Pilgrimage Days 7, 8, and 9
Day 7 – June 9, 2016
Today was a long transfer through the breathtaking Pyrenees, the mountain chain separating Spain from France. Conveniently at the beginning of the hours-long bus trip I was hit with a pretty strong bout of carsickness so one of the Friars offered to switch seats with me on the bus so I could see out the front window. This afforded me a fantastic view of the gorgeous surroundings all around.
Our group leader surprised us with a side trip to Lourdes, the French town where the Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to St. Bernadette in 1858. Lourdes is known best for the spring that came up in the place Mary visited that has healing qualities. I think nearly 70 miracles have been confirmed since the first appearance of the spring. Many people make the pilgrimage to bathe in the waters and every afternoon there is a very moving procession of individuals in wheelchairs and others seeking healing for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing.
En route to Lourdes we stopped for lunch at a truck stop that happened to link up with the Camino de Santiago (which one of my housemates will begin after we meet up in Dublin in in a couple of weeks!). Here I am taking a few steps of the Camino in solidarity. 😉
After leaving the stop one of my fellow pilgrims realized she’d left her purse (including all her money, cards, and her passport) at the restaurant inside. Miraculously, we were able to get in touch with an employee there who found the purse untouched where she’d been sitting. The only problem is that, unlike highways in the U.S., you can drive 20 minutes in one direction in southern France before you find an exit to turn around, which is what happened in our case. We lost more than an hour navigating back to the truck stop, so our time in Lourdes was majorly cut down. This is one example of how hard it is to travel with a group of people (large or small) — you’re really at the mercy of the good and bad of group dynamics and the choices of individuals. It is challenging, humbling, frustrating, and I’m sure very beneficial to do this kind of trip in community, but I will say I am looking forward to my solo travel time coming up in a week or so!
At last we arrived a Lourdes! It was magnificent. Really, I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Driving into the little town, the first thing that caught my eye was an old castle on one of the hills. But then we arrived at the Basilica:
It felt like I was living a Disney princess movie except in the place of a castle was the Church standing beautifully, proclaiming the one True King and the Queen Mother of Heaven and earth!!
The grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette is around the right side of the Basilica, between the church and a beautiful river that flows swiftly along next to it. I will try my best to describe the overwhelming feeling of passing by the spring and touching my rosary to the healing waters flowing from the grotto. What happened in my heart was like the sensation of the last pull of a wave going out as the new wave crashes over top of it. I was flooded with the presence, beauty, love, and purity of Our Lady. Mary revealed herself all those years ago as “The Immaculate Conception,” and I remember St. Maximilian Kolbe’s formula for sanctity: W (God’s will)+ w (our will)= S (sanctity). Fr. Michael Gaitley writes that the Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception and Mary is the created Immaculate Conception, the spouse of the Holy Spirit (the spousal relationship means they are one!).
Her sanctity was made immediately and powerfully known to me in that moment.
Before we left we had the privilege of having mass as a group in the Upper Basilica.
Day 8 – June 10, 2016
I thought Lourdes would be a hard act to follow, but Day 8 rose to the challenge! After our trip to Lourdes we finished the rest of the trip to Toulouse, where we are staying for three nights. This morning we split into two groups and my group went to the heart of the Dominican Order, to the very first monastery St. Dominic founded in Prouilhe!
We were blessed to attend mass with the nuns and eat lunch there before we journeyed on to Fanjeaux. It was an out of body experience for me to get to read the first reading at mass! It is an international community so mass was said in English, Latin, Spanish, and French.
Fanjeaux is the nearby city where St. Dominic lived and ministered from 1206 to 1215. His 10 years there were like the 30 years Jesus spent in Nazareth, waiting for the time when God would launch him into his ministry. It was in this place, overlooking the stunningly beautiful countryside, that Dominic saw the “Signadou”:
On the evening of July 22, 1206, the feast of Saint Mary Magdalen, Saint Dominic sat reading outside the north gate of the city of Fanjeaux. He lifted his mind and heart to the Mother of God and asked her for a sign to indicate to him what exactly he should do, and where exactly to place the center of his apostolic work. As he looked down into the valley of Lauragnais, a flaming ball opened the sky and descended, hovering for a while, and finally came down over the little abandoned church of Prouille. Not willing to believe the vision at first, Saint Dominic, once again asked the Blessed Virgin for a sign and again the same ball of fire appeared, hovering over the little church. The miracle occurred a third time, after which he finally accepted the sign as authentic, and not the product of his imagination. This miraculous vision, known as the Signadou — the sign of God — was the catalyst for the foundation of the Order of Preachers. (link)
Our guide, a French Dominican friar, said that for this reason, Prouilhe is the “Holy of Holies” of the Order. I loved how clearly he articulated that the nuns’ mission, unlike any other cloistered order, is distinctly apostolic! They may not leave their enclosure, but their end is the preaching of the Gospel for the salvation of souls just as much as the friars’ is. This is because the apostolic mission is two parts: the first is enlightening the mind through the ministry of the brothers of the Order (and later, the active sisters). The second part is the conversion of the will and heart, which, of course, is only within God’s reach, but is really the work of the nuns to pray and offer their lives to bring it about. The contemplative nuns, he reminded us, are the heart of the Order, not a “side branch.”
The Signadou was also a reminder of the importance of having our hearts be on fire for souls — otherwise our preaching is a “clanging symbol.”
There is so much more I could write (and I took copious notes on the Friar’s points) but it is late here so I will push forward!
In Fanjeaux we also visited the church where St. Dominic would have celebrated mass as well as the room where he might have stayed (it’s debatable primarily because he never really had a home, and rarely slept, as he was up most nights weeping and praying for souls).
Our visit to Fanjeaux was very convicting — I pray that my heart would be consumed with the passion of St. Dominic, that every soul would be saved and not one be lost!
Before the day ended we were able to visit Carcassonne, a massive medieval citadel that houses a huge church where St. Dominic preached a parish Lenten mission.
Day 9 – June 11, 2016
Since we have an early flight in the morning, today’s update will have to come in the form of a picture story. 🙂 Our two big stops today were the church of the Jacobins (the nickname given to the Dominicans in France) and to Albi (home of the Basilica of St. Cecilia as well as the Albigensians, who St. Dominic famously converted to the faith)!
First, the Jacobins in Toulouse!
Now on to Albi!
It was a wonderful day! Tomorrow we fly to Italy!