Thoughts from a young theologian

Voici ce cœur

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…

Here's a little bit of the city streets

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.

A picture of the basilica by the river

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.

The basilica20130903-202616.jpg

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!

Chapel of the Visitation

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.Chapel of St. Claude

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…

ESM 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:

ESM Manila:

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!!!




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