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2018 in Review: Part I, the Chartres Pilgrimage

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At the beginning of last January, Red and I made the decision to do the Chartres Pilgrimage in France. Over the course of 4 months, two times the choice came upon us, and both times we turned it down, due to particular circumstances, despite desperately wanting to go for it. Finally, something threw itself into our path which allowed us both to make the much anticipated decision to go ahead with our travel plans! We booked flights, and with our dear friends (hence forth known as Relationship Goals) at Orbis Catholicus travel. We planned for 3 days in Paris with them and another acquaintance from home, followed by the 3 day Chartres Pilgrimage, and a 9 day tour through France with Orbis Catholicus (which we knew would include a bus load of other pilgrims).

The daily grind had been wearing on me for some time, perhaps a combination of being in the same job for as long as I had, the feeling of not using my abilities to their full potential, a huge desire for a change but being at a loss as to what that change should be.

So I packed my travel bag, and headed to France for three weeks, with a heart full of prayer requests and my best gal, Red.

Neither of us had been to Europe before, so our natural spirits of adventure were soaring sky high! I don’t detest long flights, I find I actually enjoy the strange non-time that exists while flying. I am always well equipped with my writing materials, rosary, books, music, memory foam neck pillow (which, by the way, is probably the single greatest $40 I have spent in my entire life), comfortable clothing, and of course there are in-flight movies (which I often don’t even use much). It was a four hour flight to Toronto, where we walked off one plane and immediately onto another, for an additional six hours to Paris. While searching for my seat on the Paris bound flight out of Toronto, I heard my name called out from somewhere, and looking around, I see Carmelite K smiling at me from the seat next to her new husband. We had known we were both doing the pilgrimage, only the smallness of Canada becomes very apparent when you live on completely opposite ends of the country, yet end up on the same flight to Paris from a part of the country that neither of you live in!

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Our view overlooking the courtyard

Upon landing in Paris, we taxied into the city with Relationship Goals, and were dropped off at the Airbnb I had booked in Oberkampf. It was a tiny room with a tiny washroom in an apartment building, overlooking the courtyard. We were so very exhausted, but it was only 10:30am or so, and we knew we couldn’t sleep yet. So we grabbed the camera, our packs, and headed out to find a bite to eat. Walking in the general direction of Pere Le Chaise Cemetery, we popped into a bakery for a snack and had our first French croissant. It was buttery heaven. We walked all around the cemetery (if you don’t know by now, I love cemeteries!), finding Oscar Wilde’s grave, and eventually sat down for a short rest on a park bench. Twenty minutes later, we both woke up. After that, we realized it’s probably better to just head back to the Airbnb then to be wandering about an unfamiliar city as exhausted as we were, passing out on random park benches! With a stumble along the way where I rolled my ankle (story of my life), we managed to get back to our room, I iced and elevated my swollen ankle, and we were both in bed, black-out curtains drawn, and completely passed out, by 6:00pm.

The next morning we met Relationship Goals and their niece, Sweets, at a nearby church. And there began our first day in Paris, with a ‘cafe au lait’ from a bakery beside the church. Those three days were full of walking throughout Paris. The man side of Relationship Goals is a travel expert and took us to many of the beautiful things to see there, stopping to eat lunch along the Sienne, or for a drink at a cafe. One of the highlights during those first three days was of course seeing Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Germain church, and Sainte-Chapelle.

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At Notre Dame Cathedral – my favourite!

On the fourth morning, the morning of the pilgrimage, after our alarm not going off, we made a mad dash to Notre Dame via running and a taxi, but wound up sitting away from our foreign counterparts because the cathedral was already so packed full by the time we arrived that we couldn’t get to where they were. We were in a wing, with a perfect view of the altar and the gothic stained glass windows. The acoustics were unlike anything I’d ever heard before; I revelled in the music all throughout mass.

dscn5071The pilgrimage itself was one of (if not the most) incredible experiences of my life. It was grueling, but sweet. I don’t think one can properly express what goes on interiorly during a pilgrimage. I think it has to be experienced to be properly understood. Our chapter chaplain was a stellar general the entire time, keeping up moral through leading the rosary, meditations, hymns, fun songs, hearing confessions throughout, and an over-all strength of priestly presence. In between all of this, there were moments of silent perseverance. But also much jolly camaraderie, leaning on each other and encouraging one another’s spirits, which encouraged our own in the process.

