29 April 2008

May 1: Le Fête du Muguet

On the first of May, 1561, King Charles IX of France received some muguet (lily-of-the-valley) for luck, and began the tradition of handing out these flowers to those in his court. In 1889, May 1st was adopted as Labour Day in France, and in the early 1900s, vendors began selling sprigs of lily-of-the-valley in the streets. The French government, usually strict about enforcing vending licenses, gives free reign to any to sell muguet on May Day—the caveat being that it must be wild and not cultivated (which is reserved only for florists). They are also allowed to sell them free of taxation.

No one works on this day (except for café owners), and one traditionally gives a little bouquet of muguet to friends to wish them happiness and good luck. The holiday surely stems in part from Le Fête de l’Ascension, long ago secularized by the state and made into a day of rest and general good will. Other Catholic feast days are still celebrated in France, like Toussaint (All Saints) and the Feast of the Assumption, but likewise have been turned into secular holidays by the state. Catholics, of course, attend Mass on the Solemnity of the Ascension, honoring the real reason behind the holiday: the triumph of Our Lord over death and sin and the perfect accomplishment of His mission in returning to the Father.

28 April 2008

Patissier Vannier

One of the many typical patisseries in town, and of particular interest to my husband as it is the name of the French line on his father’s side. The patisseries often double as boulangeries; we often get our baguettes (far more a staple of la vie française than American life) warm first thing in the morning from the patisseries right around the corner from our apartment.


The weather was glorious, and so, after Mass, we decided to head back into town for a day’s worth of meandering. After a kebab-frites (shared with the pigeons), the Mr. and Mrs. sat down for a grand café and thé au lait, respectively, on the Place de la Liberté, while the children ran through the fountains on the square.

Marie & Michael gamboling in the water. The Palais des Ducs, seat of the Dukes of Burgundy, is in the background

Afterwards, we visited the old Bernardine monastery. The first order of Cistercian nuns was founded in Tart in 1125, then transferred to Dijon in 1623. The monastery was completed in 1709, enjoying several decades of peace and stability until the Revolution swept through and, as with so many other sacred places, was overtaken, the nuns chased out of town. Today the cloister houses the Museum of Burgundian life, while the chapel houses the Museum of Sacred Art.

Mom and children heading into the museum…

The High Altar of the Cistercian chapel, with a depiction of the Visitation.

Interior view of the rotunda

Le Petit Roi de Grâce. The original is housed in the Carmel of Beaune, a nearby city south of Dijon. It is associated with Ven. Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament, who was shown a vision of the Infant Jesus and taught to say a chaplet in His honor.

Relics Galore!

St. Bernard of Clairvaux was born in Dijon in 1091, and went on to found seventy-two Cistercian monasteries in France during his lifetime. In 2004, this nineteenth century reliquary was processed from the museum to St. Bernard’s birthplace several kilometers away on the 850th anniversary of his death. Unfortunately, instead of remaining there in the basilica built in his honor, it had to be returned to the museum, along with the other sacred items plundered by the government.

Close-up of the reliquary and St. Bernard’s rib.

Bones of St. Bénigne, patron saint of Dijon (scroll down to see the ancient crypt and sarcophagus in which he was buried), of St. Vincent Martyr, and of St. Médard, Bishop of Noyon.

Skullcaps of St. Bartholomew, St. Lucy, St. Victor, and two of the 11,000 virgins

Michael gets past the rope and climbs up the old pulpit. An indication of his future vocation perhaps?

A side room housing, among other things, two glass cases lined with row on row of sacred vessels.

Ciboria, chalices, and patens that once held the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord, looted by Jacobins during the Revolution and now sitting behind sterile glass panels rather than in tabernacles and on altars, where they belong.

Anterior view of St. Bénigne Cathedral (our parish), built in the 13th century above the resting place of the saint and martyr.

Descending into the Crypt…

It was about 20 degrees colder down here. To the right is a side altar with an image of the San Damiano crucifix; I'm midway through bowing before it...

Marie lets us know where she is…

The rotunda, where the priests sometimes say their Divine Office.

Sarcophagus of St. Bénigne

This stone is the last remains of the sarcophagus where the body of St. Bénigne rested for centuries—priest, apostle of the country, martyred around the year 200 according to ancient tradition.

Shelter of the Sepulcher of St. Bénigne and of numerous tombs long ago arranged around it, this crypte was, in past centuries, a celebrated center of pilgrimage. Here the Dijonnais and all of Christendom venerated with devotion the relics of the priest-martyr, apostle of the country, and those of St. Jacques, bishop of Toulouse, St. Eustade, first Abbot of the monastery, St. Paschasie, Virgin of Dijon. Here popular homage piously surrounded the tombs of the holy married couple Hilaire and Quiète, the virgine Floride, the holy Fathers Isaac, Argrimus, Garnier the First, bishop of Langres, a saint carrying the name of Radegonde, the Venerable Alette, mother of St. Bernard. On this soil permeated with the virtue of ashes so long kept, flocked by the believing masses for a thousand years and more, the Christian is touched, kneels, and prays.

