Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lourdes, from Tourist to Pilgrim: Guest Post by Pam Pedler

For 150 years Lourdes has been best known for the apparitions of the Blessed Mother (who called herself the "Immaculate Conception" when she appeared to the young Bernadette Soubirous). Since that time, Lourdes has been a popular pilgrimage site, with many reports of miracles and healings from those that bathed in the waters of the spring that erupted from the ground at the very place where the Blessed Mother stood before the young girl.

I received this account from Pam Pedler, who first published it in the "Denver Catholic Register." I met Pam at CWCO 2009 this year, and am running the article here as part of the Lent/Easter Mary Moments Carnival. Enjoy!

Palm trees stood against the back drop of snow capped mountains. The balmy weather in the Pyrenees was unexpected after three bitter cold days in Paris. This was Lourdes, France, and once a seemingly impossible destination for my travel. Lourdes had been a late addition to our inaugural trip to Europe.
How could I go to France, and miss visiting the birthplace of Bernadette Soubirous, and the site of an 1858 nonfiction story of David and Goliath magnitude? The production of The Song of Bernadette captivated me as a child, so much so that I choose Bernadette as my confirmation name.
When I realized our trip coincided with the 150th anniversary of her apparitions, I meekly asked my family if we could squeeze an overnight visit to Lourdes. It required a five hour train trip each way from Paris.
Millions of people arrive each year. It is only second to Paris as a tourist destination in France. Lourdes is a place to rest; to unplug and absorb the calm. Some curious visitors come hoping to see what others see, and what they do not comprehend. Many others surrender their suffering here, and that in itself is a healing.

Not all healings are physical; most of the spiritual healings are know only to the recipients. The miraculous spring waters that Bernadette revealed by digging in humble obedience, remains a free gift today. Its’ grace flows from God through Mary, to open hearts that seek.
I had never traveled as a spiritual tourist. I am a private person. Somehow our trip expanded into a personal ‘pilgrimage.’ The word - uncommon in modern times, was a foreign experience to me. I felt drawn to present myself in gratitude to an inspirational woman, who is a constant source of mercy and guidance. I wanted to touch the rock where this female role model of all time, our Mother Mary, presented herself to an impoverished girl of fourteen. My impetus to take on such an unlikely mission was thankfulness for the mercy granted during my father’s final days before his death.
Upon arriving, my fifteen year old son said, ”Mom, we should have come right here instead of seeing Paris first. There are so many kids, and everyone seems so happy. The sun is shining for the first time since we’ve arrived in Europe too!”
Stomachs growling, we stopped to eat. The waiter took our order, and we looked out large windows upon a narrow, two lane intersection. We could even hear the groups of people singing, and smiles abounded. No one was hurrying. It really felt like a different country!
Intrigued, we set out on foot to find the Grotto. We took several wrong turns, using our mistakes to observe the sites and people. Our Mother Mary, in her usual fashion, led us first to her Son. Stepping out of a mist of drizzling rain, we were drawn into wooden doors by singing. Sliding into a pew to listen, we realized a Mass was starting, in French. Accidentally, as if by another’s design we first attended Mass and received Eucharist.
Only afterwards did we behold the grotto. Walking around the back of the Basilica, we descended switchbacks towards the Gave River. There it was, just like my mind’s eye had imagined. The cave’s rock darkened from a century and a half of candle flames, stood witness to heaven reaching out to guide humans. A white statue of the Virgin Mary stood in her cove engaging one’s mind and heart.
I placed my hands on the rock beneath where Mary appeared eighteen times to Bernadette. Our Mother Mary had requested prayers, and penance then. I offered up a simple prayer, “Thank you for your mercy. Present us to your Son to heal us, and our family and friends, of what we need to be healed from. You know better than us, what that may be.” After a reverent kiss of the stone below the apparitions, my hands were scented with a beautiful floral aroma that lasted even after the next morning’s shower.
We collected water from the spring’s source to share with family members. Submerged in the experience, and praying for our friends and family’s intentions, I surrendered to rinse my face in the water, and drink it with unusual openness. My son insisted we go to confession in the English speaking confessional, for the fullness of grace. Our priest was from England.
We returned for the candlelight procession at nine pm. Even the rain paused for the prayers. Praying the rosary out loud, in nine languages, among hundreds of international people, was an unforgettable experience. It surprised me that Europe was so much more open than the United States when adoring Christ, and honoring his Mother. Stirred, I realized it was the actual date of 150th anniversary of Mary finally identifying herself to Bernadette by saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Lourdes is a holy and joyful place of unity among Christians and non- Christians alike. While lighting candles in a centuries old tradition, I was warmed by connecting to the Church Body that preceded me; Bernadette and all the saints of the past two millenniums.
Making our way back to our hotel, we stopped in the multitude of tiny shops. The incongruence of materialism on the doorstep of the sacred was disconcerting. It seemed opportunistic. It wasn’t until I returned home and read The Fluorescent Virgin, in the The Wonders of Lourdes,* that my eyes and heart were opened to the distraction. The merchant’s story tells of how he owed his life to a religious trinket. In his words, “God takes any shape he pleases to help us believe in him, to keep us near him. Don’t mock the faith of the simple for it touches God’s heart just as much as the faith of the saints does.”* To my surprise I found a fluorescent virgin in the bottom of my bag at home. Had I been in his store?
I was so grateful to extend the Lourdes experience with this book.
Since returning home my trip is re-stirred daily, prompting peaceful contentment. Lourdes is a place on earth, where the holy touches both the ordinary tourist and a modern pilgrim.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Divine Mercy: What does it look like?

