Pilgrimage to France, May 29 - June 13
A couple of times on the flight from San Francisco to New York I felt the noise of the plane was going to get me, but still just before we landed I was pleased with my ears, they were ringing good but I could handle it. Then with the volume turned up as loud as possible, the flight attendant started marking announcements about our landing . The announcements did what five plus hours of the jet engines didn't do, get the ringing to the point where I began to wonder if I was going to make it.
It took two hours from the time our plane landed until we got into our hotel rooms - and we are staying right across the street from the airport. Without boring you with the details, all along the way there was lots of noise that seemed louder than the plane. So, here I am about to go to bed with my ears ringing more than I would like. But, that is part of a pilgrimage - things do not go the way we would like. That is usually a sign of blessings to come.
We went to lunch at an Italian restaurant at Howard's Beach, only ten minutes from the hotel. First, we had the best artichoke dish every - by far. It was absolutely delicious. Each leaf had a spread of some kind of olive paste with a little garlic and olive oil. The two New Yorkers we were with said they never had artichokes when growing up. Next, we had angel hair pasta with marinara sauce. The pasta must have be freshly made. There was just too much flavor. The sauce was equally as good. We began talking about how much better the food is in New York than in California, until we had the main course, rack of lamb. It was just so, so, or maybe not even that. I didn't finish mine. After lunch we stopped at an Italian market to pick-up a little fruit and some bottle water. What a great market. They had all kinds of neat looking foods - not that yuppie California gourmet stuff - but the real thing. The various varieties of homemade Italian sausages looked fantastic. Then it was back to the hotel for more rest. The ears are a little better today.
While boarding the plane for Paris I noticed that our seats had been changed from row 27 to row 43. It is important that I sit closer to the front of the plane where the roar of the engines are not as loud. Our reserved seats were also one aisle and one window. Now we found ourselves not only in the back of the plane but in middle seats. My friend Bob is a big guy and with him next to me I was really clamped in.
We showed the flight attendant we had reservations with seat assignments in row 27 and explained that due to my ear problems we would never have booked this fight if we had know we would be seated in the loudest section of the plane. She said she would try to get us moved, but felt there was little hope for the plane was fully booked. She told us that reserved seats are not guaranteed seats and can be changed at anytime.
Common sense argued well against this trip to Paris. During most of the month of May my ears were acting up more then they had in a long time. The biggest influence in deciding to act against commons sense was the fact that everything for the trip fell into place perfectly. And, the most influential of all was the fact that I was able at a late date to get such a good seat - the first row in economy class. Yet now, here I was just about to take off to France in the worse place on plane. It was difficult situation that I was in; all I could do was hope, trust, and accept.
Ten minutes later the flight attendant returned and told us we had been moved to aisle seats in rows 28 and 29. What a relief. Later in the flight I walk back to row 43 to check the noise. It was indeed louder than the front; too loud not to severely impact my ears. I walk back to my seat with a real sense that there was nothing to worry about; the trip was totally in God's faithful hand
We landed in Paris on time and had no trouble getting our bags and picking-up our rental car. About an hour from the airport we pulled off the road to get something to eat. The town was small and looked poor, almost like the "projects" - definitely a place where English is not understood. We had no trouble communicating at the bakery as the woman there was good at understanding our sign language. It was a different story at the bar where we went to get coffee. No matter what we said or did they just did not seem to understand what we were ordering until Bob said the word cappuccino.
I didn't know if they really did not understand or just did not like Americans until some one tapped me on the shoulder and said "English" while pointing to another man who was suddenly standing next to me. This man spoke English. The other five or six patrons and the bartender seems to be very pleased watching us talk. We were talking mainly about the weather when the bartender handed me his iphone showing the weather for the next five days. Then the man who knew English told the group where we were from. They just loved it that someone from so far away was in their bar. We had a great time joking around as the man translated for us.
It is day 7 as I write this and to date I have been blown away with how nice the French have been and how every where we go they bend over backwards to try to help us be understood - and always with a warm smile. I just love the French people. They are fantastic.
Today we visit The Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene in Vezelay, about 30 miles south of our hotel. At one time it was a very popular pilgrim site as it was thought for a while to have the only relics of Saint Mary Magdalene. On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1146 St. Bernard of Clairvaux preached the second crusade here, with over a hundred thousand warriors and peasants assembled. The Huguenots in the 16th century destroyed the left tower of the basilica and used the apse as a riding school. The ruined basilica threatened to collapse until in the middle of the 19th century when restoration began. Today pilgrims come again to Vezelay to venerate what was recover of the relic of St. Mary Magdalene.
