Reflections from my pilgrimage to France and Medjugorje

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16 July 2018

We left Indianapolis on the new direct flight from Indy to Paris. A very pleasant flight. As we set out, I am mindful of the timing of this pilgrimage. It was originally set to be later in the Fall—October was the plan—but it was moved to July to accommodate my teaching schedule at Marian University this coming Fall. Plus, I hate being gone from our parochial school too many days in a row. The dates moved around a few times, but I am pretty sure that Our Lady is calling us NOW for the following reasons:

  1. For one, today’s date–July 16–is the anniversary of the final apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes. After having appeared to Bernadette 17 times, she appeared “more beautiful than ever” on July 16, 1858. We begin this pilgrimage on this anniversary. It’s almost as though Blessed Mother is saying, “Now it’s your turn.”
  2. We also celebrate this pilgrimage during the old, traditional feast day of St. Vincent de Paul (July 19). One of our earliest stops on this pilgrimage will be to visit his heart at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal and the rest of his incorrupt body at the Shrine of St. Vincent de Paul a few blocks away from there. This is particularly interesting for us in Shelbyville as we just recently started a local chapter of the SVDP society. I look forward to praying his intercession over our new chapter.
  3. It is also a timely pilgrimage because it was in the year 1830 on the eve of St. Vincent de Paul’s traditional feast day (the eve being July 18), that Sr. Catherine Laboure, DC, had her first vision of Blessed Mother. We will be visiting this church one day away from the anniversary of this.
  4. Another reason this is good timing: on Sunday, July 22, while we will be in Medjugorje, Archbishop Hoser will celebrate his first Mass here at the Church of St. James. Archbishop Hoser, a retired bishop from Poland, has been appointed by Pope Francis to lead the visitation of the Vatican here. The bishop of Mostar remains the local ordinary, but Archbishop Hoser will be quite present around here as he assesses the place and, in particular, its pastoral needs. This is good news
  5. It’s also good to be going now because our pilgrimage will overlap with the feast day of St. James, patron saint of pilgrimages and patron of the parish church in Medjugorie.
  6. A final reason I think Blessed Mother has invited us all on this pilgrimage now as opposed to another time: A young man named Alex Kalscheur, a member of my former parish in Greenwood, is stuck in a hospital in France after a tragic fall. This pilgrimage will be a time of many prayers for him as we will be in the same country for much of the time. I hope to make it over there to see him, though he is far from where we will be. He is in Grenoble, which is where. St John Vianney was ordained a priest.

Mary Queen of the Way: Give us a good pilgrimage!

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17 July 2018

The first stop today after landing in Paris was the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal on the famous Rue de Bac. When you enter the chapel, you can’t help but notice the large fresco surrounding the altar. It depicts the night of July 18, when Sister Catherine Laboure received her first visit from Blessed Mother. There is a lot of history depicted in the beautiful sanctuary–the founding of the order, the the visits Sr. Catherine received, the martyrdom of some Sisters in the Revolution, and even the visit of St John Paul II on May 31, 1980. You can also see theology in the sanctuary–the role of Blessed Mother as Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the power of the Mass (there is a great piece of text written around the sanctuary in French: “Come to the foot of the altar. There, graces will be showered upon all.” In addition, there is the incorrupt body of St. Catherine Laboure, clothed in her beautiful habit. The sanctuary tells an important story. I’m traditional enough to wish all sanctuaries were this way! We have a beautiful story to tell.

And the story isn’t over. I offered Mass for everyone there at the shrine, a large crowd. I spoke about the difference it makes, whether we think Jesus and Mary are alive or not. Many see Jesus and Mary through some historical lens. I guess I’ve never been one to care much about the “historical Jesus.” I can’t stand so-called documentaries about Jesus on the history channel. They usually butcher things anyway, from what I hear. I suppose I’ve never cared too much about the historical Jesus or Mary because I see them as very much alive. This is not to say the history is unimportant, but rather that the present reality of the Lord just seems so much more important.

