It is with a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving to Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Blessed Mother Mary and Saint Bernadette that I share with you the message of Lourdes on my return from that special place of prayer. The Virgin Mary greeted St. Bernadette Soubirous in the Grotto of Marsabielle on 11th February 1858 and for a total of eighteen apparitions ending on 16th July, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. During these special moments Mary gave Bernadette numerous messages and identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception.”
The Blessed Virgin asked St. Bernadette to arrange with the parish priest to build a chapel on the location of the apparitions, and that people be invited to come in Procession, offer prayers and petitions as well as to do penance for sinners. Sixty-three years ago the U.S. National Rosary Pilgrimage in response to this plea began by taking small groups of pilgrims from the U.S. and Canada to visit and pray at this holy grotto, and today we continue this very impressive project. I have personally made fifty-four pilgrimages to Lourdes in the past forty years as part of the National Rosary group.
The nineteenth century Lourdes of Bernadette’s time was a small community of a few hundred people and from these simple and humble beginnings we have a town that swells to 5 million annually during the pilgrimage season. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary, 2008, more than 6.5 million pilgrims came to Lourdes.
Many people will ask me “have you witnessed any miracles?” My immediate response is to make a distinction between a miracle and a cure. Then I add that every pilgrim, in a real sense, has experienced a cure whether that be in some way physical, spiritual, or even emotional. One would have to have a certain hardness of heart not to return home from Lourdes differently because of the experience. That is what a pilgrimage is all about. That we are open to God’s benevolent love and the pomptings of the Holy Spirit as it moves within us. I thank Almighty God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Bernadette for the many special graces which have accrued to me in my past forty years as a result of my sharing my priestly ministry with so many people who have become part of our Lourdes Family.
– Fr. Joseph P. Allen, o.p.
My recent experience in Lourdes was comprised of a number of “firsts”: my first trip outside the continental U.S., my first pilgrimage; and the first time I would not be able to joyfully recount my travel experiences to my mother.
So, instead, I will joyfully recount my experience in Lourdes to you. Where to start? First, my travel companions are, without exception, the finest people I have ever met. Special mention must be made of Fr. Joseph Allen, who made this pilgrimage to Lourdes both possible and beautiful. The French people that we met along the way treated us with much warmth and affection and made us all feel as though we were home, and not in a foreign country. Lourdes, itself, is a beautiful country village, nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains. Lourdes has changed very little since the time of Saint Bernadette Soubirous (January 7, 1844 – April 16, 1879), from the cobblestone streets to the
charming village homes and store fronts.
As you can imagine, Lourdes is adorned with many beautiful churches, as well as a magnificent
Basilica. But, of course, the focus of our pilgrimage was the Grotto, where our Blessed Mother
appeared to Saint Bernadette. The Grotto is a natural cave, made from rock. An altar has been placed within the Grotto, so that Mass may, and is, celebrated throughout the day there. Being in a place where our Blessed Mother appeared is an extraordinary experience, which words cannot adequately describe. And, so, I pray that one day you also will have the opportunity to experience for yourselves and imagine the joy of what it must have been like for Saint Bernadette, at the Grotto, being in the holy presence of Our Blessed Mother.
– Michael Silverstein
Our pilgrimage to Lourdes with Father Allen was a spiritually beautiful and peaceful trip. The deep beauty of the daily masses and the candlelight processions, as well as being with people of the same faith from all over the world, was very moving. Having mass in the grotto, as well as Sunday Mass in an underground cathedral with 18,000 people in all different languages, was amazing. And learning more about Saint Bernadette’s story and seeing where she lived was inspiring. Also, our group was wonderful and we had a lot of fun together. The trip made me feel closer to God and renewed my spirit. All in all, the pilgrimage was heavenly!
– Katie O’Neill
When I reflect on the trip to Lourdes a few things rise to the surface. First, a change of heart; seeing so many in wheelchairs and stretchers, and various differently abled people of all ages and races,
swiftly caused a change in heart regarding my health situation. I immediately became grateful for all the blessings in my life and will no longer focus on what I have or don’t have. Second, the idea of service; assisting another person by wheeling them to various sites and activities became an opportunity for me to reach beyond my own self-interest and be aware of and serve another without judgment or reward. Third, the power of prayer; the awesome nature of praying the same prayer with thousands of others in the same place in multiple languages was powerful and moving. Though, I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, this trip has provided me with a focus and desire to know God is alive in my life.
– Charlie Rubino
My trip to Lourdes was an unanticipated pleasure. You are joined and united with people, from throughout the world in faith, mind, and spirit. There are so many services that one does not have the opportunity to engage in on a regular basis, Mass in multiple languages, anointing of the sick, and a candlelight procession with thousands of people. It is a powerful experience to break down all walls and boundaries and experience love for all. Your mind becomes uncluttered as you receive a spiritual gift of clarity and love and our Lord in the present. It is a trip I will treasure, one that I was able to experience it with Father Allen and friends and a new path that I will be able to follow throughout my life.