I won’t get into too much of the gory details, but suffice it to say that within our chapter there were cases of heat stroke, illness, severe swelling and blisters, and weeping fatigue. I parted with Red on the second day breakfast break due to her impending illness, and she was brought ahead on the bus to the lunch/Pentecost mass break. But when I arrived I was greeted by Sweets, who was waiting for me at the field entrance to take me to Red, who was currently with the paramedics after passing out and being carried up on a stretcher. Naturally panic stricken, I raced through the sea of hot pilgrims, reaching the shady spot where the paramedics were. All was fine, aside from Red looking awful as she lay in the ambulance, a doctor and medic on either side of her. After an hour or so, she was recovered enough to take away, and we hobbled out of the medic area and over to a high spot of field under the shade of the only trees in sight. There were eight from our chapter stricken with woes of invalids, and three of us sat with them, ensuring hydration, some food, and attempting to keep a calm and positive spirit amid a physically and emotionally exhausted lot (as we ourselves fought off the same).

Red and I went to Adoration that night in the farmers field the camp was set in. It was humbling to be part of the sea of young pilgrims kneeling outside in the dark. Needing some time away from the tent of emotional females, we sat outside the men’s tent for a while, chatting with them. A male Swedish pilgrim I’d seen earlier in the day came to join us. It is a well known fact that many Catholics meet and marry their spouses on the Chartres pilgrimage. This Swedish pilgrim was present for such intentions. Kudos to him, I thought. But alas, nothing came of it, poor fellow. The Swiss sang outside their tent again, and after standing close and enjoying it, we toddled off to our tent to get to bed. The English were pitched beside us, and in no other circumstances would it be socially acceptable to meet a young man behind one’s tents, and exchange pleasantries of introduction and information while foaming out of the mouth between brush strokes and spitting, except while on the Chartres Pilgrimage.

On the following day, mild heat stroke crept up, but this time on me. Red’s knee was swollen too large to walk, and we caught the bus to the lunch break. But after taking oodles of wrong turns, we wound up at the lunch break only after all 13,000 pilgrims had already come through. And so we bolted as quickly as we could to catch up with the tail end. Poor Red was limping, but we were determined to walk the majority of that day. Truth be told, we were both sick to death of the French and their bossy antics, and I was determined to catch up with any English speakers who didn’t yell at us. This, combined with a staunch determination to finish this pilgrimage, we picked up the pace, passing chapter after chapter after chapter. In the distance we saw a tiny cathedral silhouette against the flat and bright horizon. We kept going, and Red was a real sport as she allowed herself to be verbally and physically encouraged by me alongside her. The heat of the day was astonishing, but jaws set, we ended up passing the English chapter because our steady pace had hit and we didn’t want to slow down to walk with them. Every so often we would look up and see the distant cathedral had grown in size, indication we were shrinking the distance between us and our destination. Eventually we caught up with the Man side of Relationship Goals, and Sweets. Wiped, we slackened our pace and were passed a rejuvenating can of pineapples and it’s juice. The four of us walked together, reaching the cathedral, in all the spiritual glory that goes with reaching your pilgrimage destination.

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look carefully, and you can see the cathedral in the distance

We had a front curb seat on the street block outside the cathedral, and we sat with our chapter through mass in the peak heat of the day, simply basking in the cathedral bells ringing! Cardinal Sarah said mass, and I followed a good portion of his sermon, translating it in my brain from the French into English, until I was finally too drained to continue. Relationship Goals brought Red and I a bottle of ice water – he took such care of us through the whole trip. I will most likely forever remember that bottle of ice water as the best bottle of water in the history of my life.

