Today’s a long one. Get some tea, or scotch, or Chartreuse, and settle in!
Crew: Mike and Carol, Matt, Katherine and Sophie (Two families)
- 0700 Breakfast
- 0900 Mass at St. Bernadette’s
- 1030 Blessing of the Malades
- 1200 Lunch
- 1330 Depart for Cachot
- 1545 Pack
- 1900 Dinner
After the hubbub of the excursion, the schedulers at the SMOM (Sovereign Military Order of Malta) wanted us to enjoy the final day in a more relaxed way. For some, this was an opportunity to get to the baths again, for others to finish shopping, for others to do whatever they needed to do. Most importantly was Mass, and the taking to heart of the lessons learned on the pilgrimage, and the words of the Holy Spirit spoken into our hearts.
Day 6 was also a super special day as we were with a wonderful crew, but especially noting today Mike and Carol (I hope they don’t mind me calling them that). It started with a very tired group of us that morning at breakfast. Terry, his daughter Kathleen, Mike, Carol, Mel, Susan (for a bit), and remember this is the 8th of May. The morning after the Caps beat the Penguins to advance to the 3rd round of the playoffs!!!! We heard the news through bleary eyes but we all were hive-fiving, fist bumping, and amazed at the providence of the Caps FINALLY beating the Pens. (This is hockey, btw. And the Pens always beat the Caps. Not this year!). To say that this adds camaraderie is a small understatement, as we long-suffering DC fans find more in common in a divided city. (Seriously, come to DC and see how divided we are.)
Then to mass, in the smaller church this time. And a beautiful mass, and what I want to highlight here is something the Monsignor Dillon said. To paraphrase, and much less eloquently: the knights of Malta are a religious order, 900+ years old. A military order, and religious order. To join isn’t something you do because you feel like it, it’s a vocation, a vocation to care for the sick and the poor in a visceral way. It’s not philanthropy, it’s an embrace of this care into the daily lives of the members. So it’s on us to take the lessons from Lourdes and bring them back to our daily lives, to live the charism of the SMOM as we say the daily prayer of the order. I thought this message rang particularly clear, like a bell, in today’s day and age.
Let’s explain – it’s easy to write a check. And there is nothing wrong with writing a check. But it’s more difficult to give money and time, volunteer and spend time care. And even harder still to do it with no desire for reward, or recognition. SMOM members covertly go about this, day to day, and live the care and give to the care without you or I ever knowing they are there or doing it.
After mass, we had the teams break out for a final blessing in the domain, and blessing with Lourdes water. For this, Fr. Fisher was up to speak to us about healing, about intercession, and about the love of God. Again, to paraphrase: God, through His mother Mary, asked St. Bernadette to dig in the earth and gave spring of water to us, asking us to drink and wash in the water. Water, which cleanses. Water, which reminds us of our baptism, our healing from sin. Water, which refreshes and nourishes. God also gives us His mother at Lourdes, where as a mother she gathers us into her arms in an embrace of love, and comfort. And despite some being healed physically and others being healed spiritually, that “never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection, implored her help, or sought her intercession, was left unaided.” Never. Mary our mother will help us no matter what. (Fr. Fisher is much more eloquent than I, so go to St. Ambrose in Annandale, VA, to hear him directly. And donate to their building fund, while you’re at it.)
Another aside, something that Fr. said. He mentioned St. Bernadette. I’m going to write a post on this, don’t let me forget.)
And I’m crying again at the blessing. Because I can’t stop now. How sad is that????
Now, after the blessing and gathering, the crews were able to head off and do their own things. We wanted to see a little bit of the domain, go by the Poor Clare’s, and then go to coffee with Mike and Carol, so we did a small loop and decided we’d go to the cafe Jean d’Arc.
Mike and Carol, Mike and Carol, where had we heard their name before? I’m not sure… but I know they are a fascinating couple! They’ve been married 48 years, have beautiful children and grandchildren, and have a long background in DC and now live up in New Hampshire. And more – lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs, wine-makers, and… my goodness, what a full life. Mike also leans heavily toward Franciscan spirituality (Mom). Again, all these personal details you wouldn’t know unless you asked, because the uniform and the care conceals any of that. I loved our conversations, and I pray that Melanie and I can enjoy our marriage as much as Mike and Carol. Oh, one other tidbit I had picked up from Mike earlier in the pilgrimage, he passed along a prayer that his bishop had told him. Simple, but beautiful: “Mother Mary, keep me healthy so I may do the will of your Son.”