We Christians believe that Jesus and Mary—and all the saints—continue to live, to work miracles. Sr. Cahterine Laboure was a simple nun when Blessed Mother appeared to her in this sacred space. The chair Blessed Mother sat on remains there. What a miracle! But Mary continues to work miracles in our lives to this day. This is the essential point of the miraculous medal.

We then paid a visit to St. Vincent de Paul. His incorrupt body is above the sanctuary. There are stairs you can climb there to pray up close. It is a wild thing what this man did in the course of his life on earth. Millions and millions of people have received various forms of help down through the years because of what this man started. Through his body he became an incredible saint. No wonder his body—that instrument of his charity and holiness—became incorrupt. I prayed here for our new society of SVDP in Shelby Co.

We finally made our way to Lourdes. While others went to sleep, I ventured out to attend a Mass in French. It is beautiful to hear the Mass in a different tongue, and here is perhaps no language as beautiful as French, except of course the Church’s official language, Latin.

I went to a holy, good priest for confession. He spoke to the soul. That is a skill I pray I will one day possess. Sometimes the perfect words come to me in hearing confession and offering guidance. But most of the time I just wing it. Maybe most priests do. Anyhow, this priest, he said that God sees the good in me just as I see the good in the folks I love. Isn’t that the truth. I think about the kids in the school, and the all the youth at SJ and SV–and the hundreds of Roncallli confessions I heard when I was at OLG. They aren’t perfect, but I love them in their brokenness…and I see so much good there. A confessor, while he hears the worst in people, sees the best in them at the same time: he sees a soul coming back, struggling and trying to be better. This holy priest, my confessor, said, “God sees the good in you. May that give rest to your soul.” He spoke it in such a way.

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18 July 2018

We started the day today with Holy Mass at the Grotto in Lourdes. The grotto is the most peaceful place–and yet so simple! It is here where Blessed Mother appeared to a young, 14-year-old peasant girl by the name of Bernadette. She was the daughter of a simple miller. They did not have much. Blessed Mother always picks the unusual suspects! The archbishop of Scotland preached the Mass and noted that, if God can believe in a 14 year old girl to be the recipient of the Truth in its fullness and beauty we must do the same: we should give in fullness the faith to our youth. No watering things down. We are to entrust the Blessed Mother, the doctrines is the faith, the teachings—all of this we give to the youth. Following it all, he noted, is not the easiest way. But it is the surest way.

It is interesting; there are many churches, chapels, and basilicas all over the place in Lourdes, but none compares to this simple grotto where Mary truly came.

There are three basilicas literally built on top of each other. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is at the top, a Gothic style church finished in 1876 and the oldest of them all. It has the most wonderful old church smell. It is a hike up there. The windows tell the story of Lourdes and feature some wonderful saints.

The basilica beneath that one—in the middle—is the Rosary Basilica, completed in 1899. It is somewhat cruciform in nature; the left side of the cross depicts the joyful mysteries and has a side altar for each, the top of the cross contains the sorrowful mysteries, and the right side has side altars for each of the glorious mysteries. They didn’t know what to do when Pope JP II came along with the Luminous Mysteries in 2002, so they eventually put them out on the front wall. While the upper basilica is gothic, this is byzantine in style. The first thing I did when I got to Lourdes, while the others were unpacking, was to go to Mass in French in this basilica.

Beneath these two basilicas, under the ground, is the Bassilica of St. Pius X. He is the one who defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is a pretty big deal around here because when Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette, she said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette was a young girl, and this doctrine had only been defined a few years when Our Lady appeared to Bernadette. Only the priests (and not all of them even) knew about this “new” doctrine, and certainly a young peasant girl would not have heard about it. This basilica downstairs was finished in 1958. It is modern, with a concrete floor. It is built in the round and has some rather unfortunate statuary. There are large saint banners all around, mostly of saints from France. It seats 25,000. Because of rain, we had the candle light procession here two of our nights. It was still beautiful.

We saw a lot of things — the house where Bernadette spent her childhood, the convent, the cemetery where her family is buried, and many things.