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pre-mass blessings from Cardinal Sarah

After mass, we checked into our hotel and headed over to the restaurant for dinner, where Relationship Goals had reserved dinner spots for our entire tour group, since the following morning we were to leave for our 9 day tour. It was steak and beer all around, and our table of new pilgrimage-journeying young friends enjoyed many laughs and much camaraderie together.

Despite the travails of those three days, I would do the Chartres Pilgrimage again in a heart beat.

 

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A Replaced Resolution

I’ve realized one of my new years resolutions, to read more books & write about them then I did in 2017, has somewhat failed miserably this year. How disappointing. But alas, reflecting, it hasn’t been out of laziness. On the contrary, my year has been so filled with good and beautiful things, taking up lots of energy, that my novel reading & writing about it has just slipped past without me even quite realizing it.

These good and beautiful things of 2018 have tied in, of course, with my blog silence over the past few months, as well as the long silences throughout the entire year!

Perhaps more on the happenings of 2018 later. For now, I’m pondering the things that have replaced my reading & writing resolution, and how interesting it is to note that often the best of things happen upon us when we’re not even looking for them.

Mothers & Sons

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My favourite depiction of mother & son relationship is Christ & His Mother in “The Passion of the Christ”

“I knew you’d come! O Marmar! I did want you so! For a moment they kissed and clung to one another, quite forgetting all the world; for no matter how lost and soiled and worn-out wandering sons may be, mothers can forgive and forget every thing as they fold them in their fostering arms. Happy the son whose faith in his mother remains unchanged, and who, through all his wanderings, has kept some filial token to repay her brave and tender love.”

~ Chapter 12, Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott

In this chapter, five year old Rob gets lost in the woods with Nan during a berry picking expedition, due to Nan’s mischievous prank. At first he does panic slightly, at the realization of being lost, and as night slowly closes in on them. But he calms right down when he remembers that his mother will come looking for him, for his confidence in her is unshakable – he knows she will find him. His confidence in his mother and calm demeanor, waiting patiently for her to find them, gives hope to Nan (who was responsible for little Rob’s care) that they will indeed be found before too long.

Little Rob’s confidence in his mother is exactly the confidence every son should have in his mother. There was no question in his mind whether or not Jo would find him, but rather a question of how long it would take, considering they had strayed from the path. But even the question of time didn’t bother Rob, because he knew his mother wouldn’t rest until she had found him, until she had him in her arms. What a virtue to possess – the complete confidence of your son in your love for him.

Jo stops her search partner, young Dan, from yelling to the others once they were on Rob’s trail: “No, let me find them; I let Rob go, and I want to give him back to his father all myself.” When Jo comes upon her little son, sound asleep in the darkness, with his head in the sleeping Nan’s lap, she “softly lifted away the apron, and saw the little ruddy face below. The berry-stained lips were half-opened as the breath came and went, the yellow hair lay damp on the hot forehead, and both the chubby hands held fast the little pail still full. 

The sight of the childish harvest, treasured through all the troubles of that night for her, seemed to touch Mrs. Jo to the heart, for suddenly she gathered up her boy, and began to cry over him, so tenderly, yet so heartily, that he woke up, and at first seemed bewildered. Then he remembered, and hugged her close, saying with a laugh of triumph, – I knew you’d come! O Marmar!…” 

 

 

 

A lesson from Bilbo

treeofgondor“But this is terrible!” cried Frodo. “Far worse than the worst that I imagined from your hints and warnings. O Gandalf, best of friends, what am I to do? For now I am really afraid. What am I to do? What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”

“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”

                                                                                                        – ch 2, The Followship of the Ring

Never had I pondered Bilbo’s relatively healthy mental state before upon the beginning of The Fellowship. Considering he had been in possession of The Ring for decades, there was little evil effect upon his soul by the time he does give up the ring to Frodo. The Ring had wielded such power over Isildur in times gone by, Sméagol in more recent times, and others, who had not even come into contact with The Ring. So why hadn’t it proved to be such a powerful evil once again, manipulating and affecting the mind of a content little hobbit after it had finally slipped away from the grubby Gollum and back into the world for its chance to reach Sauron once again?

