Well, it’s over. I had hoped for an adventure into spirituality. I got that and much more.
The last two days were spent in Paris. I’ve been to Paris a few times and it seems like every time I visit, Paris is a different city. This visit did not disappoint.
You probably have figured out that this “Pilgrimage” was with my cousin’s Catholic Church. I don’t belong to my own church. We had two priests traveling with us. They are both casual and down to earth but none of us expected that ….The travel agent book our group into Pigalle- the Red Light District. The next block to ours is ALL sex shops. The Moulin Rouge is less than a block away. The windows display things I don’t even know what to do with. Our Parisian guide casually recommended that we always walk in the other direction, especially at night to avoid the ugh…Special Ladies. We took her advice and was greeted by an entire block of Drag Shows. No one really talked about it. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself every time we went out.
We went to Versailles and visited several pretty impressive churches. Of course there was Notre Dame. I’ve been there 4 times but somehow missed the most amazing thing. During the Crusades in 1238, France obtained is claimed to be relic of Christ’s Crown of Thorns. . Parts of it are well deteriorated but it’s there. Could this actually be the real thing? It’s covered in a red plexiglass box so the details are had to see but people were praying and certainly believed. It was fascinating but I didn’t feel anything like everyone else did. I wanted to feel some special energy but I have to be honest. I didn’t.
Later in the day we went to the the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul. He was a French priest who took in abandoned babies and cared for the poor. He talked fancy rich society ladies to do the same. He wanted not just their money but for them to actually SERVE the poor. I guess that’s why the church’s Thrift Stores are called the Saint Vincent de Paul stores.
Saint Vincent de Paul is one of those Saints they claim has left an “incorrupt ” body. They have him in a glass box. You can walk right up to him. He died in the 1660. He looks totally intact. I mean he’s a little creepy, but his face is all there, even his mustache, goatee and eyelashes. So weird, but impressive.
“Incorruptibility is a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that divine intervention allows some human bodies (specifically saints ) to avoid the normal process of decomposition after death as a sign of their holiness. Bodies that undergo little or no decomposition, or delayed decomposition, are sometimes referred to as incorrupt or incorruptible. Embalmed bodies were not recognized as incorruptibles. For example, although the body of Pope John XXIII remained in a remarkably intact state after its exhumation, Church officials remarked that the body had been embalmed and additionally there was a lack of oxygen in his sealed triple coffin.”
Catherine Labouré stated that on 19 July 1830, the eve of the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, she woke up after hearing the voice of one child calling her to the chapel, where she heard the Virgin Mary say to her, “God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary. Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you. Times are evil in France and in the world.” In 1830 Catherine reported that the Blessed Mother returned during evening meditations. She displayed herself inside an oval frame, standing upon a globe. She wore many rings set with gems that shone rays of light over the globe. Around the margin of the frame appeared the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”. As Catherine watched, the frame seemed to rotate, showing a circle of twelve stars, a large letter M surmounted by a cross, and the stylized Sacred Heart of Jesus crowned with thorns and Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced with a sword. Asked why some of the gems did not shed light, Mary reportedly replied, “Those are the graces for which people forget to ask.” Sister Catherine then heard the Virgin Mary ask her to take these images to her father confessor, telling him that they should be put on medallions, and saying “All who wear them will receive great graces.”
The alter in this church was special. The atmosphere in there was electric. Quiet. Peaceful. The alter was the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t look away. I sat in a pew and stared. Then I closed my eyes and started to meditate. I wanted to really FEEL this place. The peace was palpable. Wow. I felt something. It felt happy and gentle and satisfying. I felt peaceful and content. Cool. I wanted to stay and stay. I eventually had to catch up with the group and had to pull myself away.
This Cathedral sits so high on a hill above Paris that you take a kind of ski lift car up to get there. A couple of us took a taxi up to the lift. The streets up there are so steep and so narrow the taxi had to backup al the way up the street to the lift. When we went inside the nuns were singing their prayers. It was a moment to hold onto. The view, the sound of their voices filling the Cathedral. I tried to burn it into my memory.
In between all this were lunches of snails (Ed), tiny French mussels, toasted ham, cheese, fried egg sandwiches covered in browned more melted cheese, wine, beer, fondue and crepes. Most importantly there were friends and so much laughing. So many arm pats and hand squeezes. They were such warm people.
They all took such loving care of each other. Wheelchairs were pushed, arms were taken, luggage carried and people looking out for one another. When one couple got sick and a gentleman passed out- blood pressure cuffs and blood sugars tools flew out of suitcases and he was cared for. We all checked on them until they felt better. Then the wife in that same couple got the call that her mother had just passed. One of the women in the group had a new heart breaking diagnosis. Several needed help walking. We all felt each other’s burdens and somehow it changed them. There was at lightening of all those burdens. It was like we carried each other’s pain for a little while and it good.
I’m usually not great with new people. I tend to be quiet and hang back emotionally. I found myself opening up to these people. Each had a special spark of kindness that together warmed all our hearts. I felt so cared for by them, they felt like old and trusted friends. How did that happen? I don’t know, but it was good. Really good.
I pre boarded the plane just now. I was sitting alone in the back of the plane. A woman sitting directly behind me. After a few minutes she asked if I had the time. I clicked on my iphone and showed her. She made a fuss about the cover picture of my puppy. We started to chat and said she was returning to Brooklyn after spending time as a volunteer at the Fatima Shrine. How cool was that? She said it was her third time. Wow.
When she stood to let a man in her row, we continued to talk. When I actually saw her I was taken by an amazing cross she was wearing. I told her that I loved it and asked about it. She said it was a special Saint Benidict cross. It had a special elaborate blessing that she was trying to explain to me. Then she asked for my email. She said she had another at home and wanted to send it to me as a gift. What? Who does that? She said if I really felt like that, she wanted me to have it. I was speechless.
Kind of like this……..
Maybe my gift on this trip wasn’t just the bath at Lourdes or the Procession at Fatima or a trying to get a Miraculous Healing. Maybe it was really seeing the unexpected caring and Kindness of Strangers. The beauty of what God has created in all of us.
Or maybe it was a reminder that need to take care of one another, to share each other’s burdens.
Just look at our planet. A little help or kindness to a stranger might be just what we need. Try to fit it into your day. Hug someone. Let that car merge into traffic ahead of you. Try to put aside politics. Love your neighbor no matter his ethnicity, orientation or religion. We are all family.
Yup. That was my gift.
Now I’m passing it forward to you.