The Path of Consolation

I've been home from Lourdes, France for a little over a week where I spent 10 days on Pilgrimage with North American Lourdes Volunteers. I promised I would blog all about this experience, but so many things come rushing to the forefront of my mind when I sit down to write, so I will be breaking the experience up into various articles so I can chew on it some more and you don't have to sit here reading an entire novel in one sitting. ;)

Lourdes, for those of you who do not know, is a Marian shrine in Lourdes, France where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette when she was just a teen. She appeared to her 18 times and the message she gave to Bernadette is one of the most humble, holy stories I have ever heard. If you haven't heard about Bernadette - google it until I have a chance to blog that part! It's amazing and will remind you that no matter how small you think you are, God's plan for you is huge.

The service aspect of this trip was the most profound. So profound that the words don't necessarily flow as easily as I had hoped they would. I'll get there eventually as I keep journaling, but for now, I am going to start with my story of walking The Path of Consolation. 

A few days before our trip, my Priest called me into his office and shared with me a brand new area that was added to the Sanctuary in Lourdes within the last year called the Path of Consolation. This grotto area is located at the very end of the "High Stations of the Cross". The high stations are located within the side of a mountain that you walk up and pray the stations as you go. The Stations of the Cross are essentially the Passion of Christ and His journey to Crucifixion. Imagine meditating on that experience while physically hiking up the side of a mountain and physically exerting yourself. You're dripping in sweat, you're breathing heavily, your heart is pounding and you're visually looking at giant gold statues of Jesus carrying his cross, falling, Mary weeping, Jesus being crucified. It is a very emotional experience in itself and one I will never forget.

At the end of the stations, when you're completely physically and emotionally exhausted, you begin to walk back down the mountain and at the very end, there is a path you can veer off to the right called The Path of Consolation. This is an area specific for parents who have lost children, like our Mother, Mary. It's a place where you can go to find consolation in your grief and your loss and feel comforted that Mary, too, knows exactly how you feel. I knew I wanted to see this area all week, but the timing and service work that needed done never allowed me the opportunity until the very last day. At one point throughout the week, I had experienced such healing that I debated NOT visiting the Path of Consolation because I felt so good already and I was so into the service aspect of the trip that I knew none of this was about me any longer, but when the time eventually presented itself, I knew I had to go. I thought this would be a fountain or small pond, but in actuality, it's a cave. Outside the cave is Mary and Mary Magdalene standing at the foot of the cross where Jesus is Crucified. I stood outside the cave for a minute taking it all in and wondering..... "Do I really need to go in there? I've already had such profound experiences here in Lourdes... what if this isn't what I think it will be?"

Upon entering the cave, the first statue you see is Mary Magdalene weeping at the foot of the cross. This pulled at my heart because I can only imagine her love for Jesus - the man who didn't judge her for her sins, but instead, showed her mercy and forgiveness. As I rounded the corner, there it was.... what I needed to see, personally.....

The Pieta.

The image of the Pieta holds such a special place in my heart because my Pap, who passed in January, read his "little blue book" of Pieta prayers every single day for as long as I can remember. He would give a copy of the book to everyone, leave them in adoration chapels, and hand them out randomly. My Dad gave me one my Pap gave him that I take to Mass with me and pray each week. When I rounded the corner and saw the Pieta - Mary, holding Jesus after He's been taken off the cross, I whispered to myself.... "Hi, Pap. Why am I not surprised to find you here...."

In front of the Pieta statue are hundreds of candles you light for your children who have passed. I lit a candle and was about to go on my way when a man who worked there asked "Are you looking for the book of life?" I knew what he was talking about, but I was honestly too shy to ask about it, so I was planning to light my candle and be on my way.

"Yes," I squeaked out to him.

The book of life is a book where you can write the names of your children who have died so people will continue to pray for them.

"Go down to the information center and tell them you're looking for the book of life" the man said. "We changed the process recently and they will be able to point you in the right direction".

Off I went to the information center.

There, I met a British Priest who told me that they no longer have a book, but rather, boxes for different types of child loss. You write your children's names down and they put them in a box where various orders of nuns pray for those children. One box is for miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, and infant loss. One for kids who die from illness or violence. And a third box for children who are missing.

I left a lot of pain and suffering and guilt and grief behind in Lourdes.

I also left behind the names of my children and children in my family who passed away to be prayed for by women way closer to Jesus than myself.


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