February 11 is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Below are some pictures of the enchanting town of Lourdes, France, from my visit there in October of 2015. Situated at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, Lourdes is a beautiful little town, complete with a Medieval castle overlooking the area. Lourdes is the site of a series of 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous in 1958, over the course of several months. During one of the apparitions, Mary directed Bernadette to find a spring in the grotto, instructing people to drink from the water and to wash themselves with it.
The grotto of the apparition has been well preserved. Pilgrims are able to enter, touch the walls, and view the location, now behind Plexiglass, where Bernadette found the spring. A beautiful church complex was built over the rock formation in which the grotto is located. More recently, under the promenade leading to the grotto, a huge, modern-style basilica was built, large enough to accommodate 25,000 people, making it the third largest basilica in the world. This underground church might initially strike visitors more as a backup parking garage rather than as a church, but the space has a power of its own in its aggressive starkness. Ironically, the basilica is named after St. Pius X, who was not exactly a fan of modernity.
5 million people visit Lourdes every year. Pilgrims can drink from the water and are able to bathe in it through an elaborate, stream-lined process. Visitors can also tour the buildings where Bernadette lived while she was at Lourdes. From March through October, thousands of people participate in a nightly candle light procession, involving multi-lingual prayers. A nightly Eucharistic procession is also held in the underground basilica. Close to the grotto, a life-sized set of the Stations of the Cross winds up the side of a wooded hill, inviting pilgrims to a prayerful walk, with a stunning view of the surrounding area.
Lourdes has a profound spiritual power, and from a spiritual perspective, the experience of this shrine was an amazing spiritual highlight. On the other hand, the rows and rows of shops selling all kinds of articles of commercialized religion can be disturbing and spiritually deflating. God and mammon are both present in this place - it is our choice which we embrace.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
On the outskirts of Jerusalem, in the village of Ein Karem, high up on a hill, accessible by way of 150 stairs, stands the beautiful Church of the Visitation, marking the spot where, according to tradition, Mary came to see her cousin Elizabeth, as recounted by the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:39-56). The building is full of lovely frescoes and mosaics. Since October 2 was the feast of the Guardian Angles, I though I'd share some pictures of the angel frescoes from the Church of the Visitation in the Holy Land.
Saturday, August 6, 2016
August 6 is celebrated as the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Catholic Church, commemorating the events described in Matthew 17:1–9, Mark 9:2–8, and Luke 9:28–36. Traditionally, Christians regard Mt. Tabor in northern Israel as the site of the Transfiguration. Today, a beautiful Franciscan Church stands at the top of the mountain. To access the site, pilgrims must either hike or hire the services of Bedouin drivers, who shuttle visitors back and forth in small vans on a steep, switchback road. On a clear day, the peak of Mt. Tabor affords a good view of the surrounding verdant country side.