You know, right before we left for Lourdes we got a letter saying who it was that made it possible for us to go to on Pilgrimage, Carol & J. Michael. Mel and I always believe in signs, and any Carol is a sign from Mom Jones in our book.
Anyway, as we walked to the front of the domain, Mike took us a different way to that side of the town, a tougher hill but more fun. “Are you ready to push?” I felt so bad, I’m in my blue cart and they are pushing and pulling me…
Oh. JOE. Mel stopped me before we left the domain. Mike and Carol are THE CAROL AND J. MICHAEL!!!!!! They were the ones who got us here! OHMIGOSH.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been able to personally meet someone who has done great charity for you. I doubt if you’ve ever experienced care and support, undeserved, from loving people who don’t stand on pretenses. Combine the two, and I was crying again. I can’t even explain it. We owed so much to them (and owe even more due to lessons learned from them).
We went to coffee. We sat in a corner booth and just chatted, about us, our families, how we met… not small talk, though, like REAL talk. I can’t explain, there is talk over coffee and there is talk over coffee that you remember and that helps you see things. Holy Spirit type stuff. (I think, if it wasn’t borderline sacrilegious, I’d want a coffee shop/bar named “Holy Spirit Cafe”, where the conversation is inspired, deep, and moving.)
We discussed how we would go about the afternoon, to the Cachot. Mike suggested keeping the voiture for me, and we agreed. But remember, I don’t know how old Mike and Carol are, but they’ve been married 48 years. They shouldn’t be carting me around anywhere!! But… they did. I was the only one in a voiture. I was extremely self conscious… We had Richard with us again for the afternoon and his strong arm was welcome for the times that I was walking (his Medical Doctorate also helpful as we saw a lady chocking and he was there to help!) We saw the house Bernadette lived in when she saw Our Lady – not really a house, more like a room… like a small room with a fireplace. Wow, we talk about poverty, 6 people living in this room at all times???
Then we went over to the church we saw from the fort, to see the baptismal font.
Then on to a few shops where we bought chocolate, saw old friends, and enjoyed good company. Poor Mike and Carol and Richard were sweating and I felt suuuuper guilty…
Back to pack, and then a 1730 treat. Every year Mike and Carol go to Vespers at the cloistered Carmelite monastery right there in Lourdes, on the very edge overlooking the domain and the Grotto, and they invited us to go this time (which I accepted, I had to!).
We all changed (poor Mike was sweating after the cachot) and we took the WHEELCHAIR (Laura, Alice, Marguerite!) to the domain, and up to the cloister.
There is something that calls to me about the cloister. I have a separate post for this topic. It’s deeply tied to vocations, please don’t let me forget! It is very beautiful, the building, the shop to buy chocolates and other items made by the nuns. The chapel, while hard for me to walk up the stairs to (seriously, on this trip my pride suffered. I could barely walk and needed help constantly especially here), was simple and beautiful. And when the nuns began to sing the Evening Prayers (Vespers, what vespers REALLY are not drinks at work on a Friday afternoon) it was in simplicity and beauty, unencumbered by self consciousness of knowing there were a bunch of tourists listening and trying to pray along. The wall of the cloister allows for freedom to contemplate God. Thank you Mike and Carol for taking us there, like nothing else!
Now on to sadder things. The farewell dinner, while amazing, was also sad. I don’t like goodbyes, and I think that I will just share with you some pictures to capture some of the relationships formed on this trip, and the ones I already miss.
After dinner and goodbyes, we decided to go again to the Grotto, a last minute trip. And here again, we ran into Richard, our intrepid companion, and his son! So we all went down together.
Aside. I feel I haven’t done true justice to my companions on this pilgrimage, and it’s very hard to fully capture on paper. Richard is a quiet giant, a funny, unassuming, quiet, gentle man. I have much to learn from him on fatherhood. His son, whom we met, was studying engineering in Austria, and was volunteering with the Austrian SMOM at Lourdes. He was in the hospital, all days, bathing and caring for malades. I gave him a hug – at that age, no way would I be doing that, even to get to Lourdes!!!
At the Grotto, it began to rain, but I didn’t want to leave. At night the Grotto is the most peaceful, the most quiet. It’s where you can really focus on God, the message of Lourdes, and how to apply it to our lives. Even in the rain, it’s beautiful. Eventually though, we headed back, ready to end the day and begin the journey home.