A kneeler is directly below the plaque for those wishing to pray to the saint of Dijon and the others here honored.

We afterwards planned to take the bus up to Fontaine-les-Dijon, birthplace of St. Bernard, whose once-rundown basilica has been beautifully restored by the FSSP, and where Mass in the extraordinary form is held each week. The children were getting rather tired, though, so we returned home instead for a bit of rest... Perhaps next Sunday!

23 April 2008

Spiritual Maternity

I have my mother to thank for what I have become and the way that I got there!
--St. Augustine

Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it goes through the heart of a mother!
--Pope St. Pius X

Let us live for souls, let us be apostles, let us save especially the souls of priests.
--St. Thérèse of Lisieux

To offer yourself for souls is beautiful and great… but to offer yourself for the souls of priests is so beautiful, so great, that you would have to have a thousand lives and offer your heart a thousand times…
--Bd. Maria Deluil Martiny

From the Congregation for the Clergy:

Independent of age or social status, any woman can become a mother for priests. This type of motherhood is not only for mothers of families, but is just as possible for an unmarried girl, a widow, or for someone who is ill. It is especially pertinent for missionaries and religious sisters who have given their lives entirely to God for the sanctification of others. John Paul II even thanked a child for her motherly help: “I also express my gratitude to Bl. Jacinta for the sacrifices and prayers offered for the Holy Father, whom she saw suffering greatly.” (13 May 2000)

Every priest has a birth mother, and often she is a spiritual mother for her children as well. For example, Giuseppe Sarto, the future Pope Pius X, visited his 70-year-old mother after being ordained a bishop. She kissed her son’s ring and, suddenly pensive, pointed out her own simple silver wedding band saying, “Yes, Giuseppe, you would not be wearing that ring if I had not first worn mine.” Pope St. Pius X rightfully confirms his experience that, “Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it goes through the heart of a mother!”

One sees this particulary well in the life of St. Monica. Augustine, who lost his faith at the age of 19 while studying in Carthage, later wrote in his famous “Confessions” regarding his mother:“For love of me, she cried more tears than a mother would over the bodily death of her son. Nine years passed in which I wallowed in the slime of that deep pit and the darkness of falsehood. Yet that pious widow desisted not all the hours of her supplications, to bewail my case unto Thee where her prayers entered into Thy presence.”

After his conversion, Augustine said thankfully, “My holy mother never abandoned me. She brought me forth in her flesh, that I might be born to this temporal light, and in her heart, that I might be born to life eternal.”

St. Augustine always desired to have his mother present at his philosophical discussions. She listened attentively and sometimes intervened with such fine intuition that the scholars who had gathered were astounded by her inspired responses to intricate questions. It should come as no surprise then that Augustine described himself as her “disciple of philosophy”!

Eliza Vaughan, Mother of Six Priests
Eliza came from a strong Protestant family; in fact, it was one of the founders of the Rolls-Royce car company. Yet even during her childhood education in France, she was deeply impressed by the exemplary efforts of the Catholic Church toward the care of the poor.

After she married Colonel John Francis Vaughan in the summer of 1830, Eliza converted to the Catholic Faith, despite the objection of her relatives. During of the Catholic persecution in England under Queen Elisabeth I (1558-1603), the Vaughan’s ancestors preferred imprisonment and expropriation to being unfaithful to their beliefs.

Courtfield, the ancestral family home, became a place of refuge for priests during the decades of terror in England, a place where the Holy Mass was often celebrated secretly. Nearly three centuries had now passed, but the Catholic beliefs of the family had not changed.

So profound and zealous was Eliza’s religious conversion that she proposed to her husband to offer all of their children back to God.

Convinced of the power of silent, faithful prayer, Eliza spent an hour in adoration every day praying for vocations in her family. The mother of six priests and four religious sisters, her prayer was bountifully heard. Mother Vaughan died in 1853 and was buried in the grounds of her beloved family property, Courtfield.
Of the 13 children that lived, six of her eight boys became priests: two priests in religious orders, one diocesan priest, a bishop, an archbishop and a cardinal. From the five daughters, four became nuns in religious orders.
The Vaughan children enjoyed a pleasant childhood because their virtuous mother knew how to educate them in a very natural way by uniting spiritual and religious obligations with amusement and cheerfulness. Thanks to their mother, prayer and daily Mass in the house chapel were just as much a part of everyday life as music, athletics, amateur theatre, horse riding and playing. It was never boring for the children when their mother told them stories from the lives of the saints, who little by little became their dearest friends.

Eliza happily let her children accompany her on visits to the sick and needy of the area. On such occasions, they learned how to be generous, to make sacrifices and to give away their savings or their toys.

