Families, Happiness, and Frolicking around France
I don’t want to bore you with holiday pics, but indulge me just a little bit – I’ve just returned from an epic weeklong road trip around France. It’s left us with many memories – frolicking around chateaux, an evening sailing and picnicking down the Loire, and too much wine, cheese and escargots to mention… But, there were deeper impressions too… Let me share one.
You may know that, this week, we are expecting the arrival of the relics of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin in our diocese. It was pure coincidence that I happened to be in France the week before, and every church I stepped into, I seemed to bump into statues, icons, and relics of the saintly couple.
One was in an old country church just outside Tours. We had been encouraged to visit by some friends we stayed with who recently got married there. The parish is called L’Ile Bouchard and going inside, you would think it was just a normal parish, although there is a deep sense of prayer and peace at daily Mass. After Mass, we were able to find out a little more. Back in 1947, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, four little girls went into the church to pray to Our Lady. The Sisters at their school had encouraged them to pray especially to her that day. As they prayed a decade of the Rosary, the girls saw before them a beautiful apparition of Our Lady, with the angel Gabriel kneeling down before her. Over the next week, the “Beautiful Lady” appeared to them several times more, during which she gave them messages. One of the most powerful messages was: “I will give families happiness.” The parish church has since been officially recognised by the Church as a place of pilgrimage, and the “Beautiful Lady” who appeared has been given the title, “Our Lady of Prayer”. You can read more about it here: www.ilebouchard.com.
I love the story of Blessed Louis and Zelie because it is very real. They suffered as a family – with four infant deaths, with the struggle of running two businesses (watch-making and lace-making) alongside raising a family, and ultimately with Zelie’s own death which was the cause of immense suffering for the daughters and Louis Martin. Even as each daughter discerned her vocation as a nun, the family suffered a little bit more with the pain of each fresh separation. And yet, happiness is evident in their lives when you read the writings of St Therese – their lives were utterly plunged in God and his Blessed Mother.
The message of Our Lady of Prayer is such an encouraging one for families! Yes, there will be suffering: anxiety about children, financial stress, exhaustion, even tragedy. (As someone who isn’t married, I won’t pretend to know much at all about these struggles, although I witness them all the time in my friends and family.) But our Blessed Mother has made a promise – to give families happiness – not only in Heaven, but here on earth.
The other aspect I loved about the message of L’Ile Bouchard, was the fact that Our Lady appeared in a very ordinary parish church. My friend told me that when she was asked why she appeared there, she said it was because of the faithfulness of the people. Can you imagine if Our Lady were to say that about your parish?! In fact – can you imagine what would happen if a miracle such as this happened in your parish… an apparition of Our Lady, or some other miracle – perhaps a miraculous healing or a particular sign. We tend to think that the miraculous doesn’t happen, but I am convinced it does and would happen more in our parishes, if we increased in faith and faithfulness and expectant prayer.
Our Lady of Prayer – Teach us to Pray!