Last week I went on retreat. It's been a while since I've had the opportunity to get away for prayer (and rest). I was trying to figure out where to go - there are so many options here in Italy and Europe. I thought and thought about then - then in my prayer, St. Therese of the Child Jesus began "talking" to me. It was so strong that I decided it was the Lord telling me that I needed to go and spend some time with this Doctor of the Church. So on June 19 I flew from Rome to Paris, rented a car and drove 2 1/2 hours up to Lisieux France to spend a week in prayer.
On my arrival, after settling into my room I went straight to the Carmel where the body of St. Therese is preserved. Her body is actually in a casket underneath the statue of her lying on her deathbed.
I stayed at the "Ermitage San Thérèse" in Lisieux which is a building just a few doors down from the Carmel. My room was on the 3rd floor (4th floor in US system) on the right - the two windows on the right hand side in the eves of the roof are where I was staying - a simple bedroom and bathroom (which was nice). However, no air conditioning. The first 2 days in Lisieux were HOT (90+ each day) - and being up on the 3rd floor, "in" the roof - it was HOT! One day all I could do was lay in bed and sweat!
The next day I wandered up to the Basilica of St. Therese - which is just up a hill from the "Ermitage" and the Carmel. It's a magnificent building - built very quickly (within 10 years) and completely paid off during that time. Would that we could build beautiful churches like this today.
I first went into the crypt of the basilica, where the relics of Sts. Louis and Marie-Zellie Martin (the parents of St. Therese) are located. They were the first married couple with children to be canonized at the same ceremony.
I then spent some time in prayer here in the crypt (because it was MUCH cooler here). Then wandered into the main church upstairs.
Here in the upper level of the Basilica are kept some relics of St. Therese (while the remainder of her body is down at the Carmel).
There is a side alter in the upper church which, as you might be able to see on the inscription (the photo on the right), was donated by the Catholics of the United States.
The next day I went to visit the home in which St. Therese grew up. She was born in 1873 in Alencon, but after the death of her mother from cancer in 1877 the remnants of the family (dad and 4 sisters) all moved to Lisieux to begin again. They were very devout - yet Therese suffered from a severe illness from which they did not if she would recover. One day, lying in bed, she recounted that she turned to a statue of Mary - and the Blessed Mother smiled at her. From that moment on, she was cured. This is the bedroom in which this happened.
And the lovely gardens in back of the house - with a statue of Therese teller her father of her desire to enter the Carmel.
The next day I made a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage - being so close, I decided to go up to the coast to the place of the D-Day invasion. So I went to visit Utah and Omaha beaches and the US Cemetery at Normandy. Here are a bunch of photos from that daytrip:
Then I drive to Omaha Beach
This is Omaha Beach - and the photo above is the National Guard Memorial
Then I went to the American Cemetery... They had this map showing the landing sites overlooking the beach.
It's a very moving and emotional experience to visit this cemetery and walk amongst these graves...
On my return to Lisieux, I learned that the local Cathedral was having an organ recital on Friday night - so I decided it would be a nice way to enjoy my last night in Lisieux. Pretty smart the way they help you enjoy the recital...
My retreat week concluded, it was time to head back toward Paris for my return flight to Rome. But my flight wasn't until 6pm - so I took a little detour and went to Chartres to see the famous Cathedral. It was a very beautiful drive through the French countryside. Really had to pay attention, though... speed limit changes every 1/2 kilometer or so: 90, 50, 90, 30, 90, 70, 110... It's kind of crazy. You sometimes can't get to the one speed before the new one takes over.
ANYWAY, as you approach the city of Chartres the Cathedral begins to be seen way off in the distance. I can only imagine, centuries ago, pilgrims walking toward the city -and seeing this HUGE cathedral off in the distance. This photo is from within the town (I tried to take one from the car - but didn't want to wreck in a rental in a foreign country).
Got back in the car a 2pm for my (what the GPS said was a) 1 hour 40 minute drive to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris - the rental car was due back at 4pm (with a 31 minute grace period) and my flight at 6pm (with a last check in at 5:20). Everything was going well until... traffic! OK, I thought, this will clear up. It didn't. For more than 1 hour I crawled along - I think I traveled about 5 kilometers in that hour. OK - I'm now running late for the car return. Finally it clears up as they are clearing away the cars from an accident. Let's get moving... TRAFFIC! Now it is just traffic. BUT - WHAT SANE GPS SYSTEM IS GOING TO TAKE YOU THROUGH DOWNTOWN PARIS TO GET TO THE AIRPORT!!!!
I was just blindly following the GPS directions - not really sure where I was. Then, as the traffic got worse and worse, I realized that it was taking me right through downtown Paris - albeit through the tunnel system - but nonetheless - I was right downtown. Saw the Eiffel Tower... Now I'm starting to get worried about making my flight! FINALLY arrive at the airport - but now have to decide which of the A-F Terminal 2's is the one I want - and the one where I need to return the car. OK, get that done. Rush to the terminal - only to have chosen the wrong one. Needed to go back across the rental car parking lot into the terminal on the other side. Arrived in time to get my bag checked. Somehow I got the European version of "Pre-Check" - which was nice. From here on it was smooth sailing. Flight to Rome - train to Termini - Metro to Vatican - 10-minute walk to the apartment.
But it was certainly a very pleasant week of rest and prayer - with St. Therese of Lisieux.