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19 July 2018

Today a few of us left Lourdes and went to Ars, the tiny town that became famous because of Fr. John Vianney. Most know a few things about Fr. Vianney–how he almost didn’t get ordained (he could not master Latin, or philosophy, or theology), how he ate nothing but potatoes for years, how he spent endless hours in the confessional every day. It is a remarkable story.

We toured the entire place, starting with his rectory. It is now as it was then, mostly untouched since his death. It is as though they knew Vianney was to be a saint. There is a dining room when you walk in. He almost never used it, he fasted so much. On the way up the stairs is a beautiful image he treasured of the Annunciation. Often, according to the legend, it was covered in mud in the morning time, so horribly did the devil assault Fr. John. Upstairs is his bedroom, and the bed on which he died. There is a desk there, with the candle that he had been using to read by during his last days. Saints were all around in his room.

There were his shoes–dirty, filled with holes. Those shoes took him many places. “Blessed are the feet….” And his cassock, too, is there to be seen — tattered and faded.

Then the church. We arrived and sat in the back. There is an ambo there, where Fr. Vianney used to give his famous catechisms. He spoke a lot there on various topics — pride, Blessed Mother, Confession, baptism, etc. (I wish priests had the time to do these type of things nowadays, and more that the people would care enough to come to them.) He was not an educated man, but he was profoundly wise and simply holy. It was his wisdom and holiness that filled those catechism lessons with so many people. He gave a lesson there on counsel once. He said, “What will convert this or that person is the sanctity of your own life.”

And that–the sanctity of Fr. Vianney’s life–is what converted a lost town. When Bishop Courbon assigned Fr. Vianney to Ars, he told the young priest he almost didn’t ordain: “There is not much love for God there. See what you can do.” Bishop Courbon assigned him there because it was a “lost cause” and Fr. Vianney’s lack of intelligence couldn’t stir up too much trouble there.

But his holiness, it attracted and converted everyone. Soon they installed train tracks to enable the crowds to get to Ars more quickly. He brought countless souls to God, even those that seemed beyond repair.

The holiness of one man can save a multitude. There is a scripture about that someplace.

I offered Mass at the side altar, where John Vianney’s incorrupt body rests. He rests on top of the tabernacle. Mass had been prepared, but the sacristan and I got to talking before Mass. He said, “Hang on a minute.” And he switched the chalice. He said, “You are a holy priest. You use Fr. Vianney’s chalice.” This chalice is typically reserved for bishops, he said. What a singular grace.

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20 July 2018

Today was largely a travel day. Nonetheless, when we arrived in Medjugorje in time enough for a late dinner. Following dinner, I went downtown to the church. Many people were all over–some going to confession, some praying, many out eating. It was neat to see. I felt….like I was home again.

Nearby the hotel is Fr. Slavko’s grave. Fr. Slavko was the Franciscan priest who served as a priest here at the parish church of St. James in Medjugorie from 1983 until his death on November 24, 2000. He had been appointed by the bishop (Bishop Zanic at the time) to see if what was happening was legit or not. Fr. Slavko was the natural choice because he had a PhD in psychology and the visionaries were under quite a bit of scrutiny. He came quickly to believe in the veracity of the apparitions.

Fr. Slavko was a holy, holy man. He gave every ounce of himself to his priesthood. He is a legend here–giving endlsss talks and tours to pilgrims, serving as spiritual director to the visionaries, hearing confessions, helping the troubled youth, working in the schools. The man would frequently rise at 4:00am to climb Apparition Hill or Cross Mountain and pray there for two hours before the early Mass. He prayed there almost daily. And he loved to show people to the top. How fitting, then, that he died at the top. A large stone, carried by many youth that he served in his life here, marks the spot.

He died there at 3:00pm on a Friday, the hour of mercy, the hour Jesus died. And he died of a heart attack. This is beautiful, for no one had a bigger heart than Fr. Slavko. And every book Fr. Slavko wrote (there were many), had the word “heart” in the title (e.g., “Pray with the Heart,” “Fast with the heart,” “Celebrate Mass with your heart,” “Follow me with your heart”). He died after taking a group to the top of the hill, and there, some five minutes beforehand, Fr. Slavko prayed for the next person in the group who would pass away. He did not know it, but they were praying for him.

