As a Catholic, there’s something comforting about facing the windswept contours of Canada’s St. Lawrence River, in all its power, and then seeing the Blessed Virgin Mary keeping watch from atop a chapel, leading us to her Son, Jesus Christ.
The chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (Our Lady of Good Help) is Montreal’s oldest stone church, sitting for hundreds of years as a beacon of hope. It celebrates a special milestone this year…having acted as a refuge for residents, pilgrims, sailors and travelers arriving by the Seaway.
Standing on the shore of a mountain lake at sunrise, you may not think you’re necessarily on a pilgrimage, but then you’re drawn toward a prayerful moment. You gaze into the raspberry and amber skies, as the lapping waves try to sing you back to sleep.
But you’re called to be present and aware of the awe.
Or maybe you hike toward an Alpine peak when you’re serenaded by birdsong; nature’s hallelujah. Again you’re very present in the moment; thankful and introspective, like a pilgrim. And then on the trail you literally see Christ on the cross.
A traveler, a pilgrim, before you thought to install a wayside chapel—a small, wooden structure to draw you even further toward God. These things are common in Europe, and in Wisconsin chapels created by European immigrants still pepper the countryside.
Today we round out our series on the Marian Apparition site in Champion, Wisconsin with a few more thoughts on making pilgrimages wherever you are. You don’t have to go far to travel deeply in prayer. Sometimes you just need to look closely around you and decide to spiritually get away.
There’s a crisp hint of Autumn in the air when a young Adele Brise first catches sight of the mysterious figure she would soon know to be the Blessed Mother Mary. It’s October 1859.
Adele carries her bag of wheat toward the grist mill, in a wooded patch of Northern Wisconsin, when she freezes, frightened.
There, between a hemlock and maple tree stands a beautiful woman clothed in dazzling white, wearing a yellow sash and crown of stars atop her flowing golden hair, until…she’s gone.
The vision of the woman fades, and Adele all alone, continues on her way. A second encounter with the mystery woman a few days later is just as startling, compounded by the fact this figure doesn’t say a word.
On counsel from a priest, Adele is prepared for her next encounter and says to the figure: ‘In God’s name who are you and what do you want from me?’
‘I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners,’ the woman says, ‘and I wish you to do the same.’
The Queen of Heaven—the Blessed Virgin Mary—proceeds to explain to Adele what she’s being called to do: teach the children of this wild country what they should know for their salvation, while also encouraging Adele, that she’s not going to have to do it alone:
When you strip away distractions, you might come closer to the part of yourself calling out for more. Not more stuff. Not more flashing lights. But more substance of the purest kind; the kind only God can provide.
It’s goodness. It’s hope. It’s love.
Catholics believe were are continually journeying through our lives, as Pope Francis said, until the final and marvelous goal…reaching Heaven.
But sometimes that spiritual journey, also becomes a literal journey…a pilgrimage.
Today we begin a series of episodes about a visit to the only place in the U.S. where the church has approved a Marian apparition…in Wisconsin.