As the wise Gandalf tells us – it’s because of pity. Pity can be translated into empathy, empathy to mercy, mercy to love. The pity Bilbo had in his heart for the pathetic existence of the creature Gollum is a character defining trait. Gollum was a trickster, an evil spirited being with no more moral compass then a snake. He was prepared, and even fastening a plan during their exchange, to kill Bilbo right then and there. And yet, when Bilbo had the upper hand, he showed this vile creature mercy. The first life and character altering decision Bilbo made when in possession of the ring was one of pity, of mercy, of love for a fellow creature. It is exactly as Gandalf says: Bilbo begins his ownership of The Ring with pity, with mercy, with love. Because of this very first decision he makes with such power within his grasp, evil is held at bay, it doesn’t consume him the way it did Sméagol – who, we know, made the opposite decision, and killed his cousin Deagol for the ring, which ultimately leads to the killing of any humanity within him. Instead of becoming an unrecognizable creature, Bilbo remains the same, save for his prolonged age, and definite desire to keep the ring in his possession.

The last decision Bilbo made with the ring – to leave it to Frodo – is connected to his very first decision. How, after so many years, was he able to (reluctantly, sure) able to leave it, to walk away from it? His very first decision regarding the ring was made out of love. Undoubtedly the decisions we make in life affect our later decisions. Selfish decisions encourage more selfish decisions, selfless decisions encourage further selfless decisions, giving into temptation once makes it harder to avoid the next time, just as standing strong against temptation makes it easier to stay strong the next time. His very first decision made out of love, against such an evil (an evil so strong it fills a pleasant hobbit mind with murder within minutes of touching it), would have given such strength to Bilbo’s soul. Despite decades of possessing the ring, he was still able to draw from that strength, courage, love, to leave the ring when he knew it was time.

Like Bilbo, we can also propagate strength through the good decisions we make, or propagate evil through the bad decisions we make. With every strong & good decision made against our human weaknesses, we gain graces, making it easier to choose good the next time. Likewise, every time we fail to make the good decision, we are pulled further down, making it that much more difficult to make the good decision next time. A seed can easily be dug up, drowned out, eventually lost and forgotten among a sea of weeds. Or, with tender and consistent fostering, it can grow into an oak tree, producing more fruits itself.

Burdens, Roads, and Longings

“Our burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City.” – Marmee, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, chapter 1.

Such plain and simple terms Marmee puts life into. The March sisters’ burdens have been given to them. They know exactly what they need to do with the circumstances they find themselves in, as far as daily tasks and duties are concerned. Perhaps not all the minute details are obvious, but the general work needing to be done is plain as day. The road stretched out before them, one of monotonous war and sacrifice, is clear and straightforward.

We all know the daily duties we also must face. The monotonous tasks, the everyday grind before us. Even if the future is uncertain, we still have the duties right in front of us that need doing. So we just need to do them. Without complaining, without dragging our feet. Walk firmly and steadily over all the rocks and ruts, and we’ll get to our destination in good time.

“…The longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes…” We all long for goodness in our lives. We all long for happiness. We all long for dreams to come true. When we scamper across quick sand, wade through a murky pond, or get lost in a forest of tall trees, this longing in our souls for goodness and happiness is what pulls us out of the quicksand, gets us to the other side of the pond, directs us through that close, dark forest. It draws us back to a path of hope, life and love. Goodness and happiness are inherent desires in our human nature. So it is natural and right that we should strive for both. This desire, this longing for goodness and happiness is exactly what we need to stay on the path to heaven.

