Be right there.

Heyyyyy, you guessed it: the Chartres pilgrimage is almost here and once again, I am really looking forward to it.

I haven’t really been keeping up with my blog posts (and by that I mean that I have barely written anything, but since I write mostly for my own benefit, I don’t think I’ve let anyone down), but I always find time to write something around Chartres time because this is when my levels of procrastination reach an all-time high as I have so many things to do, but so little will to do anything that is connected with packing my bag.

Would you believe that I have actually taken a day of holiday just to get these things done? That is how slow and disorganised I am (though apparently I am efficient at work. Hurray! If this could just happen in my personal life too, that would be great).

I firmly believe that the reason why I have so far avoided obesity is because I am so disorganised and slow when getting ready in the mornings, or at any time, that I speed-walk and sometimes run almost everywhere I go. So, if I am late to meet you, this isn’t a personal insult to you, I have a genuine problem. Sorry in advance.

slow snail

I think I will change the beginning of the year, and the time when I make all my resolutions, to the day after the Chartres pilgrimage. Last year, Fr Withoos read out a meditation on the writings of Blessed John Henry Newman on all the simple things we should do to become perfect and, to my surprise, I have actually followed quite a lot of those things and kept them up all year (see the post on that here). For one thing, I was not making my morning offering until hours after I got up and sometimes not at all. Since Chartres last year, I have (almost always) made some kind of morning offering as soon I wake up. I have not got to the point where I can pray a full rosary before breakfast like some people do, but the first thing I do now when I walk out the door in the morning is to start praying it, and I do believe that these things are almost all due to the graces earned on the Chartres pilgrimage.

There have been some setbacks too and a very kind lady sent me an email about modest dressing the other day after she sat in front of me at mass, so presumably this has also gone downhill. I have to say that some of my clothes were borderline Amish-style not so long ago, so I am trying to find a balance.

My sister stayed with me in November and commented that she had not seen me in trousers for two years, which is probably about right (that is, I am wearing trousers occasionally now). I think that, apart from gym clothes and stuff worn at home, I had not worn a pair of trousers for about that amount of time. I made a conscious effort to do that and I have let myself relax a bit on that front. I don’t know…I don’t believe in this not showing the tops of your arms thing, for instance. What is so seductive about that? Of course, dressing modestly is so important, but I am not going to wear ankle-length skirts. If God pulls me up on this, on my head be it, but for the moment I don’t see that I have to cover up as much as some people say. I have to watch the videos that I was sent by this lady. Maybe I’ll completely change my mind.

Speaking of clothes, vanity, hairstyles and all that, I have been having a meltdown over how to deal with my fringe and Chartres (sweat, baseball caps and no showers) for a while now. I have a full, thick fringe now (photo here of my colleague and me at a Christian exhibition yesterday). Watch this space for how hilarious and ugly my hair can get in less than a day. After this, nobody can say that I am unwilling to do extreme penance.

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British chapters

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The chapters of Our Lady of Walsingham and St Alban. I’m in the blue top and flowery skirt on the left.

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You can just about see my friend, Sammi, and me* here at the end of mass, as everyone was processing out of the cathedral. We need to get more girls in mantillas! Notice the beautiful banner for the chapter of Our Lady of Walsingham. Definitely one of the best banners on the pilgrimage, I’d say!

All pictures used here are from Joseph Shaw’s Flickr account and many more can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/josephshaw/

*aaaaaargh, I wrote “and I” at first. This is the fault of all those around me who wrongly use “and I”. All. Your. Fault.

I’m still alive!

Whew, I am finally back from the Chartres pilgrimage! Bit of a long journey back from Chartres and then an overnight stay in London but it was definitely worth it.

This was tough! I’ve only done it once before, but I thought it couldn’t get any harder than that because we were soaked most of the time. I take it all back. Give me the rain but not the heat! I burnt for only the third time in my life and I burnt really badly. Yep, rain and cold is my preferred climate, I have discovered.

You know how I said I would have to take clothes for rain and sun? Well, I was right! Most of the time, we were baking. It was boiling and so humid and it seems that a lot of people (from all the chapters in the pilgrimage) had to take breaks sometimes and get the bus to take them to the next stop. On the second day, Pentecost Sunday, the sun was very strong and I think that’s when everyone burned. Other times, like on the second night, we had thunder storms! On the third and last day, it rained early in the morning (with thunder and lightning) and then it was boiling. Then, just as we were about to walk up the hill to Chartres cathedral, the heavens opened! It cleared up during mass (our chapters were outside) and then it got hot again! Everyone was singing their hearts out as we walked up to the cathedral and I believe that there is no other feeling quite like that. I had to kiss the floor when we got to the top 🙂

It was crazy and really tough but I don’t regret a single step. I wanted to make sure that I did every single step because I knew that I could and that, for me, it was mind over matter. Some people who were with us, like my friend, had quite serious injuries (like arthritis), but they did the vast majority of the pilgrimage (and some who very elderly and had injuries did it all!), because it’s that good. I don’t mean that the walking itself is enjoyable. I mean, in itself, walking is great, but the pilgrimage is quite hellish because of the distance and the terrain, how quickly you have to walk and how short the breaks are. But, the graces that you receive from it are immeasurable. Also, when you finish each day, you know you’ve achieved something amazing, not for yourself, but for God. That is what makes me so proud to join with everyone else – I can’t imagine that anyone is there for their own glory, because it’s so difficult, you’d just give up. You have to keep the focus on God, and that’s what keeps you going.