Shortly after the birth of her 14th child, Eliza died. Two months after her death, Colonel Vaughan wrote in a letter that he was convinced divine providence brought Eliza to him. “I thanked the Lord in adoration today that I could give back to him my dearly beloved wife. I poured out my heart to him, full of thankfulness that, as an example and a guide, he gave me Eliza with whom I am still now bound by an inseparable, spiritual bond. What wonderful consolation and grace she brought me! I still see her as I always saw her before the Blessed Sacrament: her inner purity and extraordinary human kindness which her beautiful face reflected during prayer.”

17 April 2008

In 1675, a nun of the Visitation Order in the obscure little town of Paray-le-Monial received a vision of Christ in the monastery's chapel. He showed her His Heart and said, “See here the Heart that has so loved men, to the point of exhausting and consuming itself to witness to its love, and in return I receive from most ingratitude…” St. Margaret Mary was entrusted with the task of spreading devotion to His Most Sacred Heart. Thus in this forgotten little part of the world, the Sacred Heart devotion began, and has since spread through all the earth.

It is here we came on our second pilgrimage, and received the great grace of consecrating our family to the Sacred Heart. I had wanted to do the act of consecration for some time, but to have the chance to do it here, in the town where it all began, where the remains of the apostle of the Sacred Heart and her most trusted advisor and friend rest, was a blessing indeed.

The nearby Romanesque Basilique de Notre-Dame de Paray-le-Monial was consecrated in 977, and remained a Benedictine priory until the fall of l’Ancien Régime after the Revolution.

The Visitandine Monastery and its chapel (la Chapelle des Apparitions) are on this street, as well as our lodgings.

Dad and daughter on the way to the Foyer

Our lodging, the Foyer du Sacré-Coeur, sits just across the way from the chapel where St. Margaret Mary received her visions. In the background you can see a spire of the basilica.

View of la Chapelle des Apparitions from our window

The Sacred Heart statue above the Apparition chapel

Interior of la Chapelle des Apparitions.

I am making you the heiress of My Heart. Statue of St. Margaret Mary within which her incorrupt heart is encased.

The grille behind which the Visitandines participate in the Mass, and where St. Margaret Mary would receive Holy Communion.

A side chapel dedicated to Our Lady.

The little confessional in the back of the church, where the Heart of Jesus pours forth His mercy upon penitents.

It is in this sanctuary that Our Lord spoke these great words: “Here is My Heart that has so loved men!”

Just a block away is La Chapelle Colombière, built in honor of St. Margaret Mary’s confessor, the Jesuit saint Claude de la Colombière. In a vision, Jesus told St. Margaret Mary that He would send her His “true and perfect friend.” Shortly afterward, St. Claude arrived to become her spiritual director.

Interior of La Chapelle Colombière

After eighteen months at Paray-le-Monial, St. Claude was appointed official chaplain to Mary of Modena, wife of James the Duke of York. He came to St. James’s Palace to live in the last days of King Charles II. A fellow Frenchman later accused him of “converting heretics” and speaking ill of the King; this was the same year as the alleged Titus Oates plot, and thus a Jesuit living in the very Palace of the King would hardly be looked upon favorably by the non-Catholic public. He was imprisoned and interrogated, then banished from England, not before his health began to fail. He returned to Paray and was offered only light duties because of his fragile state. Towards his death, St. Margaret Mary sent him a note informing him that Our Lord wanted him to make the sacrifice of his life at Paray; he therefore withdrew his request to leave the town, and died shortly thereafter at the age of forty-one.

King Charles officially converted to the Catholic faith on his deathbed.

Shrine to St. Claude. He was the first to believe St. Margaret Mary’s visions and to espouse her cause. Through his help, the prioress and other nuns also came to believe in the message of the Sacred Heart.

Relics of St. Claude

This chapel built in 1930 contains the reliquary where the Jesuit Saint Claude de la Colombière reposes. Born in 1641, died in 1682, spiritual advisor to Saint Margaret Mary. Canonized in 1992. On October 1986, Pope John Paul II ended his pilgrimage here at Paray-le-Monial

Anterior view of the Basilica from the Parc des Chapelains

Federation of Cluniac Sites. The Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, founded in the tenth century in nearby Mâcon, became the leader of western monasticism in the Middle Ages, founding monasteries and churches throughout France and Europe. The Basilica of Paray-le-Monial is considered a “site clunisien par excellence.”

Interior of the basilica, renovated and whitewashed, as so many other churches, into more modern, minimalist appearance

Original High Altar

Anterior view of the High Altar with light from the stained glass windows

The Lady Chapel, where the Sacred Host is reserved.

Another view of the basilica

Our Lady of Sorrows

Allée behind the basilica

Grotto of Christ and St. Michael on the grounds of the Parc des Chapelains

Rotunda in the Chaplains’ Park

Cor Sacratissimum Iesu, miserere nobis!