As a priest, I feel a strong connection to this man, just as I did the day before with St. John Vianney. May I follow his example. Amen.

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21 July 2018

After breakfast and Mass, we all headed to the parish hall. That’s right, the parish hall. Medjugorje has about 2.5 million pilgrims a year. There are thousands around at any given time. The outdoor part of the church seats about 5000. On various occasions every week, it’s a packed house. Yet despite this huge size, St. James remains a parish church. There are movements for it to become a shrine, and I suspect it will become that before too long

So we headed over to the parish hall, aka the yellow building. There we heard from Jakov, the youngest of all the visionaries. He shared some reflections with all of us English-speaking pilgrims. He said that Our Lady has brought us here, and that our first words in Medjugorgie should be “thank you.” And the first thing we must do, he said, is go to confession. (More on that later.) He reminded us that many, many people have found the meaning of their lives here. Many new prayer groups and ministries have started because of this place. I know both of these things to be true. A woman I met some time ago told me she owes her vocation to the religious life to her pilgrimage to Medjugorigie. A couple got married this afternoon here; they met on their pilgrimage to Medjugorgie.

Jakov noted that we will never understand Medjugorje through thee visionaries. Nor will we understand it through words. We will come to understand it through our experience of it, in our hearts. He spoke about the new endeavor in Medjurogie called Mary’s Hands, an effort that has been helping hundreds and hundreds of troubled people become untroubled.

There are five essential themes that underlie this place and all that has happened here, is happening here: 1) Confession at least once a month; 2) Daily Scripture Reading; 3) Eucharistic adoration and Daily Mass; 4) Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays; and 5) Daily Prayer, especially the Rosary. It is these five things that our Lady is always calling us to, these five things that make a saint. You may say, “What about service?” The answer is: If you do all these five things, you will serve like no one else. St. Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, St Francis, all these people who did so much–they only did it because they did the five things above. The same is true for Pope Francis. Most people havenn’t a clue about the interior and pious side of Dorthoy Day; they don’t care to think about all the time she spent in adoration and the confessional, all her daily Masses and many spiritual conferences–yet it was those things that summoned and enabled her to care for the poor so well. There’s a temptation to forget about those five things and just try to serve and do good things. That is putting the cart before the horse.

We are called to live the five messages of Medjugofie. Then there is peace.

We climbed Apparition Hill in the afternoon. It was on this Hill where Blessed Mother first appeared on June 24, 1981. A cross marks the spot. The cross. It struck me while I was up there standing beneath that cross, with the breeze around me and the sunset before me: there is so much peace, even with the cross. Maybe because of the cross.

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22 July 2018

16th Sunday OT
A contingent of the group woke up early this morning in order to climb Cross Mountain.

Just outside the city, the mountain received its name in 1933 as a way to celebrate the 1900th anniversary of the Passion of Jesus. The faithful pray the stations as they make their way up the mountain. At good speed, one can get up prayerfully in an hour and a half or so. It is quite a climb. I reflected as we climbed: mountains were meant to be climbed. No one had to arrange the rocks as they are; they were built this way. So it is with the mountains of life.

There were more on the mountain than I expected this morning. To watch the sun rise as we climbed — oh what a beautiful sight.

At the top, you find a huge cross. When you reach the summit, you’re supposed to “put it in the cross” — whatever “it” is for you at this point in your life. Many go up with addictions. They put them in the cross. Some go up with sorrows, or losses. It goes in the cross. The joys, too, of course — some go up to thank the Lord for their child, for their health. Mostly, I suppose, it is just a place to give everything to the Lord. To put it all in the cross. There is an altar there, built in to the bottom of the cross, though Masses are rarely permitted there. But how beautiful that the altar, the place of ultimate transformation, is right there at the top of this majestic hill and placed right beneath the cross, somehow plugged into its power.

