Sunday, February 19, 2017

The end...finally

Wow, this recounting has taken longer than the actual trip! Promise, this is the last post.

We headed out of Florida early and straight North toward our evening lodging. We were all pretty exhausted so, when we got to Montgomery, home of the Civil Rights Memorial Center, and little man was out cold, I couldn't wake him. Not because Civil Rights are unimportant but because he is a misery when forced awake and too heavy to carry any distance. Just to say we were there, we stopped by Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits (Class AA affiliate of the the Tampa Bay Rays).
The little guy on the left is the "Biscuit" - so cute.
From there north to Birmingham there is a lot of not much. Unless, of course, you count the slowly blowing white stuff in the air and gathered on the side of the road. No, not snow...COTTON! Yes, there were cotton fields everywhere and, yes, I made DH jump out of the car and retrieve a piece or two for a souvenir (lest you think we were the only ones, there were two women who stopped further down the road and went into the field to actually pick a plant...perhaps the ones at Magnolia were too pricey ;0))
Cotton fields

Giant bales of cotton
Finally, we reached our nest for the night...the Saint Michael Guest House just beyond the grounds of The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

I suggested the guest house to DH before our trip...fairly inexpensive and excellent proximity to the Shrine. He called (they don't do online booking...they like to get to know the people renting the rooms). He had a wonderful conversation with the woman who regretted that the "house" part was unavailable but would we be interested in the room downstairs? It had 3 beds and a couch and would fit all of us nicely. I was skeptical that, at the end of our long journey, we would really all want to be in the equivalent of someone's basement for the night. Then he told me it's referred to as "St. Bernadette's room". Ahem. Well, of course it would be the perfect ending to an amazing family trip.

It turned out to be just that, actually, because it allowed the Holy Spirit to enter even more deeply into our journey. We knew, logistically, we wouldn't be able to make it to the Nuns' Mass at 7 AM and waiting until the 10 AM would be too late. So, we opted for Vigil Mass, two towns over.

Cullman, Alabama. I'm not sure what it is about this place. Maybe it reminds me of the place where I grew up...
Well, the street is similar but the church was nowhere near that big!
Perhaps it was the fact that we had one of the most incredible Masses of the entire Year of Divine Mercy at the town church, Sacred Heart of Jesus. The pastor read directly from St. Faustina's Diary during the homily and instructed us on Mercy and how it works with the teaching of the Catholic Church. A traditional, incense-filled, reverent Mass, complete with gloved altar servers and Communion patens! (swoon)
Terrible picture, beautiful church
Then, everyone in the church (maybe 100 people?) all waited in line to greet the priest outside the church. I heard him ask for updates on sick loved ones and ask where missing members of the family might be instead of Mass. This is the beauty of the small-town parish. The priest is respected as a leader...he spends most of his time shepherding the sheep. The worries of finances and schools and buildings are still there but they are not overwhelming; the people of the parish make everything run. It was nice, even for a while, to go back to that time.

Then it was our turn. Of course the pastor recognized we were not "from here" and when we told him our story, he told us his. He retired as a Colonel in the United States Army and then began to study for the priesthood, ultimately Ordained in 2009. He is a Benedictine and studied at the Monastery of St. Vincent Archabbey...next to the school where we spend 20 Fridays a year. I love, love, love when the Holy Spirit makes the connections. It gives me that deep unspeakable joy (and it is a fantastic lesson for the little people!)

He gave us a wonderful blessing for travel and we headed two streets over to a wonderful Italian restaurant to fill our bellies as we discussed the end of the Year of Mercy. The night "bunking together" was better than I had expected and we rose to greet the day.

Of course we couldn't just skip out on the last official day so, dressed in our Sunday best, and headed up the road to close out the Jubilee Year with Adoration at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament 😍⛪.

 http://olamshrine.org/wp-content/uploads/main-church-e1413323458145.jpg

I love this place and it scares me...but I'm working through it. This is the side where the regular people sit...can I brag a minute and say, when we were there Adoring in the 3rd pew, none other than
Fr. Joseph Mary!!!
was sitting in the front pew! Fr. Joseph Mary leads the rosary we watch on EWTN and, for our Catholic nerdy kids, it was difficult to keep them composed. He is, after all, a television star to us. I know we're weird. It makes my heart happy.

Anyway, we sit on this side and behind the opaque windows is where the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration pray and sing sometimes (it is like being in Heaven). They are a cloistered order and when you are in the Shrine, you can walk past the enclosure. This is like my fear-of-heights-college-psych-prof putting her head out of a 100th story window. I guess, in my way, it's desensitization. I know there is some chance that God will call one of my girls to serve Him within a cloister and I need to be ready with my unequivocal "yes!". Every time I walk by that door, a slight amount of the panic goes away but I'm definitely still a work in progress!

The next morning we headed through Louisville and then home to reflect on our amazing journey! How blessed we were by the opportunity to share the people, places and God-sent lessons with one another during this trip. I am so very grateful.

We are blessed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

St. Valentine was a Bishop and Martyr

and we should remember him today, on his Feast, for all the self-less things he did (perhaps we should also try to be a little selfless ourselves today?)

