Saturday, April 30, 2011

give until it hurts, then give a little more.

Part of a talk I had to give when I led a retreat:

In August that summer, going into junior year, I went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. A priest, Father Wayne, brought forty high school kids to Lourdes to help the sick people, or malades (‘sick people’ in French), there for a week. For those of you who don’t know, Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette in Lourdes. Now, there is holy water there that runs 24/7 and many people go there to not only see where Mary appeared, but to be dipped in the holy water. Our job for the week was to bring the malades wherever they needed to go as they were in chariots, these chairs that looked like a wagon and a wheelchair mixed.

We had a chance to be dipped in the baths during our free time. You have to sit in a very long line and you say the rosary the entire time with everyone else there. That atmosphere right away provokes thoughts and emotions of how special Lourdes is. The water is freezing when you are finally immersed in it, but totally worth it. It feels completely refreshing and as if every impurity of yours is washed away. We also got to visit the grotto in the middle of the night. The grotto looks like a mini cave and it is where Mary appeared to Bernadette. It is also where the first spring of holy water came up, when Bernadette dug after Mary told her to. What is so special about going at night is that there isn’t the usual crowd filling up the walkway. Also, the candles illuminating so brightly in the dark make it seem even more magical than it is.

We all couldn’t go the same day, so usually only a group of about five people went each night. I chose to go the night after we went through a walking Stations of the Cross. Father Wayne asked us questions along the way that really made everyone think about his or her lives and the obstacles everyone faces. Because of this, it ended up being very emotional. It allowed me to fully break down about everything that had happened with my dad and the obstacles that came because of it. Everyone showed me so much support during the Stations, especially a couple people who walked with me the entire time.

I was still emotional when my two friends, Lizzie and Kathryn, and I got to the grotto. We walked through the grotto, touching the rocks that Bernadette must have touched, and standing where Bernadette must have stood. After lighting a candle and praying, we went to sit at a bench not too far from the grotto. We spent the next hour and a half just unloading everything about our lives to each other, crying and being there for each other the entire time. It was raining at this point, but we didn’t care. It felt so good to talk about everything that had happened in my family, and to have two amazing people there for me and listening to me.

The malades also taught me so much while I was there. Their intense faith and hope touched me to my core. When we would bring them through the grotto, they would be crying as they took it all in and touched the holy water running down the stones. Although they may not have been physically healed while in Lourdes, they were healed spiritually and emotionally. They never lost their optimism and cheerfulness towards us and towards life in general. Even though none of us could speak French, we all got very close with our malades through smiles, hugs, and compassion. Even though they are not your stereotypical leaders, these malades showed me Christian leadership. They taught me that we cannot control everything in our lives. However, we can control how we react to obstacles and hardships. These malades showed me the perseverance, hope, and optimism they have that get them through the hard times they go through.

This trip really opened my eyes to my faith. It helped me form a strong relationship with Mary and with God. Before, I was had always gone to mass every Sunday and thought of myself as fairly religious, but I never had a personal relationship with God. Lourdes allowed me to reflect on all my obstacles, and adopt a new sense of strength and reliance that God has a plan for us and would never make us go through something we can’t handle. I came home feeling fully rejuvenated and ready to face whatever was to come my way.

That next April, my parents actually also got the chance to go to Lourdes. Instead of helping others like I did, my dad was a “malade” through the Order of Malta. He got to experience all the aspects of Lourdes through another perspective, a VIP one, as all malades in Lourdes are treated as VIPs. Like the other malades that I met, my dad was spiritually healed. Although he cannot remember it today without being reminded, his faith and his hope for a long, healthy life was deepened. My mom, his caregiver, was also emotionally healed. She got to refresh her faith and get that extra boost of strength and hope that she needed.

The next summer, going into senior year, I was asked to be a leader on the Lourdes pilgrimage. As a leader on Lourdes, we were in charge of a small group who met every night to discuss their ups and downs, what struck them about the day, etc. We all had to guide the new pilgrims into serving the malades and putting their whole heart into the service. We also led them into fully appreciating Lourdes and learning just how special one’s faith can be.
Being in Lourdes again brought back all the intense emotions that it provoked last summer. I found a complete sense of peace and acceptance, and realized that my life wasn’t as bad as I thought. Although my family has gone through some struggles, I have a lot of people who love and care about me and that’s more than others could say. I found a deep appreciation for my family and for those who are always there for me and care about me.

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