much spiritual and natural beauty for three weeks...I don't want to climb down from this cloud!
We started on Holy Thursday at the Church of St John Vianney...what better place to be on the eve of our Lord washing the feet of the twelve disciples than with the Cure of Ars? Together with a beautiful group of young, healthy Catholic professionals all aflame for Christ I experienced the Easter Triduum in St John Vianney's parish church with the descendants of his sheep. After a year of dryness I was flooded with consolations and joy. Yay!
Our pilgrimage made a large circle from Paris to Ars to Lyon to Paray le Monial (St Margaret Mary Alcoque of the Sacred Heart) to Lourdes to Avignon (where Popes hid out until St Catherine goaded them to return to Rome) to Bordeaux to the home of St Louis de Montford. These saints became more real to me after seeing their homes, where they lived, where they suffered and how they served God. I loved every moment! (Well except once when I had a deep sadness threaten to take my peace...but it didn't so enough said!)
Some beautiful moments for me: when I was in Paray le Monial my friend and I snuck into this tiny hotel bar that was more like a little morning room on the main street in order to warm up and get a cup of coffee. A priest and two old women tried to talk to us but the priest, Italian, was the only one who spoke a little English and we didn't speak Italian or French (like the women). The priest did his best and we found out the women were both widows, retired, and went to Medjugoria every year. They had just returned and wanted to give us a blessing. Incidentally one of the women had a daughter in law with my name so she was very excited to pull out her phone and show me lots of pictures.
Then the Italian priest said he had to go and I asked him for a blessing. He happily gave it to us then turned and headed out the door. I called out to him that we would pray for him. As he went through the door, almost shutting it, he stopped as if thinking hard and then leaned back into the room. Looking directly at me he said in Italian, "God has a mission for you" ("Dio ha una missione per te"). Then he shut the door and left. My friends looked at me and said, "Did he just say what I think he said?" And I laughed and said, "He just means that I have to pray for him."
And one final event: In Lourdes we were privileged to meet with the head of the office for the Approval of Miracles. The physician who runs it is Italian and has a sister and his mother living in the same state I live in! His sister even teaches at the university I went to! He was super funny and kept us on the edge of our chair for the hour that he met with us. Then he invited the four of us that are medical to join the medical society at Lourdes along with the 4000 other professionals who belong from all of the world. We were then sent to his secretary who had us fill out paperwork and register in a large book. She gave us some books and a special pin. The pin is to be worn whenever we are in Lourdes. It is so others will know they can ask us for medical assistance if needed. It also means that we can walk right behind our Lady during the rosary procession because historically the medical providers walk there to offer any assistance to those they meet along the way.
I could go on with more anecdotal stories but this is getting long. Suffice it to say this was a very, very blessed trip!
Oh, and I'll share some of the beauty of the Netherlands in my next blog. As a friend of mine so often says, "God is good! All the time!"