For those of us from the Eastern regions, though, there is even more to celebrate!

Come on...it's hysterical. Laugh a little :0)

Whether you're a Valentine or a Cyril and Methodius, let us invoke these and all the Saints to pray for us as we traverse this life until, with God's grace (and our humility), we meet them one day in Heaven.

We are blessed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Just a quick shout out

In the midst of all this pilgrimage talk, I want to remind you that every day can be a pilgrimage! Or, failing that, it can be a time for rejoicing in God's goodness. Today was no exception.

I was on the trolley heading downtown so that I could, in person, speak with the keepers of the trolley system. Soon you will need to have a card to ride the trolley (that or pay lots more $) and so, being frequent riders, I tried to do what they suggested. It would seem, though, that the system isn't really set up for 6 riders on one account (I'm guessing they're more prepared, as they should be, for single commuters). After two weeks and several phone calls, it was decided that this was an issue that had to be handled in person.

So, off I went. My blessing of a mother's helper came in so handy today...there would have been no way to get everyone where they needed to be in the allotted time (believe it or not, I can actually move quickly when I am unburdened!). On the ride, a dear friend emailed to thank me for prayers and offerings recently. I assured her there are more coming...you see, I left myself exactly 17 minutes to walk 4+ blocks (including two pretty much uphill) to make Mass in time. It is my undergraduate university. I do enjoy frequenting there whenever possible and, since I was in the neighborhood...

It was windy and rainy as I started my ascent. See how good God is? More to offer for my friend! He is also very good at delaying time for me sometimes. Somehow I got to my destination with enough time to let my heart rate return to normal.

In case I had forgotten the goodness of God, the dear priest made it crystal in regards to the reading from Genesis today. "I always read, 'And God looked at it and saw that it was very good' and wonder, 'Good for who?'" He went on to say that God didn't need His creation but we see, on the 6th day, that all of these good things are for US...God is soooo good. All the time. Loving Father!

I left Mass and, while it wasn't suddenly a sunny day, the rain had stopped. I took the time to go visit the Lourdes Shrine, one of my favorite places, and ask Our Lady to watch over my sweet Bernadette.

It is one of my favorite places because, even in the midst of the city, God is there. Our Lady is waiting to greet you :0) Amidst the noise and bustle, a reminder of what is essential.

My appointment achieved success (I think) and the trolley was there when I walked up so, really, what an amazing day. Without the "inconvenience" of needing to head into town, I don't have the blessed experience of the Mass or the opportunity to lift up my difficulties for others. I am so grateful to God for His love and guidance...today and always.

We are blessed.

The Big Easy, Part Deux (they're French you know!)

It's hard to believe that we are 2/3 thirds done with our trip at this point!

Beignets are curious things...they are light but still a bit filling. Perfect energy boost to walk an hour or so around the French Quarter. It is a place of contrast...people eating and drinking and many who clearly go long periods without doing either. A place of art and music and a place of reflection. I don't think I could live there but it was interesting to see.

It is a lovely place to walk and, were I alone, I would have settled somewhere with a cafe au lait and watched people for a few hours...so interesting to me. A homeless man asked DH for a donation as we walked by and his female companion hit his arm and said, "can't you see he has five kids?!" The South is a different place indeed.

John Paul II's plaza, just outside the cathedral
Ok, the Spaniards were here too...
 
"Jackson Square" named for hero Andrew Jackson (on his horse) and his victory in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans


Having walked off our snack and determined to finally seek and obtain the sacrament of penance, we headed to the St. Louis Cathedral, which happened to be just on the other side of the square.


Intended to go but totally missed the Ursuline convent :0( I was done planning by then.

The ombrellone...one of two requirements to designate a basilica - read more HERE

Beautiful, old church...the clamshell above the ambo was so cool. There has been a church on this site since 1727!

After looking around and preparing in prayer, we queued up for Confession. We waited 10 minutes or so with about 20 other people and, with 15 minutes to go before Mass, the pastor walked past, said, "are you all here for confession?" to which we said, "yes" and then he murmured, " there's no way."

Well, there wasn't any way for everyone to go and those of us that did, it wasn't a deep, meaningful confession. Still, having tried several times prior, it was nice to know we had finally achieved our absolution and went on to have a wonderful Mass...the kind that follows a fresh penance.

Time was getting short and we had to push on to Florida so we bid Adieu to the Creoles and headed due East. We got as far as Mississippi and needed to make a "school" stop. Who knew, in the tiny hamlet of Pearlington, MS, exists one of ten NASA field space centers in the US? The NASA center isn't open to the public but the Infinity Science Center next door is and we had to stop for DH who loves all things space/rocket and had missed the opportunity in Houston (he agreed the funeral museum was better). We missed the last shuttle to Stennis but stretched our legs while we toured some pretty cool space hardware.






We arrived late in FL and had to head out early so, other than "checking off the state" there isn't much to say. It was definitely worth skipping the beach because the next day, the last Saturday of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, would prove a great end to our journey. Stay tuned...one more post!

We are blessed.