Conni and I traveled recently to London where she had a speaking engagement. We then took the train to Paris for three days of sight-seeing and glorious over-eating. The food in France really is even better than they say. We saw the Eiffel Tower up-close and the Louvre. We even had a half-day guided tour of Versailles. The French people whom we met were very friendly. We found the city itself to be remarkably clean and quiet. Drivers do not honk their horns. It was a delight to walk the beautiful streets window shopping in what felt like a dreamland of chocolate shops and bakeries. I hope to travel there again one day.
But the high point of the trip for me was not one of the usual tourist spots. It was the visit we made one morning to a sacred place on a quiet street, 140 Rue du Bac, The Chapel of the Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. It was here at midnight July 17, 1830, that the Virgin Mary appeared to Sister Catherine Labouré, a young nun who had just entered the convent. Catherine told her confessor that Mary spoke to her for two hours, telling her many things that would soon happen in France, all of which came to pass. Mary appeared to her again a few months later, on November 27, telling her to have a medal struck that the faithful should wear around their necks. The medal was to depict Mary, as she appeared to Catherine, standing on a globe with rays of light coming forth from her outstretched hands. And the medal was to read “Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Catherine’s story is long and involved but the bottom line is that eventually the medal was struck and because of it thousands of people in France experienced conversions and astonishing miracles, so much so that the medal became known as “the miraculous medal”. This is really a beautiful and inspirational story of faith. If you have a computer, look up the miraculous medal and read about it. Better yet, buy a miraculous medal and begin to wear it. I’ll be glad to bless it for you on the altar.
But there is a detail to this story of supernatural grace that particularly fascinates me. It’s what I most wanted to see for myself and what I wish to bring to your attention here. The church discovered by accident back in the 700s as they were transferring the remains of Saint Cecilia from one grave to another that her body had not decomposed. Cecilia, a young Christian girl who was killed for her faith by the Romans in the first century, had been in the ground for over six-hundred years. And yet when they exhumed her body they found it showed no signs of decomposition.
Since then, as part of the process of beatification, the church has exhumed the bodies of would-be saints. Over one- hundred saints have been discovered to be what they call “incorruptible.” Catherine Laboure died in 1876. Over 50 years later, in 1933, her body was exhumed and found to be supple and fresh. Her eyes were as blue as they were in life. Her body is now at rest in a glass tomb beneath the altar where Mary appeared to her. It was a privilege to kneel quietly before her tomb and pray. In the midst of that busy city, I found in this sanctuary a tranquil reminder that Heaven is always breaking in on us. God has much to teach us; if only we will listen with faith and open our hearts to wonder.
Fr. Jansen String