St. Bernadette – quick & humorous

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I am currently reading a very detailed biography of one of my patrons, Bernadette Soubirous. There are several things that have popped out at me as being oddly familiar and similar (disclaimer: not comparing her sainthood with my attempts at it), but her response to persons of authority behaving unreasonably has to be the most comical I’ve come across yet. While I do my best not to be disrespectful, the humour in me can’t help but have a quick and somewhat sassy tongue. It is sometimes a vice, but sometimes just an imperfection. I find many things in life humorous, and it sometimes jumps out of my mouth before I can check it. The more I read of saints, the more I learn how human they really were, and the more I realize I, too, can become a saint, despite my sassy quips. I had a good laugh at the following scene, condensed for the

reader’s benefit:

Between the 11th and 12th apparitions at Lourdes, Constable Latapie was sent by Monsieur Rives, the Examining Magistrate, to bring Bernadette in for questioning and intimidation. Constable Latapie waited after High Mass, and asked the Sister accompanying the class of school girls who Bernadette was. When Bernadette came out of the church, he took her gently by the arm.

 
“Why are you taking her away?” asked the Sister, quickly becoming upset.

 
“I have orders.” the Constable replied.

 
“What do you want me for?” Bernadette asked.

 
“Little girl, you must come with us.” Constable Latapie replied.

 
Bernadette started to laugh and replied, “Hold me tight or I shall escape.”

 
Constable Latapie took Bernadette to Monsieur Rives’ (the Magistrate’s) house, and when they entered, M. Rives called out “are you there, you little rascal?” To which Bernadette replied, “Yes, sir, I am here.”

 
Monsieur Rives tried to intimidate Bernadette into answering questions “truthfully” and keep her from continuing to go to the grotto. “We are going to lock you up. What are you after at the grotto? Why do you make everybody run after you like this? There is somebody behind you driving you on to act like this. We are going to put you in prison.”
Bernadette replied: “I’m ready. Put me in there and make it solid and well fastened, or else I shall escape.”

 
❤ ❤ ❤

 
I absolutely love how little she was concerned by what they said or how they treated her. She knew she was doing right, and that’s all that mattered. No form of imprisonment or unjust accusations affected her in the least. She remained so calm in this entire scene (which is longer then what I’ve given you). And, despite her peace, she keeps her quick tongue flying in a way that throws her antagonists off, with humour.

 

Thrift Store Thrills

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I mean look at them.. Could you have resisted these!?

Red and I were out to dinner in an unfamiliar area a ways from our ridge, and popped into a thrift store I spotted a few doors before the restaurant. “Thrift” is such an alluring signage word, one never knows what treasures lie amid the piles of discarded items. I can’t help myself. And I don’t try to. It’s an innocent and lovely thrill. I must enter, and browse the shelves of old items that each have an history and story to tell of their own.

This was a very small shop, and (fortunately, for my wallet) scanty on the gold findings. There was a very small book section on a very small shelf, and took a very small amount of time to scan through. But in very small crisp black font on a very small orange spine, I read the word “Tennyson”. Before I knew what was happening, my arm had reached out, and pulled the small book off the small shelf – my heart slightly fluttering as my fingers flipped through it’s small pages and my eyes lay hold of the dainty illustrations surrounding the very small pages of poetry. I turned to the back cover and saw a small price tag marked $1.00. So I didn’t put it back on the shelf.

Continueing my scanning, another title popped out: “The Secret Garden.” I pulled it down, flipped through the pages with one quick sweep. The forest green spine was mint, not a single crease – an indication of its unread life. Having been sitting on a bookshelf, untouched, since the 90s (yes, I recognized the publishing era of my childhood on a classic novel), it was only right that it be given the opportunity of a proper life. I already have a copy of The Secret Garden. Fairy also already has a copy.

Reader, I bought it anyways. For the cost of $1.00.

This copy will sit on one of my bookshelves, awaiting its new home comfortably between two other beloved novels, until the person comes along whom this book has been waiting for, to enjoy its tale of friendship, adventure, learning and love, and rest easy on said persons bookshelf, knowing it is finally fulfilling its purpose, and waiting eagerly to be read again and again and again by hearts it deserves to be loved by.

Ahh the thrills that only a thrift or antique store can provide…