Today we took a trip to Paray-le-Monial. It is a small town a little ways away from Ars that has an important significance to us: it was home to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. St. Margaret Mary was a Visitation Sister to whom Jesus appeared over the course of seven years to reveal His Sacred Heart. It was from St. Margaret Mary that the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was first revealed and spread. Today, the incorrupt body of St. Margaret Mary lies in a glass tomb in the Church where she received the visions. Paray (as they locals call it for short) is also home to the relics of St. Claude de la Colombiere, a Jesuit priest who was the confessor and spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary while she was having these apparitions of our Lord.
Here is Chaldean Seminarian Bryan Kassa to talk about his experience in Paray.
When I was reminded yesterday that we were going to have the honor of visiting the Visitation order, which St. Margaret Mary Alacoque belonged to, I was extremely excited! I had read her autobiography before I entered seminary, not because I had a huge devotion to her or the apparitions that Jesus communicated to her regarding His Sacred Heart, but because Patrick Setto, another seminarian, called me one day while I was discerning the call to the priesthood and read a page to me over the phone one night directly from her autobiography. What he read to me gave me great comfort and helped me realize that I had something in common with this great Saint and that I needed her intercession over the next several months as I transitioned into seminary life.
What was it that I had in common with St. Margaret Mary? The disapproval of her vocation from her mother. I read in the autobiography that her mother told her if she entered the convent, that her mother would die and that Jesus hold her responsible for her mother’s death. This brought great pain and suffering to the great Saint, but she responded that she must be loyal to Almighty God rather than her mother’s wishes of getting married and starting a family of her own.
Her courage was supernatural and I knew that it was the Holy Spirit who was working through her to be able to make such a bold decision! It gave me great comfort when I read this and knew that I needed her intercession as I made the same decision of answering God’s call even though I didn’t have the support of my mother. St. Margaret Mary became a sister and friend who helped me through the this very difficult transition! “Oh how the Saints always wait in anticipation to intercede for us during difficult moments” – I once heard a priest say this during a homily, and boy was he right!
Now that I have filled you in on why I had a devotion to St. Margaret Mary, I had never really given it much thought as to what it was that Jesus communicated to her over seven years and why it was important. Then I heard Monsignor Trapp say on the bus today that Jesus revealed to St. Margaret Mary that it was through Jesus’ Sacred Heart that all of humanity will come to understand how much love Jesus has for us! What a powerful message! Jesus appeared to her over seven years to continue to communicate to me and you a message of love, mercy and more love! St. Margaret Mary suffered a lot during these seven years because people did not believe the visions that she was having (not even a priest). But Jesus told her that He would send one of His great friends who will believe her.
Jesus did what He said He would, He sent St. Claude de la Colombiere, who was a priest and who became her spiritual director and confessor! St. Claude knew how to determine if the visions she was having were authentic or not. To determine if the visions were coming from Jesus or the evil one, he told St. Margaret Mary that the next time she has the vision, to ask what was the last thing that he had confessed in his last confession. St. Margaret Mary did just that. The next time she had the vision, she asked what was the last thing that Father had confessed in his last confession. She received an answer and went back to St. Claude and said, “I received a vision yesterday and I have an answer for you. I asked Jesus what it was that you last confessed and He said, ‘I forget.'” From that moment forward, her director knew that the visions she was having were authentic because the devil cannot enter the sacraments!
Today, we had the opportunity to visit the Church which held the relics of St. Claude! I prayed in front of his tomb asking him to help me in my own vocation since he himself was a priest! I knew he was listening to me as I knelt down in front of him because, as I mentioned earlier, the Saints anticipate our invitation to intercede for us! Next, we headed over to the Visitation Church where Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary! We had Mass where the actual visitations took place and then it is when it all hit me, “Jesus communicated His love for us over seven years to St. Margaret Mary through His Most Sacred Heart, but He has been communicating His love to us over 2,000 years through each and every Mass through the most Holy Eucharist!” Also, how Jesus awaits to forgive us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation! His Sacred Heart is bursting with mercy and cannot wait to be reconciled with us!
I leave you with two questions to ask yourself as you read this:
1) When was the last time you’ve been to confession and received God’s mercy?
2) Are you allowing Jesus to share His Sacred Heart with you by receiving Him in the Most Holy Eucharist?
Oh most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!
St. Margaret Mary, pray for us!
St. Claude, pray for us!
Your brotha from the same motha (the Blessed Virgin Mary),
After Mass at the Visitation Church, we took a break for lunch, then made our way to the Basilica of Paray-le-Monial. This beautiful church is important historically as it was connected to the famous Abbey of Cluny. Indeed, it was designed as a smaller version of the Abbey Church in Cluny. This church used to be connected to a monastery on this site that was eventually closed during the French Revolution.
Today it is a parish church and is a beautiful example of 12th century Romanesque architecture as it began to get larger (most romanesque churches were small) and transition into the gothic style that is so prevalent throughout Europe. We spent some time here getting a tour and explanation of the church and then in prayer before moving on to our next stop, Cluny itself.
Cluny was an important location for the Church in the 10th-12th centuries, as it led a great reform (known as the Cluniac Reform) of the monasteries and the church in general throughout Europe. In response to corruption in the church of the day, it called for a return to the charisms of benedictine life of simplicity, prayer and holiness, and caring for the poor. They founded many ‘daughter’ abbeys throughout France, England, Spain, and Italy, which spread their reform across Europe.
The great church of the Abbey of Cluny was almost completely destroyed during the French Revolution, with only one tower still standing. But you can still walk through the foundation and see where the church once stood. There is a museum there now, and we were able to learn more about not only the abbey, but the architectural wonder that this church was. In its day, it was one of the largest churches ever built in its day, and represents a high point in this style of Romanesque architecture.
It was a good place to visit not only for the historical and architectural standpoints, though some of us greatly enjoyed learning more on that. But also to see some of the ramifications of the great wars that raged through this part of the world. In our Church History class this past year, we learned about the French Revolution in the 1700’s and the “Wars of Religion” in the 1500’s, and the thousands of priests and religious who were exiled or killed. But to see the destruction firsthand and stand where these great churches once stood, or where these great saints were once buried (as in the case of St. Irenaeus a few days ago) truly made the history real. I’m glad we stopped there.
After returning to Ars we all relaxed and dried off. (did I say it rained all day? It did.) Some of us went to the basilica for Evening Prayer in French, while the rest of us met up to pray together in English. We then had our dinner and enjoyed the rest of the evening on our own.
Tomorrow is another day of prayer in Ars.