Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!
This might be one of the coolest things I've ever done–––I'm typing and posting my blog while using a Wi-Fi connection on a Megabus ride to Chicago! I had no idea there was wireless internet on this bus until I pulled out my lap top and my computer kindly asked me if I would like to sign onto the Megabus wireless network. WOW! This probably won't sound nearly as interesting to someone actually reading the blog...but oh well. It's sometimes the little things in life, right?
I'd like to continue my reflection of an experience I had while in Lourdes, France as a chaperon and pilgrim to a place of faith.
Part Two of "The Tender Moments:"
Being, walking, partaking in the culture of Lourdes was no doubt a journey, a spiritual marathon of sorts. It was sometimes long, sometimes painful and often tiring. As the director of the pilgrimage Wayne Watts, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, warned us before we left Chicago for Lourdes, “this will be a pilgrimage, not a vacation.” He was right. Four to five hours of sleep was standard protocol, six hours of sleep felt like heaven on earth. We prayed as a group frequently and were almost always together even outside of required events. I would often wander from the group only to be pulled back in by our leader. On several occasions Watts had to remind me to “stay in the group!” I guess I sometimes like meeting new people a little too much for my own good. His poignant insistence that I stay with Chicago seemed to keep me in line, for the most part.
When we worked, we worked. It wasn’t so much the physicality of the labor, though pushing wheelchairs and chariots carrying disabled persons (referred to as malades in Lourdes) got tiring. I think what affected me the most, however, along with many of the other youth pilgrims, was the emotional labor of each day. Most of the people we escorted around Lourdes were struggling, in one way or another, to cope with the state they found their bodies in. If those with the actual ailments weren’t struggling, us young able-bodied persons struggled with the thought of being physically or mentally disabled.
There was one couple I grew especially close to in the week we had at Lourdes. I found it so moving to work with and simply be with these two people, and I think they serve as a great example of how tender moments can be joyful, painful, and everything in between. Through their own struggles, I was forced to face my own inner turmoil, and I grew to accept and appreciate our common struggle and our common need for communal forgiveness and communal love. I realized that Lourdes is a place where faithful come to realize that there is hope beyond their fears. It is funny to note that Rolheiser’s collection of essays, the one where I found the Tender Moments, is called Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears. Not only is their hope in Lourdes, there is much love to be had and enjoyed by all. However, to feel this love, one must put an amount of trust in faith and community that is not easy. Even in Lourdes, it is a struggle to fully commit one’s self to the tender moment.
I came to know Judy and Don, the couple who most touched my heart in Lourdes, by way of serving as their escort to the healing baths of Lourdes. Father Wayne Watts had asked me to go with a married couple from the Chicago Archdiocese who desired to bathe in the waters that so many pilgrims to Lourdes put their faith and hope in. When he explained the situation of the couple to me, I was a bit taken aback. The wife had multiple sclerosis and the husband was experiencing the initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Having a mother who had worked with Alzheimer’s patients for many years of her nursing career, I was familiar with the strain the disease puts on family and friends of those stricken with it. I did not fully know what to expect when I met Don, but I was a bit nervous to be the escort for these two. This was going to be an especially important moment in their life–––a tender moment full of joy and pain–––and they were going to be led to the baths by me! I am just a twenty year-old college student, a seminarian who struggles day after day with what his true calling is and how he can best serve people. I was not so worried about having to make sure these two people were physically able to get to the baths, for I had walked the path to that area near the grotto several times before. I believe, in my heart, that what I feared most was helping these people in some capacity spiritually. Though Watts had not said anything about saying a prayer with the couple, or making sure they felt secure and at peace while waiting to feel the healing waters wash their skin, I felt compelled to be in a mental and spiritual state that would allow these people to remain peaceful and calm and hopeful. We all know how the anticipation for a tender moment can be the most tense of moments. I felt like, in some small way, I had to encourage content, hopeful anticipation for the baths for Don and Judy. That meant making small talk that would possibly make me feel uncomfortable and make me face some of my most internalized fears.
Why would I be forced to face my fears you might ask? Well, to begin, it was highly publicized on this trip that I was a college seminarian. In fact, my seminarian identity was what had helped me obtain a spot on the pilgrimage. Through the generosity of Watts, I had been given a hearty scholarship to help pay for my trip to France. In return for the money that came my way, I was to be part chaperone for the high school group going and part presence for the church as a seminarian. The latter end of the deal was what scared me the most. It was, in fact, one of the fears I did not know would have to be faced while in Lourdes.
As my family and close friends know all too well, I consistently struggle with being a Catholic college seminarian. After my first semester last year, I was fairly certain I wanted to leave seminary. But something inside of me yearned for another semester. I am very happy that I chose to stay, for many opportunities came my way and many friendships became stronger as a result of staying in seminary. However, a trip to El Salvador in May, an experience that seemed to change my young life in many, unexplainable ways, seemed to make me, for a variety of reasons, so incredibly uncertain about my future as a seminarian.
This summer, I worked and lived at All Saints Catholic Church on the north side of Milwaukee. The community there helped to foster an environment where I felt like I could bathe in some of the tender moments I was going through as a young person considering a particular vocation. While at All Saints, I was able to struggle, toil with the future of the priesthood, and my own connection with that future. As the seminarian on staff, I was forced to publicly display my intent to be a college seminarian and to test the waters of ministry. I felt comfortable doing that at All Saints because I had a community that I felt comfortable with. Though the question of whether or not I would ever seriously become a priest was something I could not answer this summer, it was a question I was able to face in my mind and invite into my soul. But in Lourdes, I really began to have serious doubts about my immediate future as a college seminarian. One day, I had even begun to plot how I could leave seminary upon my return from Europe. Doubts and fears about plans that were as much as set in stone, that is my continuing as a junior enrolled in St. Joseph’s College Seminary on the campus of Loyola University Chicago, came unexpectedly and seemed to linger with me every day I spent in Lourdes. I was having what my good friend Raphael calls a “vocational crisis.” I didn’t see a realistic future after leaving seminary in my mind, but I felt like I could not return for another year. This is where Judy especially comes into play.
*** To be continued...
peace and have a great Tuesday friends!
your friend bob.