The best traveled people, the ones who have seen the most, are the ones who remain the most capable of seeing the world through the eyes of children.
– Charles Foster, The Sacred Journey
I recently had the privilege of going on the Seton Heritage Pilgrimage to France to walk in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac, the founders of the Daughters of Charity. The dedication of these early pioneers and the countless women who came after, give me strength and solace in knowing that Seton Cove is part of this continuing tradition of reaching out to the poor and vulnerable. At the Cove we are especially interested in nurturing the spirit as well as the mind and body of all those who are seeking spiritual depth and renewal. I have provided a few of my “pilgrim blog” entries for reflection.
The Journey: Old Feet, New Eyes
Our pilgrimage started with a broken gauge on the plane that caused us to sit on the Tarmac for 30 minutes on a stifling hot plane which remained hot the entire journey, but no matter, just a reminder to us that a pilgrim is open, attentive, and responsive to whatever the journey brings. And this minor inconvenience only served to remind us of the hardships Vincent and Louise suffered to begin the mission we are privileged to carry on today. Our theme today was Old Feet New Eyes and once we arrived in Paris the cataracts of complacency fell from our eyes! Our first stop was Notre Dame. Our hearts soared as we gazed at this magnificent gothic cathedral which took over a hundred years to build. This reminded me of the work that Vincent and Louise began almost four hundred years ago and that we are still building today.
Encouraging the Heart
We started our optional meditation session this morning with 10 participants who were actively engaged in the theme, “Encourage the Heart.” We read a poem by Marie Howe that talked about turning in different directions that one may see anew what has always been present. I want to turn in that direction not as toward a place, but it was a tilting within myself. This nicely parallels the turning that St. Vincent did at Folleville when he heard the general confession of a dying man who was so grateful to Vincent that it caused a turning in Vincent himself. Vincent responded by preaching a sermon on repentance which was the beginning of his ministry to the poor and vulnerable. Now repentance simply means “to turn around.” Vincent’s heart was encouraged to turn around by the deep hunger for both physical and spiritual nourishing he saw in the villagers of Folleville. St. Vincent’s turning makes us think about what each of us is called to turn to – what is it that encourages my heart? What does the mission call me to turn toward now?
Exploration: Walking the Way of Insight
What I saw today that was absolutely new to me were tiny knitted mushroom caps in bright colors stuck on the top of the pointed posts of a very old iron fence. This was a happy softening of a somewhat foreboding fence. I found out that Chris slaughters and butchers his own chicken once a year and that Joe got up at midnight in Paris and went out to some square where hundreds of people on rollerblades came racing by at 1:00am. I experienced the kindness of a waiter who let us into his very popular and crowded restaurant even though we didn’t have reservations and he first told us that it would be a two hour wait.
How does all of this relate to our mission? Today many of us discussed St. Catherine Laboure’s visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Did it really happen? What does it mean for us? I think that St. Catherine’ life gives us the answer. She never talked about her vision but as a result dedicated her life to the service of the very most vulnerable members of society– old veterans and other aged people who no one else wanted. To me this is the true miracle. Catherine was able to see Christ in all of these most forsaken people. The question for us then is can we see the miracle of Christ in the everyday? On the pilgrimage I am learning to appreciate the wonder of each person’s story. I am learning to see that the Christ in me is the same loving presence that is in each of them. A miracle happens each time I remember that Christ is in you and in me too.
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