This meditation is being submitted to the November edition of "Mary Moments." If you'd like to contribute, contact Sarah at

In the famous Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, the words that the saint hears Jesus speak are recorded in boldface type; those of His mother are in italics. As might be expected, the words of the Blessed Mother are few and far between – all true Marian devotion draws the heart toward Jesus.

What she does say, however, speaks volumes. In paragraph 625, St. Faustina writes: “In the evening, when I was praying, the Mother of God told me, Your lives must be like Mine; quiet and hidden, in unceasing union with God, pleading for humanity and preparing the world for the second coming of God.”

In paragraph 635, the Blessed Mother continues: “Oh, how pleasing to God is the soul that follows faithfully the inspirations of His grace! I gave the Savior to the world; as for you, you have to speak to the world about His great mercy and prepared the world for the Second Coming of Him who will come, not as a merciful Savior, but as a just Judge. Oh, how terrible is that day! Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still the time for [granting] mercy. If you keep silent now, you will be answering for a great number of souls on that terrible day. Fear nothing. Be faithful to the end. I sympathize with you.”

In these passages, we glimpse the nature of God’s abundant mercy: Not weak or indecisive, neither pandering nor aloof. Supreme Being by whose power brought heaven and earth into existence, and by whose design all creation will be restored.

What is most remarkable about this plan, however, is that the Creator of the Universe has deigned to involve us in it. And yet, the most powerful among us are not the flashy, the ornate, the wealthy, or the articulate … at least, not by the world’s standards. It is a conspiracy of kindness, a momentary rush of grace that comes to us when we are at our weakest and most desperate. For only when we have come to the end of ourselves, and surrendered to those divine ministrations, can the celestial surgery begin.

“Let it be done to me according to your word…” This is the song of the handmaid, the tribute of the warrior, and the offering of the priest. And as we take up the song, in imitation of our Mother, we find in surrender the courage to persevere to the end.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mysteries of Light: Reflection for the "Mary Moments" Rosary Carnival

In this apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, John Paul the Great introduced the "Mysteries of Light" adding a fourth set of mysteries to the traditional three attributed to St. Dominic in the 12th century.

These mysteries reinforce the Holy Father’s instruction that the Rosary is a profoundly Christo-centric prayer, and that to honor the Mother is to reveal the Son. For these mysteries reveal in a profound way the humanity of Christ, which He received from the Blessed Mother. These mysteries are particularly meaningful to my family, for they coincide with special moments in their own spiritual development.

1. The Baptism in the Jordan. Jesus was not an infant when He received baptism at John’s hands. He fully understood what He was doing, and why. And because we had to wait three years to finalize our adoption, our children were both well aware of what they were doing on their baptism day. “Today we have a new name – and a new family!” my son shouted. “Yes, you do,” the priest agreed. “Your name is Christian, and yours is the family of God.”

2. The Wedding at Cana. This is one of my children’s favorite bedtime stories. Sarah lives for brides and weddings, and they both love the dramatic “master of the party,” who runs about moaning, “Oh, no! No more wine! Whatever shall we do?” To which Mother Mary replies, “Do whatever He tells you.” That’s a lesson for all of us … isn’t it?

