Thursday, May 29, 2014
Before the pilgrimage to Lourdes, I went by myself to Greece. My first evening in Athens I went for a walk around the Acropolis. I came upon this large rock that many people were clambering over. I thought it was just for a good view of the city, so I climbed up on the rock myself. It was a good view, but what I discovered to my dismay was that thousands of years of people clambering over it had polished it and made it extremely slippery. To get back down I had to sit and scoot myself to some metal steps.
The next day when I read the guide book, I found out to my delight that this was the Areopagus where St. Paul spoke to the curious Athenians (Acts of the Apostles 17:16-34.) Half of the road that I had taken around the base of the Acropolis was named St. Paul and the other half was named Dionysius Aeropagite after a man St. Paul converted by his speech.
I went back to the large polished rock, took a safer way up, stayed off the areas that were most slippery, and spent some time with St. Paul 2,000 years earlier. When I came down I noticed a large metal plaque embedded in the rock with the Greek text of the sermon that St. Paul preached there. This sermon is the source of the phrase "in him we live and move and have our being," which found its way into the liturgy and had become one of the short prayers I use every morning to settle myself for centering prayer.
Though St. Paul was not successful in converting the Athenian philosophers (there is no Letter of Paul to the Athenians,) he provided us with a wonderful little prayer and gave me a good spiritual experience standing on the spot where he stood.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Lourdes is famous for the water that flows from the spring that St. Bernadette uncovered. There have been many authenticated miracles of healing that resulted from bathing in the water. There were about a dozen spigots where pilgrims filled bottles with water to take home. There were also private baths where pilgrims sat down in the water. I waited for three and a half hours to go into one of the baths. The process for actually getting into the bath was not a prayerful experience for me.
The water that did help me to pray was the beautiful River Gave that flows through the city of Lourdes. It was clear and fast flowing and seemed to carry away all the activity. I took the picture above in the early morning before too many people were crowding the space between the river wall and the Grotto. I often went over to the other side of the river and just sat and looked and let the river flood me with peace. Even in the evening I took a little bit longer way back to the hotel so I could walk along an upper part of the river and find some quiet prayer.
Friday, May 23, 2014
I came back last night from a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Greece before that. (Clicking on the picture enlarges it so that you can see the statue of Mary in the Grotto.)
Lourdes is one of the holy places that I have visited. I know that God is present everywhere, but there are some places where I can feel the Divine in a more powerful way. They are sometimes called "thin places." The border between this world and the other world is almost non-existent.
Looking back on my experience, I would say that Lourdes is holy, sometimes because of, and sometimes in spite of, the very many religious events. Some experiences heightened my awareness of God's presence which brought me to love God more. My relationship with God is richer because of them. Other experiences at Lourdes failed to deepen that relationship.
My favorite experience was the International Mass on Sunday morning. We gathered in the underground church which holds 20,000 people. It was full. There were large groups of military there from all over the world. The main purpose of the Eucharist is to build up the unity of the Church. I found this celebration a splendid expression of world unity that created even stronger unity. It made me think that peace is possible.
My least favorite experience was the Eucharistic Procession from Holy Rosary Basilica to the underground church. It seemed planned with the idea that the longer and harder a service is the holier it is. It was as if we were trying to make holiness happen rather that let it happen.
After the first day full of too many events I took part in fewer. I found time and places where I could experience the holiness of Lourdes and let it nourish my relationship with God.