Here it is, 3:44 AM in New York City and I am wide awake because it is 9:44 AM in France. I have been back from my pilgrimage to France for a few days now and I thought that I had been adapting to the time change pretty well… evidently not. My inconsistent work schedule most likely has some part to play in this. I am either getting up really early to open the store or getting up really late to close the store. I am severely lacking consistency. In addition to my unstable work schedule, I do have quite a few things on my mind. Coming back from my pilgrimage has been a true emotional roller-coaster to say the least, especially going back to work.
Work has become almost unbearable. France allowed me to see my work life with refreshed eyes and it helped me realize how much chaos my work creates. I truly dreaded the first day because I was scared of what I would walk into. The people I work with are wonderful but can be unpredictable. I never know what I am going to get with them. The pilgrimage ignited a deeper relationship with God and Mary and they definitely had my back as I walked back into my work and ensured that I had a joyful return. There was a select group of people I was very excited to see and it was reassuring when I realized that they were just as excited to see me.
I had brought back assorted gifts for different coworkers. There was one coworker in particular who wanted a magnet. I must confess getting her this magnet was actually more out of guilt. I had brought back some Colorado magnets the last time I went home and gave them to a few people. She saw them and asked if she could have one. I was not planning on giving her one then simply because I did not think that we had that close a relationship. She later revealed to me that she collects magnets and if I could bring her back a Colorado magnet the next time I go home she would appreciate it — she even offered to pay for it. The old Catholic guilt seeped in and I was bound and determined to get her a magnet from this trip.
I ended up buying her a magnet highlighting the city of Lourdes. I tried to make it as non-religious as possible just because I didn’t know what her background was. Her reaction to the magnet was something I would have never expected in a million years. I gave the magnet to her Monday and I told her my reason for going to France was for a pilgrimage. She smiled and nodded her head; this was the typical reaction I was getting from my coworkers. I assumed she wasn’t sure what a pilgrimage was. The next day she came up to me and inquired more. She started asking me specific questions about Lourdes and pilgrimages there. I was impressed, she was the first person at my work who actually knew why Lourdes is so important to my faith. She even talked about Saint Bernadette and how she grew up watching the movie “The Song of Saint Bernadette.” It was one of her favorite movies.
Throughout the day she continued to ask me questions about my religion. It started very general, basically just telling her why I went, but evolved into discussing her faith and how she had fallen away over the years. She told me that she was baptized but never received any other sacraments. She has a daughter who does not practice any religion and her granddaughter is a self proclaimed atheist. I could hear the regret in her voice and tears even welled up in her eyes. I said that I have had my struggles with my faith and had my moments of questioning. She asked me how I found my way back to my religion. I told her that I first had to reconcile my relationship with the Lord and I did that through prayer. She added that she never has received a good answer from her granddaughter as to why she refuses to go to church. At the end of the conversation, she seemed to be more determined to re-address the conversation with her granddaughter — she is older now and may be able to articulate her feelings better. My coworker was still in tears and I could tell something was still bothering her. She brushed it off saying she was just going through a lot of things lately. I didn’t want to pry plus we really needed to get back to work. I ended up just giving her a hug and said that no matter what she was going through she was a beautiful person and I was always there if she ever wanted to talk more. The rest is in the Lord’s hands. I will pray for her of course, along with her daughter and granddaughter.
God and Mary truly surprised me with this one. This coworker was one of the last people I would have guessed would understand what I encountered in Lourdes. The conversation we had blessed me just as much as it blessed her. It allowed me to relive my experiences I had in France and I was able to give a more honest account of my trip instead of the general, “oh I had a great time.” I pray that my affirmation of my faith will encourage her to revisit hers and maybe bring her back to the Lord.
On my pilgrimage in France: I find it funny that most people come to France primarily for the Paris attractions. Not for my group though — being in Paris was just an added benefit. Our main purpose was to visit Lourdes, where Saint Bernadette received apparitions of Mary in a small grotto next to a river in 1858. Such humble beginnings have transformed the site into a grand shrine devoted to Our Lady of Lourdes. This shrine has been a place of numerous miracles over many years, especially of healing. The water has become famous for its healing properties. Every single day people flock to this site with the hope of being healed by bathing in the water.
We started the day early to catch a flight from Paris to Lourdes. Anticipation filled the air with each one of us holding special intentions in our hearts, secret hopes that we desire Mary to answer. I confess my deepest desires were rather selfish. I intended to bring the desires I have had since I was a child: to find a loving husband and to start a family. Simple in nature but it is something I have felt is my true vocation. This is also a desire I have feared might never come to fruition. However, as I sat in the line awaiting my time to enter into the water, the more I drew closer, the more my mind, heart and soul began to shift. It felt wrong to place my prayer intentions only for myself. To be honest I already had the faith that Jesus would fulfill my deep desires with or without receiving the bath, and there might be more urgent prayer intentions to focus on.