This is like giving the finger to the Devil 8,000-10,000 times (the number of pilgrims who take part, that is). We’re not here for exercise or to socialise, this is penance and we are doing it for God’s greater glory! There is something amazing about looking in front of you and seeing a long winding line of pilgrims with flags and banners, all walking with a common spiritual goal.

If that wasn’t enough, when you see all the priests wearing a shirt, cassock, cotta and stole (not to mention all the religious in their habits) and walking it all, whilst singing, hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction, you realise how easy you have it. I do not understand how they do it, except by the grace of God.

One of the best things which I have heard that has come out of this pilgrimage is the conversion of a gentleman whose wife has walked the pilgrimage 18 times, praying for his conversion (what a great woman, eh?)! On the first day of the pilgrimage, he made his first Holy Communion. Thanks be to God! What a blessing for him and everyone who knows him. This is what hard penance and a few (!) Hail Marys can achieve.

I know that the Devil must hate this sort of endeavour, and during the pilgrimage, I felt quite down and started to feel very negative about myself. It’s strange, sometimes you get these feelings when you’re in a very holy environment. Of course, when you think about it, that’s quite normal because you become a prime target when you decide to put yourself through suffering for Our Lord. This is something so foreign and bizarre for most people in the modern world, and the Devil wants to do everything to discourage you. However, we have to remember that these things are all about God and not about ourselves. As soon as I finished the pilgrimage, I was on cloud nine, and I still feel like that now. Every bad feeling disappeared. The Devil must be furious 😉

I really feel like a new person now and I am determined to be a better Catholic this year. I’m going to change for the better and make sure that God is at the centre of my life. One of the meditations that we listened to was about Blessed John Henry Newman’s advice regarding achieving perfection in our lives. All the advice is very simple – go to bed early, get up as soon as you wake up, say your prayers as soon as you’re awake, pray the angelus devoutly, make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament on a daily basis and other things. These are all things that I can do and here is this saint telling me that if I do this, I can become a perfect child of God! Well, what am I waiting for? This pilgrimage reminded me that I cannot afford to make excuses; I don’t know when God will take me.
See below the quote on which the meditation was based…

It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection—short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.
We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic—not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings—but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound—we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.
He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.
I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim. If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first—Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.

John Henry Newman, September 27, 1856 Meditations and Devotions II, Meditation 8

Get yourselves on a walking pilgrimage (like the LMS pilgrimage to Walsingham this summer perhaps?), if you possibly can. There is no time like the present to blow away the cobwebs from your spiritual life 🙂

*All the images that I’ve used here can be found on the official Notre Dame de Chretiente website: http://www.nd-chretiente.com/index-site.php?file=2014/photos14&nocol=1&show_heading=list&dir=photos&page_num=1

The mess that is me

So, you know how I have been thinking about Chartres for some time and planning what I will pack…well, I didn’t actually start the packing until about 3 hours ago. And, by packing I mean that I have been staring at my clothes and my empty bag and wondering where that warm sleeping bag has gone… I’m also trying to plan clothes that will a) keep me cool/warm/dry/all of the above at various times in the day b) be decent for mass and c) not make me look like an elephant. I’m sure you can appreciate that this is quite tricky.

I chose tonight, of all nights, to hand wash my mantilla, and various other things, and have just discovered that my warmest jumper is in fact dirty. I have also been religiously checking BBC weather and Meteo France. Apparently there is a 50% chance that it will be raining in the areas where we’ll be walking, which is really useful to know when packing. So now I just need to prepare for thunderous showers or 26 degree sun, which is no problem at all 🙂

I decided I needed to visit a beauty salon so I’ve made an appointment for that before going to work, from whence I will need to leave immediately to get my train to London, so that I can stay with my friend and get up at about 4.30/5am to get to Westminster for 7am. That’s why I’m here, typing this. You see, when you have no time to pack or sleep or do anything, the best thing to do is to waste more time!

Ah, I can tell this is going to be good by my level of disorganisation. The more disorganised I am, the more I leave it up to God, so of course everything is going to be BRILLIANT!!

