So things have started to pick up, life-wise here in Namur… I’ve been in the seminary for a little over a week now and we’re already starting to get flooded with work. I’ve got 11 courses this semester, ranging from Canon Law to Fundamental Morality to Christology to St. Mark… I’m also starting a little bit of Hebrew this year – though for this semester, we’ll be spending most of our time looking at the Jewish culture and tradition. I’ve heard that this particular course includes a visit later on in the year to the Jewish museum in Brussels, as well as a visit to the Grand Synagogue of Brussels. That, I’m really looking forward to and I’ll be sure to post on those when the opportunity comes up.
The seminary here in Namur is the official seminary of all the French speaking seminarians of Belgium. So, we have here seminarians from Namur, Brussels, Liège, etc. all gathered in the same place… There are also seminarians here from Redemptoris Mater, the neo-catechumenal community based here in Belgium, as well as seminarians from a new community – The Fraternity of the Holy Apostles, who are inspired by the ministry of a very famous priest in Marseilles in the South of France named Père Michel-Marie Zanotti. I’ve heard echoes around here of him being almost like a young curé of Ars. His parish is apparently completely on fire and his reputation is spreading quickly here in Europe. I only know very little about him, as Marseilles is at the other end of the continent and I’ve never had the opportunity of going there. I know he goes everywhere in a cassock… he’s a very good preacher… he’s taken extraordinary care of the liturgy in his parish… Anyway, he’s inspired a whole bunch of young men to establish among themselves this new community that is now studying for the priesthood here with us in Namur. I’ve attached a youtube link of the Paschal Vigil of Fr. Michel-Marie as well as a photo from the room where we study in the seminary here.
In addition to my studies, I’ve also started getting busier and busier in the community. Each month, we hold a “Community Weekend” where members of the community of Namur and Wallonie meet for a day of semi-retreat with Mass, teachings, adoration and praise together. This year, I’ve been told to help out with the community and parish adolescents… So for the first community weekend, which was held in Beauraing (one of two Marian apparition sanctuaries here in Belgium), we decided to bike from Rochefort to Beauraing, a good 30-40 kilometers away. This I did a few days after biking all the way to Dinant and back (see the last post I made) so I was completely exhausted by the end of it… Along the way, we biked past the great Trappist abbey of Rochefort where we celebrated Mass with the parish priest of the Namur community, Fr. Cedric. We were there welcomed by one of the Trappist monks, who gave us a tour of the monastery. The monastery, which isn’t in fact that that old (relatively speaking) is known today not just for being a great Trappist abbey but for being one of the few Trappist monasteries in the world who fabricate their own beer. Rochefort beer is very well known all over the world! The monk in fact who welcomed us handles the secretariat and treasury work of the brewery which is located on the monastery grounds itself.
He told us the story of how, once a week, he’s charged with tasting the beer to ensure its quality and he shared with us how he does it. He said he’s presented 4 glasses of beer labelled A, B, C and D and he has no idea which is which. He tastes A… mmmmm strawberries… He tastes B… Oh Wow! That’s awful! Terrible quality! Then he tastes C… Mmmmm tastes like cinnamon… and finally he tastes D… mmmmm cherries! Then he finds out what these beer corresponds to. A and D are the beers that the monastery will be shipping out the following week. C is the beer that was kept for a year or so… apparently, the taste changes as the beer ages. B is not beer from Rochefort… c”,) We all had a good laugh at that…
He also shared us some of the monastic life – how he gets up everyday a little past 3… how he spends almost the entire morning in prayer… how he’s not allowed to speak with any of the other monks, except during chapter meetings. Contrary to the Benedictines, Trappists have no recreation time! Here’s a picture of the brewery from the outside, by the way… If you look carefully, you should be able to see from the windows the stuff they use to brew their beer.
From Rochefort, we biked along a very beautiful bike path that took us past forests, rivers and some magnificent castles as well! Here are some pictures from the ride!
Anyways, I can’t post for too long… Like I said, I’m flooded now with work I need to do so my posts are going to have to be, from this point on, short and concise! Please keep me in your prayers! God bless!!!!