Last year, I put a good many things into the cross. The Lord answered them. I’m a bit ashamed to say that one thing I put in the cross was a rather worldly concern. When I was here a year ago, projections at St Joe were that we would end the fiscal year a few hundred thousand in the red for collections. It did not look good. We had not made collection once since I had arrived and for quite some time before that. I put it in the cross. Fast forward to the end of June: we ended the year some $30,000 to the good.

I put a lot of other things there, too, and God heard. This year most of what I put there were the concerns and prayers of folks back home. At the top, I prayed the morning office. The first antiphon: “Who can climb the mountain of the Lord, or stand in his holy place?”

The Cross, according to Vianney, shows what God did for us. And what we must do for Him. Although overshadowed by the 16th Sunday of Orindary Time, today is also the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, the bringer of resurrection joy. That is the promise of the Cross.

Sometimes the Lord gives quite a grace. On the way down this morning, I ran into a very kind young woman. She was going up as I was going down. She said to me, “Father, you probably don’t remember, but I went to confession to you back in October. Your words have sustained me this past year. I had hoped to see you here to tell you that.” I simply put my hand on hers and said, “God bless you.” Usually a priest never really hears a peep about the good he has done for someone’s soul, or the positive effect he has had, if there has been any at all. That is fine; we don’t do what we do to be thanked. Still, it is nice to hear sometimes that the giving up of our lives has done some good, somewhere, in someone’s life. In that woman’s comment, Our Lady answered a prayer of mine before I even returned to the bottom of the Hill.

We went to Holy Mass after this. Some of the liturgies in Medjugorjie are a little sloppy for my taste–only some of them. This is to be expected when you have so many visiting priests. The priest spoke a beautiful line in his homily. He spoke about a person from Africa who was talking with some Americans, and this man from Africa said: “You know, you Americans have such nice watched, but WE have the time.”

After lunch, it was time for some personal prayer and naps before gathering back together later on.

In the evening, we gathered for a second Mass, together with 5000 some other folks. This Mass was with Archbishop Henryk Hoser presiding. It was a pretty big deal here, because Archbishop Hoser has been named the head of Rome’s visitation. Sometimes, when Rome hears about something going on–good or bad–it wants to get to the bottom of it. There have been times when Rome has done a visitation and the group being visited has been upset, seeing Rome somehow as an enemy. Thankfully, that is not the sense here. Everyone is overjoyed to have this visitation take place. I happened to be sitting nearby the courtyard when, to my surprise, Archbishop Hoser and the pastor of St. James came out together, laughing and talking. They are overjoyed to work with Rome to seek the truth of this thing that is happening.

We must pray for this. Sadly, the local bishop is not terribly supportive of Medjugorje. He has very forcefully articulated his doubts. I can’t really understand why. If I were a bishop and a parish in my diocese was getting a millions of people a year—with thousands going to confession every week and adoration and so many Masses—why, I’d be ecstatic.

The events at Medjugorige have been going on for over 30 years now. Millions flock here every year. Miracles happen here. Lots of vocations are born here. Thousands go to adoration and confession every week. It is incredible, the faith here. No one can deny that something big is happening. Whether or not the apparitions today are “real” or not–I’ll let Rome decide. But you know a tree by its fruits. And there are many good fruits here. Msgr. Hoser made this point in his homily. And everything here points to Jesus.

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23 July 2018

I spent some time today in the afternoon simply walking the fields. There are fields nearby the city, and you walk through them to get to Cross Mountain. Grapes grow there, all kinds of things. It is a beautiful vineyard.

Today was a slow day, deliberately so.

In the afternoon, I heard many confessions. Outside the church, on both sides, there are about 30 confessionals. They look rather like the old-fashioned phone booths. And then there are many more priests who sit outside on benches. It is a beautiful thing. So many pious souls come to make things right with the Lord, to give things over to the Lord and get another chance on life. It is a wonderful thing to see so much good intention in people, so much humility, so much faith. I went to confession also, of course.