My First Chartres Experience

Last year, I took part in my very first pilgrimage: the LMS pilgrimage to visit the shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham. This year, I decided to make the jump between that and the Chartres pilgrimage. I had heard many things about Chartres: some said it wasn’t so bad, you just had to “keep walking”, others said it was hellish (oh dear…). However, all agreed that it was worth it, that the feeling you got after completing it was like nothing else. Even those who had felt like giving up on the first day were now booking their place once again this year. I decided that I was up for the challenge.

The British contingent was separated into two chapters: Our Lady of Walsingham (for the older pilgrim) and the Juventutem chapter, whose patron saint would be St Alban. Being 24,

Fr Withoos (Left with v. interesting cotta) and Deacon Mark slightly to his right. Fr Rowe with the maniple on the right. Fr. Redman with the biretta on in the background and Fr Gideon (just seen) to the right of Fr Bede. All wonderful.

Fr Withoos (Left with v. interesting cotta) and Deacon Mark slightly to his right. Fr Rowe with the stole folded on his arm on the right (I did say before it was a maniple, but, on reflection, I think it is a folded stole…I think). Fr. Redman with the biretta on in the background and Fr Gideon (just seen) to the right of Fr Bede. All wonderful.

I was in the Juventutem chapter. Behind our chapter, we had a group of pilgrims from the Chavagnes school in France, led by a much loved priest who was one of our chaplains at Walsingham last year: Fr Bede Rowe. At one point, when some of us (including myself) were lagging behind, Fr Rowe decided to stage a ‘hostile takeover’ and chased us down the road with his chapter, shouting “Jog on! Jog on!” (yes, this really happened)! This tactic worked and we had caught up with everyone else in a matter of minutes.

Our chapter was also blessed to have two priests. Our priests were Fr Withoos and Fr Gideon, who heard confessions every day. Knowing that Pope Pius XII went to confession every day (and what a holy man he was), I tried to take advantage of having this sacrament on tap while I was there. The priests also read out meditations, sang hymns with us and generally gave us advice; we were so thankful to have them with us. In fact, one of the best things about the pilgrimage was seeing priests walking around in cassocks and nuns in habits (and not a polyester skirt in sight)! Oh, happy day!

Now, for the walking…the first day was, dare I say it, fairly easy.  I believe it consisted of about 27 miles, but I didn’t really feel it. I think I was just so delighted to be praying the rosary in Latin, singing hymns and listening to meditations. We were due to get into camp at about 8pm and, as predicted, the heavens opened. Before we’d even got to the campsite, most of us were soaked. We had to collect our bags (which, having been brought by lorry from Paris, were all set out for us according to our country of origin) in the rain and set up the tent in the rain too (there were communal tents already put up, but a very kind pilgrim had offered to share her private tent with me). However, by the time it came to eat our dinner, the rain had stopped and we were all laughing about the day we had just had. There is truly so much happiness to be found when you think things cannot get any worse! I laughed all the way through the pilgrimage, particularly when I was soaked to the skin and up to my knees in mud.

The next day was a very early start. I was awake by 4.30am, but the official wake up call came at 5am over a loudspeaker (in French), accompanied by classical music: “My dear pilgrims, it is 5am. It is time for you to exit your tents” (2 minutes later) “Pilgrims, I see that you are still in your tents. It’s time to wake up, pack things away, come and have your breakfast…move!”. And so this Frenchman continued every morning until every pilgrim had left the campsite. I believe most pilgrims had a sort of love-hate relationship with him, but we would never have left on time without his dulcet tones.

A few pilgrims...

A few pilgrims…

For me, the second day was much harder than the first, though it was slightly shorter in terms of distance. The good thing about this is that I had plenty to offer up! Every time I wanted to sit down or my feet were really hurting, I thought: ‘Lord, I’m offering this up to You for x,y,z’. If I had not suffered, I would not have been able to do that. Suffering is a blessing if we use it wisely, I think.

The third day was D-day. When Chartres cathedral was in sight, I forgot all the pains in my body. I forgot that the rain was lashing down, that I was walking uphill. I was focused on getting to that mass and when I did, it was worth every second of pain. It was a Pontifical high mass with no fewer than three bishops, one of whom gave us a Pontifical blessing. The cathedral was packed and there were more priests (with plenty of lace), friars and nuns there than you could shake a stick at! I very rarely cry, but after receiving Communion that day, I couldn’t help but shed a couple of tears. You have to experience the whole thing to appreciate how superb it was. Of course, Our Lord is present at every mass, but when a mass is done in such a way which tries to acknowledge, as reverently as possible, that He is there, both spiritually and physically, and how glorious He is, there is nothing better.

All in all, I would advise anybody, who is in reasonably good shape, to do the pilgrimage. In Our Lady of Walsingham’s chapter, there were many pilgrims who were over 60 and I am convinced that some of them were nearer to 70. Most of them did the whole pilgrimage and I never heard any of them complain, which put me to shame! For those who are near my age, you do not have to be at Ironman triathlon fitness level. The knowledge that everything you do is for God is all the motivation you need. Trust me, if I can do it, you can do it.