Dear readers… It’s starting to get more and more challenging to blog… Today, in fact marks the beginning of the school year for us here in the seminary. This evening, we’ll be in the Namur seminary for a lecture, Mass and a small buffet dinner. But these last few days leading up have been extremely busy as we did a couple of mini pilgrimages together to areas in and around Belgium.
The first place we visited was a priory of Cluny. Priories are churches/monasteries that were established by one bigger monastery in some other place and remain dependent upon their founding monastery. This one, coming once more from the massive monastery of Cluny, is called St. Sèverin and it’s about an hour’s drive from where we live. Us seminarians along with the priest who’s in charge of us went there to spend the day together before all the craziness of the year began. And it’s quite a beautiful little church, that one—with tons of history. The priory itself was established around the year 1091 and the church was constructed during the first half of the 12th century. One of the monks who lived here was an architect for Cluny so the style of the church greatly resembles that of its mother.
Another little interesting tidbit that the parish priests shared with us of the church was its baptistery. It’s apparently a very rare piece of Syrian inspiration (I hope you’ve been praying for that country too). The sculptor was thought to have been inspired from ideas and images brought in from the crusades.
Well, as usual we didn’t just come in here to admire the church… we ended up celebrating Mass here together, we spent some time in Eucharistic adoration and we had lunch here too—this place happens to be a stopover hostel point for pilgrims coming down from the Netherlands and Germany on the Camino… That’s something I dream of doing one day—maybe I’ll even try to blog while on it! Who knows… hehehehe Anyway, it’s not uncommon for people here in Europe to take a week or a month off to start up the Camino up to a certain point, stopping and then resuming from there the next time. That way, their Camino ends up taking a few years in small intervals. That may be an option for this busy seminarian during the short summer vacation… Hehehhehe
Another little pilgrimage (by bike) we went on was to the beautiful little village of Dinant… but why write about it… I have a little surprise for you guys—I filmed while on it…
So there, you can see a bit of the countryside… This pilgrimage was really nice too because we were right by the river of the Meuse the entire way… Here are a few pictures and a final video of our day.
Finally, we arrived at Dinant… the first thing you can see as you bike up the river towards this beautiful little European village is the towering bell tower of an old church.
Then, as you cross the bridge, you are struck the fact that this town is surrounded by sculptures of saxophones. There’s a good reason for that… the inventor of saxophones, Mr. Sax, came from Dinant. So upon our arrival here, we immediately went for mass in that beautiful church I just showed you. This is one of those “You know you’re in Europe when… you walk into a church that’s as beautiful as this one”
After Mass, we biked over to the Norbertine monastery of Leffe. There, we had a nice picnic lunch, were welcomed by the Norbertine canons and were given a bit of a tour of the monastery. If Leffe sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is… It’s one of the Belgian monasteries that produce beer—the monks gave us a healthy serving of beer for us during lunch. We ended that day in silent adoration of Jesus in the monastery chapel.
Okay… I gotta get going… I got lots of work to do… Sigh… the life of a student… 😛
As promised, here is my little walking tour of Paray le Monial. Technically, I was there last week but if my experiences of this week give a little bit of a hint, it’ll be a tough year to keep up the blog once more… Theology as a seminarian with the Emmanuel Community will take up quite a bit of time but I’ll try my best to blog as often as I possibly can. I hope this little tour will inspire you guys to make the little pilgrimage out here so that some day we’ll hang out together and check out all the holy sights of the City of the Sacred Heart! Here’s a bit of what the city streets look like to get you started…
Paray le Monial is a little medieval city in the heart of the Bourgogne region of France, with the Bourbince river cutting right through the middle of it.
Once you get to Paray, perhaps the very first thing that will catch your eye is the magnificent Romanesque basilica. It was built in the 12th century by the monks of the nearby Cluny monastery who settled in the area in the year 973. If you google Cluny, I’m sure you’ll find a ton of stuff about this group of Benedictines who played an immense role in the expanse of medieval western monasticism throughout Europe. They are, I believe, the biggest monastery of all time. Unfortunately, the abbey church of Cluny was destroyed piece by piece during the French Revolution as locals scavenged all the stones and building material to construct their own houses. Today in Cluny, nothing remains of what was once a powerful congregation. Hints of the splendour of these monks though can be seen in some of the priory churches they left behind. Paray le Monial is one such place… Next time, I’ll chat with you guys about another place I visited (today, in fact) in Belgium that is another priory of Cluny. The grand basilica of the Sacred Heart is special though because it was constructed as a replica of the mother house which was destroyed.