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24 July 2018

I offered Mass today at St. James Church, which was wonderful. Jesus said in the assigned Gospel of the day, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, my sister, my mother.” I noted that we can be like Mary, whenever we do God’s will. Jesus invites us to this role. And it’s a beautiful thing. The things Mary did for the Lord Jesus, we must do. She spent time with him, she embraced him, she adored him, she fed him, she defended him, she loved him. I noted that on the first day of apparitions, June 24 1981, Blessed Mother came to the children with the child Jesus. On the second day, she appeared again but did not have the child Jesus with her. I suspect this is perhaps her way of saying, “I came to bring you Jesus. I now entrust him to your care, and I give him to you….to adore, to serve, to love.”

We heard from the parish priest after Mass, a Franciscan whose name I cannot recall. He had a lot of good things to say. He noted that it is easy to look at someone else and say, “That guy really needs to ___________________ better.” It is hard to look at ourselves with that same critical eye. I think he was saying: get the log out of your eye before attempting to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

We then went to a beautiful restaurant outside of town. We ate outside, right along a large stream and even a small waterfall. Many kids were swimming in the water. It was a beautiful thing to behold–that is, their carefree joy, their youth, their spirits, their endless laughter. What a beautiful thing youth is.

I spent the later part of the afternoon walking around in my cassock, the wind blowing it all around in various directions. Normally walking around in the cassock draws all kinds of stares. Not here. And that is so refreshing. Here, it is just normal. In the late evening, I joined about 5000 others for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. A very pleasant holy hour, held outside of course, and with the biggest monstrance you ever saw! I got so lost in prayer that I forgot what month it was.

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25 July 2018
Feast of St James

The time has come to leave Medjugorgie. There is sadness in leaving, but we didn’t come to stay. Our Lady called us here, and now she sends us forth.

Mass tonight in Paris, on the way home. It is the feast day of St. James the Greater, patron saint of pilgrims. He spent a lot of his life on the go. The brother of John the Evangelist, he put a lot of miles on his boat as he fished the Sea of Galilee. He traveled much on his missionary journeys and was the first of the apostles to die.  Acts 12 tells the story.  The Chapel of St. James the Great, located to the left of the sanctuary, is the traditional place where he was martyred when King Agrippas ordered him to be beheaded. His head is buried under the altar, marked by a piece of red marble and surrounded by six votive lamps.

The Gospel of the day recounts how James’ mother came to Jesus “wishing to ask him for something.” What she asked for wasn’t the best; she had asked that her sons be the favorites in heaven. There are no favorites for the Lord. But that she came to Jesus wishing to ask him for a grace — that is good. That is what pilgrimage is ultimately about. We come fot many different reasons, needing different things. Sometimes, like James’ mom, we ask for the wrong things. I’m not really sure Jesus minds that much. But we come needing grace. We come because we need to move our feet in order to move our hearts.

Many of us spent the evening recounting graces, favorite prayers and experiences, and laughing ourselves in downtown Paris as we navigated to the Eiffel Tower. We returned at 12:30am to the hotel.

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26 July 2018
Final Thoughts

Pilgrimage is an important way of Catholic prayer. The stations of the cross at our churches, the way of St James, trips to local shrines and monasteries–all of these things are ways we can participate in the tradition of pilgrimage. Many of the psalms were written as pilgrimage songs, especially the famous Psalm 119. There is a truth in this: if you want to move your heart, you have to move your feet. Pilgrimage is a beautiful time to move both.

Sometimes the visionary aspect of an experience comes only in the memory of it. St. Ignatius taught that he memory is quite important, and that we constantly must invite the Holy Spirit into it. This is true for pilgrimage. There can be a lot of moving from this place to that place, a lot of information coming at you from me or a tour guide or someone else, there can be frustrations with the other pilgrims. It can be hard to be “in the moment” all the time. But we can look back on those moments in prayer. And see God there. Have visions there. Chances are God has a new message to share every time we recollect an experience.