3. The Proclamation. Teaching children about the “here” and “not yet” of the Kingdom of God starts from the very beginning of their spiritual formation. Once they understand that the things that are most “real” are the things they cannot see or touch, and that the best part of life is the part that is yet to come, it affects the way they make choices – how they form relationships, invest their lives, and spend their money. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you…”

4. The Transfiguration. The three men dazzled: Moses, giver of the Law; Elijah, father of the prophets; and Jesus. “Let us stay here, and build three tents,” suggested Peter, awestruck. But the transformation was not yet complete – the Son of God had to become the Lamb of God. Good Friday led to Easter Sunday. And we, all His followers, are transfigured as well, infused with His divine life.

5. The Institution of the Eucharist. When I think of this Passover meal the Lord shared with His disciples, I always picture Mary in the kitchen – chopping the herbs, pouring the oil, baking the bread. Once again, she provided the “stuff” by which the Son of God would touch mankind for all eternity.

"Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on."

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Reverent Heart

Watching Shadowlands with my husband one evening, I was struck by a line in the marriage vows of C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman: “With my body, I thee worship.” It was the declaration of a man and woman, before God, binding themselves together for life.

If this movie had been pure fiction, in one sense the marriage between this “confirmed old bachelor” and the divorced, critically ill expatriate would seem a bit… convenient. She had young children (only Douglas is mentioned in the movie), and her body was riddled with cancer. For Joy, returning to the States was not an option. But life is often stranger than fiction, and anyone familiar with the writings of Lewis, including both Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed, can see that this was no “marriage of convenience,” but a true joining of hearts. In the latter work, Lewis observed:

One thing marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few years [Joy] and I feasted on love, every mode of it – solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love, we ought to have lost all interest in Him… We both knew we wanted something besides one another – quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want. You might as well say that when lovers have one another they will never want to read, or eat – or breathe.

Tending to our Soulish Needs

Though he helped to pave the way for some of the rest of us (myself included), C.S. Lewis never made the final leap “home to Rome”. And yet, this quote – an eloquent tribute to the spiritual intimacy God wants with us – speaks to the heart of the sacramental life, which is also reflected in the second reading from this past week (Philippians 2:1-5):

“…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus…”

This passage goes on to describe all the things Christ did on our behalf – physical manifestations of a divine love so complete, so overwhelming that it conquered death itself. Not a 50-50 kind of love, not a “keeping up with the Joneses” enterprise. This ultimate self-sacrifice was born of perfect love and calls for a response equally momentous proportions. A response of true humility and reverence, and of total self-giving, body and soul.

When we approach Our Lord at Mass, especially in the Eucharist, we feast on love with all the gratitude of one who does indeed (in the words of St. Paul) “regard others as more important,” and yet who (in the words of Lewis) wants “something besides one another.” Only when both these conditions are met can our souls be satisfied.

It can be difficult to strike a balance. When we judge harshly the actions and motives of those around us, we fail to tend to our own souls with humility. By the same token, if our choices about where and even whether to worship are determined solely by the “feelings” our surroundings engender, we cannot hear the still, small voice of God. We may kneel deeply, or bow profoundly. But reverent we are not.

As in a good marriage, reverent worship is an exterior expression of an interior commitment, a desire to know and be known – in other words, intimacy. When we approach Our Lord in the Eucharist in this way, “with the same love, united in heart … humbly regarding others as more important,” even the hungriest soul may be satisfied.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Behold Your Mother" by Mark Shea -- Third Time's the Charm

This excerpt isn't from this book (on the left, above). Though I confess I'm rather partial to it, having written it myself -- from the perspective of a convert and adoptive mother.

It's not from this one (on the right, below), either. Although it, too, is a lovely book -- written from one of "Mary's sons," a good and holy priest.

No, the following excerpt is from Mark Shea's lovely book (actually, I understand that it is to be a triology) by the same title, to be published by Catholic Answers in a few months. I'm looking forward to seeing it in print ... in the meantime, here is a little snippet to pique your interest (cover image was not available ... sorry)!

There are about a jillion forms of prayer in the Catholic tradition. In the massive fields of prayer that stretch out like a grand prairie of wildflowers, there's simply no end to the ways in which Catholics approach God through Jesus Christ. Here, more than anywhere else, we experience the Church's curiously decentralized approach to faith. This can surprise us, because many people have the notion that a hierarchical Church insists on a top-down Command Economy where bishops issue the prayers and the faithful salute smartly and recite them. But in reality, the Church has always acted with the basic assumption that devotions will spring up among the faithful like orchards and gardens spring up in April.