Yesterday, we visited the Sanctuary of Lisieux where we devoted our time to learning about the life of Saint Thérèse and her family. It was also Consecration day for the Pilgrims who went through 33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Gaitley. For those who don’t know, Marian Consecration is a way to give yourself entirely to Jesus through Mary. Through this Consecration, you surrender your entire self to Mary for her to use in whatever way she wishes to further glorify the kingdom of God. This can be difficult to do, especially for me; I naturally want to maintain control. Nevertheless, I sincerely felt called to France to do this. After my Consecration, I ended up in the gift shop filled with Saint Thérèse souvenirs. I was drawn to a simple key chain. A small pink rose, a symbol of Saint Thérèse. I heard a quiet voice tell me to buy it. I struggled with this at first. I knew it would be hard to give this key chain to the person it was meant for. She is a sweet and in some ways very innocent girl but she is a victim of this fallen world. While she appears as a girl herself, she has a daughter and is addicted to marijuana. Before leaving on this trip, she asked me to bring her back a French husband. She was serious about it too, listing off all the attributes this husband should have. I promised I would bring her back something even if it was not a husband. I have been working with her for some time but Mary was definitely working to strengthen our relationship during the weeks leading to this trip. Throughout this trip, Mary continued to place her on my heart. In that gift shop and after my Consecration I saw why.
Sitting waiting to go into the bath I released my selfish intentions and placed all my time and devotion on this girl. I truly believe that Mary will be able transform her and her life for good. When the time came to enter the bath I was asked to say my prayer intentions. I prayed for her and went down into the water. There are no coincidences and I believe that through the graces I have received, Mary wishes to reach this girl with the help of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Oh and by the way, this girl’s name is also Therese.
Originally posted at Kitty in the City. Image: Saint Thérèse dressed as Saint Joan of Arc.
When I came back to New York from Lourdes, France I had a new admiration for Saint Bernadette. It was wonderful learning about the different Apparitions she encountered with Mary, Our Lady. The Apparition which struck me the most was the time Saint Bernadette attempted to pray the Rosary with a Rosary that was not hers. The first thing Mary always asked Saint Bernadette to do when in Our Lady’s presence is to pray the Rosary. During this Apparition though, Saint Bernadette tried to use a Rosary from a seamstress from the village of Lourdes, Pauline Sans. Madame Sans had asked Bernadette if she would take her Rosary just once so that she could have it as a memento of the Apparition. Saint Bernadette agreed and that very morning she brought Madame Sans’ Rosary to the Grotto; however, when she tried to pray the Rosary, she found that she couldn’t. Mary asked her where Bernadette’s own Rosary was. Bernadette recalled that she was using Madame Sans’ and reached into her pocket for her own. When she did that Mary allowed her to carry on with the Rosary and told her to “use those.”
This Apparition was so important because it showed how attentive Mary is to every unique detail of our lives. Mary notices everything, even the difference in Rosaries we use when we pray. I believe I had a Marian encounter similar to this in Mass this weekend. It was during the time of the offertory; I always feel rushed during this time. I can never seem to find my wallet in time to place my contribution in the collection basket. When I am fortunate enough to find my wallet, I always hastily grab the change from the bottom to make sure I have something to contribute. This time I was actually successful in finding my wallet and was readily prepared for when the basket came to me. I saw the woman making her way down the isle of the church offering the collection basket to each person row by row. As she got to me she made direct eye contact and smiled. I smiled back and started to make the motion to reach out and place my money in the basket but the woman skipped me. I was sitting with a friend of mine and we both looked at each other with the same quizzical look. Did she not want our money?
It wasn’t until I was putting my money back in my purse that some of the coins felt a little weird. I looked at what I was actually holding and I realized the the coins were not coins at all — they were my saint medals. I have four saint medals that I wear around my neck every day: Saint Michael, Saint Francis, Saint Benedict, and the Miraculous Medal. Recently I had to stop wearing them because I had an allergic reaction to the chain they were on. I feel naked without those medals so had put them in my wallet for “safe keeping.” I thought that even if I can’t wear them, I could at least have them on my person. It occurred to me that if the woman had offered that collection basket to me, I would have given my medals away. These medals that have come to be almost a part of me. I was reminded of the story of Saint Bernadette and suddenly recognized Mary’s presence in that situation. I have never experienced anything like what I experienced in the that church. I have never been completely surpassed during the offertory, as if I wasn’t there at all. I was so grateful for Mary’s intervention though. I would have been heartbroken if I had lost those medals. Just like Mary knew Saint Bernadette was not using her own Rosary, she knew what I could have done with my medals and she made sure I did not get the opportunity to give them away. Needless to say I will be finding a new place to keep my medals until I can get a better chain for them.