You’d be surprised (or not) however to know that this grandiose basilica is not the centre point of Paray le Monial… In typical Jesus-like fashion (after all, he did choose to be born in a stable rather than an inn), the apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus took place not in the basilica but about 100 feet away in a tiny little chapel of the sisters of the Visitation. Beginning on the eve of December 27, 1673, a young Visitation sister named St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received visits from Our Lord in this little chapel with an important message. He showed her his heart on fire… burning deeply with love for humanity and yearning desperately almost for that love to be returned back to Him. Then, after a series of revelations asking for a feast (which is today the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, celebrated each year in the Catholic Church), Jesus during the octave to prepare for Corpus Christi (the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus… yeah… as Catholics we have a ton of awesome feasts), He appeared to her saying what is perhaps the most well known line of Paray le Monial: Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part, only ingratitude. We had an awesome time visiting the chapel that was capped off with the fact that the very last night of our seminarian entry retreat, we had a night of adoration in the Visitation chapel. I went with the guys in my room from the little hotel where we were staying to the chapel for the 3 – 4 am hour!
St. Margaret Mary isn’t the only saint of Paray le Monial, though she is the most well known. If you ever go and visit, after passing by the beautiful chapel of the Visitation and seeing the mosaic of the apparition decorating their back wall, as well as the glass casket housing the body of St. Margaret Mary, keep going down the road a little bit to the Jesuit chapel. There, you’ll find a golden sarcophagus housing the body of St. Claude de la Colombière… He was the Jesuit spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary who, at the time he met her (as you can probably imagine) was facing a ton of persecution from her peers who wouldn’t believe what she was telling them. St. Margaret Mary herself was starting to doubt these visions until Jesus told her basically not to worry because He’d send her his “perfect friend” to help her out – St. Claude de la Colombière. His story is fascinating as well! A very gifted Jesuit, he spent, I think just over a couple of years in Paray le Monial as the spiritual director of the Visitation sisters before he was sent over to Anglican England where, after a ton of persecution and imprisonment, he returned with the sickness that would eventually kill him. He’s known as the apostle of trust because most of his letters speak so beautifully of the importance of trusting Jesus. During my Ignatian discernment retreat last year, I spent quite a bit of time with him so I owe him a lot for helping me get to where I am now… so, to begin this year, I visited him once more and chanted softly the Veni Creator Spiritus to ask him, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to come and guide me this year.
Since the year 1985, the Emmanuel Community (to which I now belong) has been entrusted with all the pilgrimages to this site. The rector alongside a large number of the chaplains of the sanctuary are members of the community. Alongside that, the Community runs a School of Mission from Paray…
Just for your information, the Emmanuel Community runs 4 schools of evangelization and mission (in Paray le Monial, France; Altotting, Germany; Rome, Italy; and Manila, Philippines) during which young people (around 25 – 35 in total) from literally everywhere around the world come and live together, learning about their faith and how to share it with others. I’ve never been so I can’t say exactly all that they do but if it’s anything like the discernment year that I went through last year, I know that they live an intense and intimate community life together, they go off in missions and they take studies in either German, French or English (depending on the place) about the faith. It’s a fantastic year and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested. I’ve added the links for ESM Rome and Manila below for anyone who’s interested…
ESM Rome: http://www.esm-rome.com
ESM Manila: http://www.esm-manila.com
Okay… I think that’s enough for today… It’s getting quite late and I want to get to bed so thanks for reading! Hope to see you in Paray le Monial some day (the community also organizes massive summer and one winter session in Paray le Monial… There should be a forum this winter as well for anyone interested)… God bless! O Sacred Heart of Jesus… I place my trust in thee!!!