– Lee Ann Rubino
Last weekend favored me with a free Saturday. As is usual with me, I took the windfall in the form of a long walk. After aiming myself downtown in a general way, I settled on a goal and I picked up Broadway at Times Square with the determination to follow it all the way to Trinity Church at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. As I made my way south, the sun lit a vibrant succession of neighborhoods. Broadway preserves much commercial architecture of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. How great that our forbears’ legacy of fine facades has been claimed by the young who live and work in the spacious interiors behind them.
Trinity Church stands at the confluence of historical significance and present finance. On this Saturday lots of tourists flocked to this spot, so well placed on the way to the Stock Exchange, Ground Zero and the Battery. The doors were wide open and people streamed in and out. No doubt a similar scene played itself out many blocks north at St. Patrick’s, and another many blocks further north at St. John the Divine. Just like the two cathedrals, Trinity was prepared to welcome its constant procession of visitors. I infer from my experience that part of their mission is to have doors open to the city. This edifies me deeply, and I regard it as essential to our own mission as a parish.
I value as priceless the position of our two churches at crossroads in the life of the city. (By the way, Trinity also has two fine contiguous churches, Trinity Church itself and St. Paul’s Chapel. Both stand on Broadway, and each played a role in 9/11 and its aftermath.) The evangelical potential of our places of worship offers great promise. Our (My) hope is that if you come and admire the beauty, savor the quiet, and feel the welcome, you might want to find out about the faith behind it all. So we are asking our buildings not just to accommodate and affirm the regulars, but also to preach to the wider world through a range of artistic media, synthesized to welcome, orchestrated to elevate the mind and heart.
But for many of the unchurched in church, it never goes beyond beautiful and interesting. Others may leave with a deeper respect for the cultural heritage and social outreach of the Church. At the deepest level though it is God’s initiative that imparts faith, and our most vibrant acres of stained glass only provide a meeting ground between the human soul and the One who loved it into being and wants to love it into His heaven.
Here I am challenged by my own reflections, because I wonder if churches still preach to me. How did I visit Trinity? Honestly, I showed up as a professional. Even on a Saturday jaunt I was asking clergy questions. How was the altar placed and vested? How was the sanctuary arranged? How were pamphlets displayed? How effective was the lighting? Put simply, I evaluated it. I did not allow it to speak to me and so ended up as an ecclesiastical tourist.
This did not make my experience bad; it was very informative and profitable; at the same time, I think that I limited the potential of the moment. I think I blow it when I put on the lens of preference. When I ask myself if I like a building, a painting, a mode of dress, a play, or a sermon, I make my comfort the measure. A very human reaction! At the same time, what speaks to me most deeply may be that which makes me uncomfortable. Here lies the ground of prophecy by which God challenges complacency, arrogance and prejudice. Here too is the place where God exposes fear in the soul, so as to overcome it.
My sense is that the “narrow way” to the power of an experience, whether visiting a church or hearing a sermon, or cooking dinner lies in the quest for understanding. When I attain this path I ask different questions. “What did they intend?” What does this signify?” “How did this come into being?” These open me to learning, to surprise, and to change.
The vast majority of the interesting and beautiful buildings I passed on Broadway no longer serve their original purpose. They are attractive fronts for something else. But not Trinity, it stands as the visible expression of the community that built and has used it continually since 1846. (It is the third building so to serve the community of the Parish since 1697.) I owed it my amazement rather than the evaluation I gave it.
I wonder how the quest for understanding could deepen much more of life than visiting churches? How much potential have we lost by settling for likes and dislikes?
Please welcome Fr. Martin Farrell, O.P. Fr. Martin is a Friar of our Canadian Province. He will be living at St. Catherine’s. He will assist in the hospital ministry and also say Mass in both of churches.
Please welcome Fr. Luke Hoyt, O.P. Fr. Luke is newly ordained and will be helping us in the hospital and the parish, so that the regulars can get some time off. We are so blessed not only to have their help but their fresh perspective and their devotion to their calling.
Because of the Fourth of July holiday, you read words from June 29. Further, this essay hails from
Louisville, where I was gathered with my family to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday.
He rates organizing such celebrations as one of life’s happiest tasks, and he tackled this one with the vim of a much younger person. Dad hosted a pre-birthday dinner for out of town guests. Then, on the day itself we celebrated Mass in Louisville’s Cathedral of the Assumption, where he is a parishioner. We concluded with an al fresco party for 90. Dad drew all his worlds together. He had children,
grandchildren, and long-time friends from each chapter of his life, all the way back to Notre Dame in the 50’s. But he also had the people of his present, those who work with him in business, his doctors and physical therapists.
Such a roster of guests gives a panorama of life we do not see on any given day. Surveying the yard, I perceived that one vibrant life touches many people, and draws on those encounters to reach out yet more widely. My dad’s has been a transactional life. People have met him as buyers and sellers, owners and tenants, employees and providers of services, and they have stayed on for decades as friends. There they were sharing the happy twilight with him and with each other. They were tucking into biscuits packed with Country Ham (the prosciutto of the Bluegrass) and washed down by “Walt’s Old
Fashioneds.” This was summer happiness purveyed by one in whom such happiness abides all year long.