To be sure, the devotional life needs tending and pruning here and there so people don't starting praying in loopy ways. But the basic trust of the Church is that the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, will provide the sunlight, rain, and inspiration that brings prayer from the hearts of the faithful.

Consequently, the prayer life of the Church is a riot of color and variety. Aside from liturgical prayers such as the Mass and the Divine Office (a series of prayers prayed throughout the day, particularly in monastic or religious orders, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours), there are gazillions of other private devotions, both popular and obscure. There are litanies, icons, prose, poems, and beloved music. Private prayer is done in all sorts of postures: laying, sitting, standing, kneeling, walking, even dancing (as St. Teresa of Avila used to do, employing castanets in her impromptu outbursts of meditative prayer). There is prayer to the Blessed Trinity, prayer to each Person of the Trinity, prayer to saints, prayer using Scripture, prayer to the Eucharist, prayer alone, prayer in groups, prayer employing all the senses, prayer using physical objects, prayer that avoids distraction by physical objects, prayer that chatters, prayer that's silent, prayer done while working, prayer for valor in battle, prayer for courage to die rather than shed blood, prayer sung, prayer spoken, prayer enacted, prayers of love, rage, confusion, hope, fear, contentment, boredom, and even small talk.

This colossal variety doesn't diminish one iota when the subject is Marian prayer. Mary is prayed to and addressed under a zillion titles. She is Mother Mary, Blessed Mother, Holy Mary, the Virgin. She is Mother of the Church, Seat of Wisdom, Daughter of Zion. She is Bride of the Holy Spirit, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mother of Mercy and Our Lady of Sorrows (just to name a very few of her titles).

Some people, uncomfortable with this massive creativity in finding new ways to praise Mary, have the notion they can get away from intense Marian piety in the Eastern Churches. That's because Eastern liturgy is experienced by few in the West
while Western Catholic private devotions are so visible in secular life what with all the posters, medals, statues, holy cards, and icons all over homes and offices. So most Americans perceive Western Catholics to have the heavy-duty devotion to Mary and imagine the Eastern Churches haven't "gone overboard" about her as Westerners supposedly have.

In reality, Eastern Christianity is, if anything, even more intensely Marian than the West. It's just that, in the Eastern Churches, most Marian devotion is found in the liturgy (where you must participate) rather than in private devotions (where you may participate). Indeed, to bind Marian devotion to the liturgy, as the East has, is to place her, in the profoundest way, at the heart of the Faith.

Therefore, if someone chooses to, say, worship in a Byzantine Catholic church in order to get away from things such as the Litany of Loreto or May Crownings, they will soon realize they've arrived at the expression of Christianity that perfected the Akathist Hymn, a long hymn of praise to the Blessed Virgin—offered while standing—which includes, among many other titles of praise, such acclamations for the Virgin as:

Container of the Uncontainable God!
Door of Solemn Mystery!
Report Doubtful to Unbelievers!
Undoubted Boast of the Faithful!
All-Holy Chariot of Him Who Sitteth upon the Cherubim!
All-Glorious Temple of Him Who is above the Seraphim!
Thou Who hast United Opposites!
Thou Who hast Joined Virginity and Motherhood!
Thou Through Whom Transgression Hath Been Absolved!
Thou Through Whom Paradise Is Opened!
Key to the Kingdom of Christ!
Hope of Eternal Good Things!
O Bride Unwedded!

In short, there's no end to the variety of praise for Mary in the Catholic Faith—eastern or western.

Cataloguing and discussing every facet of this colossal diversity could trail on for thousands of pages. We don't want to do this. Therefore, the best way to approach Marian prayer is to go where the vast majority of Catholics turn, to the 800 Pound Gorilla and All-Time Champion form of Marian devotion: the Rosary. For in its mysteries there are lots of opportunities to take side jaunts into some of the other forms of devotion out there as well. ...

Care to read more? Well, why not order the book?

"Mary and Me": A New Favorite!

This post is part of the "Mary Moments" Carnival held at Behold Your Mother

Author Ginny Kubitz Moyir writes:

"...there are times when life presents us with a clear crossroads. The paths are well-marked, displayed before our eyes; it's simply a matter of discerning which one to follow. But what happens when the future is not a crossroads, but a maze? What do we do when we can't even see what our options are? How do we proceed when we know our current lifestyle isn't working for us, but we have no idea where to go from there?" (p.15).