A lot of a pilgrimage is “just being.” And God can touch one’s soul in a way that person can never explain, ever—or even care to try. Some graces are unspeakable and they should remain hidden. Remember how Jesus said so often—I’m going to work this miracle, but don’t go out and tell everyone. I believe that sometimes the miracles are so indescribable because God doesn’t want them described. He wants them to be experienced—and, sometimes, forgotten.

All the pilgrims have now left Indy. I remain in the airport because now I fly to Denver for a wedding. I’ve flown about a dozen flights with this group now, and to go on my next flight alone gives me a tinge of sadness. But, as they say, onward!

I end the pilgrimage by renewing my consecration to Blessed Mother: I, Fr Mike Keucher, a repentant sinner, renew and ratify today in your hands, O Immaculate Mother, the vows of my Baptism. I renounce Satan and resolve to follow Jesus Christ even more closely than before. Mary, I give you my heart. Please set it on fire with love for Jesus. Make it always attentive to his burning thirst for love and for souls. Keep my heart in your most pure Heart that I may love Jesus and the members of his Body with your own perfect love. Mary, I entrust myself totally to you: my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions. Please make of me, of all that I am and have, whatever most pleases you. Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands for bringing the greatest possible glory to God. If I fall, please lead me back to Jesus. Wash me in the blood and water that flow from his pierced side, and help me never to lose my trust in this fountain of love and mercy. With you, O Immaculate Mother — you who always do the will of God — I unite myself to the perfect consecration of Jesus as he offers himself in the Spirit to the Father for the life of the world. Amen.

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Sacraments and beginnings

Things have just been so great lately! So much to celebrate in this Easter season, and so much to feast over.

Easter is the season of new life, renewal, new beginnings.

The past two weekends I witnessed two diaconate ordinations–one here on the Hill and one in Owensboro. The Sacrament of Holy Orders conferred a new beginning for my brothers who were ordained, and for the larger Church.

Last weekend a close friend got married, and what a blessing it was to be there for that. The Sacrament of Matrimony conferred a new beginning for them, and now they begin a new life together. But a marriage effects thousands of people, and so it marked a new beginning for the Church as well.

Yesterday St Charles was packed with over 100 high school men and women getting confirmed. It was glorious! Their Confirmations mark the fulfillment of their baptisms. It is a new beginning, a new chapter.

Recently a lady I visited each week at the nursing home passed on, but shortly before she did, the priest came to give her the last rites. That sacrament opens the door to the ultimate new beginning, a new start with a celestial address!

Last Thursday I went to confession and was absolved, and with that absolution a new beginning was given to me yet again.

Each and every day in the Holy Eucharist we are given a new beginning, a chance to start again with Christ and do it better this time. Each day the banquet is prepared for us, the fattened calf slaughtered that we might feast.

A sacrament confers a new beginning. Thanks be to God!

On the night he was handed over

Brothers and sisters:
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, 
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, 
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, 
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
1 Cor 11:23-26

The Pope’s final blessing

Today is Pope Benedict XVI’s final day in office.

Here are his words.

At the end of his final general audience, the pope offered a blessing and faded away:

Watching this video makes one realize just how fitting our Holy Father’s words were in his final general audience: “Here, one can touch what the Church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all.”

We can also get a sense for this pope’s huimility and fatherly love for his 1.2+ billion member Church.

“I wish my greetings and my thanks to reach everyone: the heart of a Pope expands to the whole world.”

Here, one can touch what the Church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all.

Thanks be to God for this holy and humble pontiff and all he has done and been for our Church.

Offering kind words about others

Fr. Ron Knott, a priest from Louisville who works here on the Hill and founded the IPP program, preached in the theology chapel this morning.

Father talked about the need to offer kind words about others, often behind their backs.

When one priest finds out that another priest has said something nice about him, it is likely enough to make his day and provide what might be very much needed affirmation.

It’s a horrible and sick kind of compliment, Father Ron shared, that goes like this: “Father ____ is a great preacher, but he sure is a horrible administrator.” Or, Father ____ is terrific with teens, but he is just awful with old people.”

Clerical envy and competition is real–and sad in each instance.