At the Abby of Pontigny when asking for permission to say mass, I learned that there is only one priest here and that he serves nine other parishes, plus he has a regular job during the day - he is what we once called a "working priest." The Abby building itself had seen it better days, although it was still obvious in former times it was a glorious place. While praying in its Blessed Sacrament chapel this thought came to me: "Just as this Abby has had its better days, so has the priesthood in France. This pastor having to shepherd 10 churches while working another job is all the proof one needs of this." Then what came to me was that one of the main causes of the collapse of the priesthood in Europe was the Vatican's stubborn insistence on mandatory priestly celibacy at ALL cost.
Kind of a interesting insight during prayer wouldn't you say?
I try to get to the various shrines in the early afternoon when the church bells are not ringing as much. Until yesterday that has worked well. The few bells that I had heard until then were not very loud and only rung once or twice. Yesterday while praying in a church in Cluney the bells from two different churches bells rang only three times as expected at three in the afternoon, but, they were really loud and made my tinnitus worse. Today at two in the afternoon, while praying at the Chapel of the Visitation in Paray-le-Monial, the bells went off not twice but for over a full minute - they were calling the sisters to mid-afternoon prayer. So, as I write this back at the hotel, my ears have a very annoying high pitch ring, and are extremely sensitive to sound.
Despite this, I did enjoy very much my visit to Paray-le-Monial, where Christ appeared to St. Margaret Mary asking her to promote devotion to His Sacred Heart.
Today we drove about four hours south to the town of Trets in Provence. Here we will stay for three nights at Hotel de las Vallee de L'Arc.
While driving to Cotignac, France to visit the miraculous spring at the site of the only approved apparition of St. Joseph in France and the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Grace where Mary appeared to a woodcutter from Cotignac in 1519, I was reading about the apparitions and noticed that St. Joseph's occurred on June 7. I asked my friend what was the date; he said June 7. I said that is the same day as the apparition. He said that is just a coincident. I asked him if he believed everything like that was just a coincident and he said yes. I said that is too bad. He asked why. I said because God can't talk to you; he speaks to us thru just such coincidents. He said well, who knows, you may be right, the odds of this happening are 1 in 365.
We went to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Graces first where we ran into a group from a parish in Monaco. They informed us this was the 350 anniversary of the apparition of St.Joseph. When Bob learned this he said our presence here can't be a coincident; it must be a sign. I took it as a sign that God will bless a TV series that .
We headed over to The Monastery of St. Joseph of Bessillon two miles on the opposite side of Cotignac. While praying in the chapel during Expostion of the Blessed Sacrament, I became even more certain we were not here on this particular day by chance. While praying in the chapel I felt the presence of God in my heart in way that I have few times in my life. With about fifteen minutes left to my Holy Hour something told me I should pray to St. Joseph. My heart was already on fire, but when I turn to look at the beautiful status of St. Joseph to my left my heart really caught fire. I began to talk to him. I could feel his presence. In fact, there was no doubt at all, he was literally in the chapel. What I seem to hear him say was, "This is a holy and powerful place where one can be touched by God, yet few come." (Here on the 350 anniversary of the appriations there may have been only two or three other persons were in the chapel besides me.) "I want this shrine and well to be better known."
Bob at the time was underneath the chapel getting water from the spring that St. Joseph led a young shepherd to 350 years ago. He had a similar experience as I; perhaps even more powerful. St. Joseph spoke to him too. What he said is private, but I will share that it caused Bob to shed holy tears.
Today we went to Sanctuary of St.Baume where St. Mary Magdalene lived the last thirty-three years of her life. It has been a celebrated pilgrimage destination since the fifth century. The forty-five minute walk up to the Cave is mostly in an old, shaded forest with the latter half of the walk being uphill. Once there you are treated to an unbelievable view. As you reach the final ascent towards the Cave the Stations of the Cross are built into the stairway. The Cave is rather large, and contains several altars, statues, and a reliqairy that contains St. Mary Magdalene's femur bone and a few of her hairs.
Today we were robbed while having lunch in Arles. I must have left the car unlocked. Fortunately they did not take our luggage and my beautiful new video camera was with me. They did get both of our computers.
We drove to our final shrine at Rocamadour.
Day 14 Rocamadour
One million pilgrims make their way to Rocamadour each year to see a small chapel that contained a stature of the Black Virgin. In 1166, an incorrupt body was discovered buried in a cave just outside the chapel. The identity of the body was unknown. He was given the name "the lover" assuming he was a holy hermit who had lived in the area - thus came the name of the town, Roc-Amadour, the rock of the lover. Legends followed, such that he was the servant of the Holy Family and married to St. Veronica. The body was destroyed in religious wars in the sixteenth century. But, thankfully, the statue of the Black Virgin was hidden at the time and today it is kept in the Chapel of Miracles.
After this it was on to Paris, JFK and Rio Vista.