The scene showed me the gulf between my father’s life and mine. My dad’s celebration showcased the fruits of constancy in life, building a business, improving a home, fostering a parish and widening a circle of friends. His is a rooted life, lived in place and relationships attach themselves to it like ornaments on a Christmas tree. By my choice, and through the nature of my vocation, I have reached my mid-fifties as an unestablished person and wanderer through life. At the stroke of a pen I could be in a different city, with a different assignment.
But for all the differences, his life shaped mine. As reveler after reveler recounted the story of “knowing Walt,” I realized that without any lesson plan I had learned from Dad how to live the
transactional life that is ministry. I enter people’s lives as the purveyor of an event. They come to me
looking for a baptism, a wedding, or a house blessing, and sometimes the encounter ends with a
handshake and a “Thank you, Father.” At other times it becomes the first of many chapters in an ongoing relationship. All as God disposes! Such a training leads one to take each encounter seriously by meeting its demands and respecting its limits.
As I look back I see the practice of civility giving backbone to my parents’ way of life and providing a seed ground for the enduring relationships that anchor them to this day. Civility lies at the core of their traditio, that which they received and handed on. Though I have no lasting dwelling, and will bequeath neither money nor monument, I nevertheless carry around with me a real rootedness, and that I operate out of all the time, often without realizing it. How many times have I entered a stranger’s living room, or welcomed a couple into my parlor, or entered the melee of a crowded ballroom and not realized that I was prepared for this by my Dad’s gift of knowing no stranger and my mother’s understanding that friendliness is an obligation, not a favor.
I am mindful that we are about to enter upon July, the month of St. Anne and St. Joachim, the
parents of Mary, and the grandparents of Jesus. What a great time to recognize the living tradition that has stealthily equipped us for life, so that we navigate life’s ways without a map. To ponder one’s
ancestry is to survey a procession of gifted and challenged people, and to discover oneself as the bearer of an inner heritage that enables and limits invisibly. What a blessing to reflect on this patrimony in the light of faith and to realize that both its gifts and its deficits provide ways to God. In a culture that is unsettled it becomes helpful to realize that we are grounded relationships of nature, and in that amazing relationship imparted by grace.
A life among the Preaching Brothers offers the constant marvel of a Friar taking the pulpit.
Even initial forays in the seminary reveal that a Brother enters that precinct not so much to give a talk or to make a presentation, although he does talk, and he does present. He probably wants to tell you about a scripture, a doctrine, or a saint, but not in a way you could google. Rather, the ambo serves as a place of distillation for you and for him. Here he gives voice to intensity that would overwhelm an encounter in the vestibule after Mass, or a moment in the kitchen over coffee. Here observations about the Prophet Jeremiah, or the Immaculate Conception, or St. Jerome, serve to manifest the inner life of a man who has been summoned to a place of loving solitude by His God.
Each Friar seems to find this solitary place as God reveals it to him and he speaks out of it as the Lord graces his personality, his interests, and his methods. He may use a text, or not: he may employ humor, or not, but in the end he will preach as himself, out of a life he otherwise may not speak of. This is why habitués of our churches will have noticed that our preaching has no unified style, but the bottom line might be remarkably consistent.
Chris Johnson was a preacher’s preacher because he showed us Friars the truth of ourselves in high definition. He lived to a singular degree the Dominican paradox of being a private person in public, a hermit on stage. Chris used the language and technique of theatre as he crafted the text and delivery of each preaching with exquisite care. But he never hid behind his art; he was never an actor playing a role. Rather, his sculpted words enabled him to share the fruits of his intimacy with God without compromising the profound exclusiveness of that intimacy. The result was that Chris’s preaching and pastoral care possessed evident power to help you even as he protected himself. Most of the time we think of love and distance as opposites. For Chris distance was a way of loving. From a step back he preserved the clarity of insight he shared with you and maintained an eagle’s eye view of you, your gifts, your foibles, and your challenges.
Chris can teach all of us, preacher and congregant alike, how to befriend our solitude and to find in it the one intimacy that orders all the others. He is the one who heard Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me more than these,” and joined in the latter’s “yes” as we read in John 21, this exclusive love nourishes all the sheep.
As he struggled in his last years with the devastating ravages of cancer and diabetes, this core remained intact so that even his struggles gave a witness that strengthened others. In these times Chris grew from a preaching of words to a preaching of the whole of life. The weakening of his body laid bare the strength of soul God’s grace had crafted with his ongoing assent. He no longer needed to present himself through the medium of craft, because God’s craft had become so evident.
May he now behold that mystery he preached in power and in weakness.
These thoughts may be familiar to anyone who attended Chris’ funeral Mass on June 21 when on his 85th birthday we entrusted him to his God. Nevertheless, I would like make an essay of them for those who could not be free on that day.
May he rest in peace.