Positive words from one cleric about another help curtail that kind of thing.

Today’s Gospel reminds us, “Give and gifts will be given to you.”

Like it or not, we all need–to a certain extent–appreciation, kindness, love.

If we give good words and love and appreciation to others, we might just find that we receive what we need of the same stuff in return.

I also liked this related thought from Father’s homily: it’s more important to affirm the good than condemn the bad. Affirm and encourage the good, and we might find the bad takes care of itself.

St. Irenaeus: "To follow the light is to enjoy the light"

Yesterday’s Office of Readings had a nice line in the second reading, an excerpt from the writings of St. Irenaeus:

“To follow the Savior is to share in salvation; to follow the light is to enjoy the light.”

The other reading from that same Office (from Exodus) and the three psalms that went along with the readings shared the theme of God’s saving his people from the desert and into his holy land. One psalm recounted the plagues.

Irenaeus’ point is an encouraging one: even here on this side of heaven, even here in our own little worlds, even here in the plague-infested realities of pestilence or locust or something even worse, Light breaks in and summons us to something better.

“Following the light, we enjoy the light.”

Reminds me of the name of this blog. 

Ours is an always unfolding, always unfinished, always unplanned, always not fully understood, always divine yet human…journey into Light.

So long as we’ve started and take a step every day, we’ll come to enjoy the light-filled road to Light.

It’s like Catherine of Sienna’s quote, “All the way to heaven is heaven!”

Yesterday’s Gospel recounted the calling of Matthew.  I’m reminded of this piece by Caravaggio:

There he was, St. Matthew, lost in his dark and haunted counting house.

The Light then came.

And he followed.

So ought we.

World Day for Consecrated Life

I mentioned yesterday, on the Feast of the Presentation, that I would turn today to the figures of Anna and Simeon.

Tradition holds them as the first religious–the first monk and nun.

It’s fitting.

From the USCCB website:

In 1997, Pope John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd. This Feast is also known as Candlemas Day; the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect light of Jesus Christ to all peoples. The celebration of World Day for Consecrated Life is transferred to the following Sunday in order to highlight the gift of consecrated persons for the whole Church.

And so, today we celebrate the religious houses of our Church and the men and women who serve the world through them.

Last year, I penned a paper on King Henry VIII, the founder of the Church of England, who in 1536 embarked upon the deplorable and sick process of suppressing monasteries.

The Father of the Anglican Church took over hundreds of monastaries and convents, seized the holy goods to fill the Crown’s empty pockets, and burned the buildings down.

I especially recommend Geoffrey Moorhouse’s The Last Divine Office.  It tells this story through the lens of just one of the monasteries Henry killed.

An uprising of the faithful finally began as people witnessed their religious houses defiled and burned–a first fruit, they rightly believed, of the King’s desire to destroy the Catholic Church and replace it with his own church.

Called the Pilgrimage of Grace, the uprising at times was quite large.

Robert Aske led it.

Duped into making a trip to the King’s court under the false pretenses of a peaceful parliament, Akse traveled to the court where he was soon put to a death for treason.

He died after six days of torture.

As Cromwell interrogated Aske in a dirty and dark tower cell, Cromwell asked why the monasteries and religious were so important to him and the remaining Catholics.  Here are his words:

Because the abbeys in the north gave alms to poor men and laudably served God. They were one of the beauties of this realm to all men and strangers alike. They took care of their servants, their tenants, and their local communities in every sort of way, from maintaining bridges and sea walls to seeing that boys and girls were brought up in virtue. And when they stood, people not only had worldly refreshment in their bodies, but they also had spiritual refuge in their souls.

Or something like that.  There was much more to his answer.

I share this today in order that we might remember the many monks and nuns who have served and do serve our Church over the years and the work they have given their lives to.

Today is a day set aside to honor them and pray for them.

They have suffered a lot over the years, but their houses stand and do the same work Aske described in 1536.

Thanks be to God for monks and nuns, for religious houses, for our religious freedom, and our Holy Church so many have died to protect.