This particular paragraph resonated with me, especially right now. Whether the question on the table is "Why should Mary mean more to me than any other figure in Scripture apart from Christ himself?" or "Something's not right ... What do you want from me, God?" the answer is so often right in front of us, if we are only open and willing to read the signs.

Mary and Me is the story -- many stories, actually -- of individuals who felt the gentle tug of that particular apronstring, and let themselves be drawn in to her loving embrace. In one story, an HBO exec whose brother had recently died from AIDS felt herself being inexplicably drawn to churches. She recalls:

Beth knew she still needed to make a drastic change to regain her emotional health. A few months later she quit her job, sublet her apartment, packed her bags, and got into her car. She didn't know where she was going, and had no timeline or agenda for her road trip. Only one thing was clear: She was at a turning point, and needed to find a new life for herself.

For the next five months, she drove all the way from California to Nova Scotia and back. Though she had no conscious itinerary or purpose, she soon discovered one: visiting churches. Without knowing why, she found herself stopping her car in front of Catholic churches in different states. "I'd see a Catholic church as I was driving through Town X, and I'd pull over, and stop, and I'd walk in...." She had no idea why she was doing it, but felt "compelled from the outside in." It was only when she'd arrive in the vestibule of the church that it hit her: She was there because she was looking for Mary.

This search for transcendent reality, for ultimate truth -- for home -- is common to many of those looking toward the Catholic Church. We don't know exactly what it is we are looking for until we look it full in the face, then find ourselves wondering why it took us so long to catch on.

Thanks, Ginny, for taking the time to sing it out so compellingly.

"The Beauty of Mary": A Primer for the Faithful ... and the Skeptical

When I first started on my little book about Mary, now titled Behold Your Mother, I did not have what you'd call an intimate relationship with her. Not even a daily Rosary. Sad, but true.

Once I started the book, however, I took a look around and realized just how many "stubborn children" (usually, but not always, non-Catholic Christians) Mary contends with on a regular basis! She loves them anyway ... but what a regular trial we must be for her at times! Like sulky teenagers, we do everything we can to separate ourselves ("She's not MY mother!") -- and yet, the fact of her motherhood has never depended on our willingness to accept it. She loves because it is in a mother's nature to love her children. No matter how ornery.

These past few weeks I've had the pleasure of reading a number of "Mary books," and I wanted to share a few excerpts with you in hopes that these snippets will inspire you to (like St. Augustine) "Take and read." When we are trying to overcome years of ignorance or apathy, truth is the only thing that will seep around and soften those rough edges.

First ... since the Feast of the Assumption is fast approaching, I wanted to offer a snippet from a book entitled The Beauty of Mary, by Rosemary Vaccari Mysel and friends, published by Pauline Books and Media.

First, a little history: "According to theologian Danilo Sartor, OSM, the feast of the Assumption of the BVM was first celebrated in sixth-century Jerusalem. The Emperor Maurice (d.602) ordered the celebration of the Assumption for the entire empire. In the Byzantine Empire, it was called the 'Dormition.' ... By the late 7th century ... four Marian feasts were celebrated in Rome: the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the Annunciation, the Purification, and the Assumption" (p128).

Caryll Houselander offers this meditation on the feast:

...Even in natural things, it is newness that gives us delight: daybreak, morning in spring. These seem to us promises from heaven, promises of our own renewal.

"I will give you the morning star."

To be born again: that is exactly what Christ has promised to us; not only once, but just as often as our inner life grows old and jaded and dies.

But newness, flowering spring, shadowless morning, are not born of what is decaying, corrupt, and fetid. They are born only of virginity, virginity which is newness, virginity complete as fire and water.

The only virginity like that is the virginity of Our Lady; it is through this virginity that the earth is made new, that the Holy Spirit is wed to humanity.
Because of the beautiful mix of historical and devotional, this book is an excellent starter resource for those who are just beginning to explore their relationship to the Blessed Mother.

For more information on the Blessed Mother, go to my blog Behold Your Mother.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mother Teresa's Rules to Live By

I found this the other day at one of Sister Spitfire's blogs, courtesy of A Catholic Mom in Hawaii.

Mother Teresa gave these rules to her Sisters to help them develop the virtue of humility:

1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
3. Avoid curiosity.
4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
8. Give in to the will of others.
9. Accept insults and injuries.
10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
11. Accept injuries and insults.
12. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
13. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
14. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
15. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
16. Always choose the more difficult task.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Great Quote of the Week

"We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."

- Madeleine L'Engle