June 2013


This was a long, long day, starting in a cool, drizzly Chartres and ending in the bosom of what I still think is the world’s best city. I’m starting to get sleep deprived, because I keep finding amazing things things to do around midnight and then have to back up again with an early start. So last night I was photographing until 11.30 but had to be at the station for a 9.15 train.

Getting around has been quite easy, but dragging the back pack around, while infinitely preferable to dragging a suitcase up stairs, has its down side. It is such a routine to get everything settled on your back that you tend to leave it there. My pack has no wheels or handles, like some of the more modern ones do, so the usual option is to leave it there: 16 kgs of dead weight, plus the camera bag, hanging from belly belt and shoulder strap. This meant that I was strapped in from the moment I left the Chartres train at 10.45 until I was in the waiting room in Gare du Nord at 1.15 pm. Ouch!

I could have cheerfully slept on the Eurostar, but I was madly catching up on blogs and papers and novels. I was also looking forward to London, which had much better whether reduced than the grey skies of Northern France. So it proved: London had received the summer weather than everyone had prayed for during the wet spring: it was glorious sunshine and the temperature was just perfect.

I dumped my gear in the ship cabin that passed for a bedroom in Earls Court (clean and comfortable but no wider than the single bed was long) and headed out. I had no intention of being inn that room for longer than I needed to! Shopping, I thought. Perhaps a look at Leicester Square and walking down to the river?

Nix to that! I walked straight (not the best word in the circumstances) into the end of the gay pride march. All that was left were sexually confused teenage girls and outrageous trannies. I’d missed all the good bits and was left with Oxford Street crowded like I’d never seen it. I gave up and started walking, all the way to Charing Cross, and then took a Tube Trip that was more like a mass evacuation after a plague outbreak than a weekend trip home.

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I had to do some housekeeping, not easy in the space restrictions, upload photos and find a meal. There were to good pubs round the corner but both were buzzing, so I wandered down Earls Court Road and found a quieter pub of the Irish variety. Excellent nosh and a couple of pints and I was Bedford bound.

It rained overnight in Paris, and I didn’t really feel like a run after only six hours sleep. In fact, it took about an hour to reorganize everything, along with the hand washing I had done. I think I will have to find a laundromat in London, although when I am going to find the time to wash I don’t know. I hung the camera from my shoulders in front, flung the backpack on and tightened the belt, grabbed my satchel and headed off towards the metro and Montparnasse.

The trip was really too easy and not expensive. The Mercure was a good deal and as dependable as Mercures always are, and it turned out to be close to the station and the Cathedral — well, I knew it because that is why I booked it, but all distances can be deceptive on a map. I spent some time making sure I was organised, grabbed the camera and headed for the town.

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I really regret not doing as much research as I should, because there was a huge amount to see apart from the Cathedral. I should have had the time to visit the glassmaking studios, because the art has been revived and Chartres glass is once more famous. Oh well, a good reason to return.

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I had a leisurely lunch and then window shopped before spending about two hours in the Cathedral. I was a bit shy about taking the tripod in, so I improvised when the light got down to impossible levels. I walked the labyrinth for about thirty minutes, as a prayerful pilgrim — an interesting process!

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The windows don’t disappoint.

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I had a shower and did a formule dinner, but with a nice bottle of wine to finish the trip with (I suspect it will be beer in London because the money is running out). It was still light so I had a wander, then grabbed camera and tripod and headed for the cathedral. It was simply breath taking and it is difficult to describe the sophistication and beauty of the display. Thank the good Lord for the camera. I recorded about five minutes, so I’ll put a link to Vimeo in this post when I get home.

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What a fantastic day! It is the sort of thing that I would probably only do alone, because Paula would have very sensibly said that one bike tour was enough. But I had a great time and talked to good people and the night finished with the city of lights in all its glory. Shame that it was 11.45 before I got home!

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Anyway, full credit to the Fat Tyre people, because they lived up to their reputation.

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We went everywhere you might want to see in the day, with reasonable distance of the Tower. The night tour does the breadth of the city, but this was a great opportunity to see the place. If this was your first time in Paris, I think this tour was indispensable. For me, it was a great way to spend some time doing stuff outdoors — at last, some sun, and of course, I forgot to put on sunscreen because it was raining when I left the hotel. I met people from Melbourne, Perth, Christchurch, Denver, a whole range.

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Drew outdid himself as the tour guide, although I began to wonder about his shouts of “dominate” I suspect the company is run by a Doctor Who fan.

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The night tour was more fun, because we rode a lot more.

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We rode all the way to Notre Dame and the Isle Saint Louis. The locks on the bridges knocked me out, particularly as they are quite recent (the oldest is supposed to be 2000). Apparently, Americans use combination locks, because their divorce lawyers won’t dive for the keys.

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Everything began to glow, even though it was a bit overcast by then, and Mark kept up a running commentary. I met up again with a couple from the morning, and chatted with a guy from Virginia whose dad had been a Canberra-based diplomat. He was at William and Mary College. Nice bloke.

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The best of the rest are self-explanatory. We rode back to the Baton Mouche and joined most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere on a cruise. The photos got better as the night went on. There are lots more, and these have no processing, but I solved the exposure problem by plonking the tripod on the bow and turning on the image stabilizer. The result looks pretty good, and the effect of the movement on the waves is spectacular.

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It was nearly midnight when I got in. I hadn’t eaten, because I had been all the way over to the Marais shopping in the afternoon. I was looking for a nightcap, but the batteries an out — mine, not the camera’s!

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Just to prove I’m here…

I’m sitting at a table outside the Cafe Central, trying to be very cool as I eat alone. It’s a very long time since a did this, and while it is welcome to have some time with be one’s own thoughts after the intensity of the east few days, I’m reminded what a blessing a shared life is. I don’t care if one lives with one’s beloved, or one lives in community — and I think we should reappraise the value of religious communities and consider now they can be part of the future of the church in new and vibrant ways — sharing the journey is important. I’m hanging out for a call home.

There’s a tangent: you’ve only got to look at the Cor Novum team to see what incredible potential there is in that kind of community, men and women with a shared commitment to a common goal. I just don’t find that in the workplace — there really is something missing,it is probably formation. But then I looked at how all of us came to dote on the children of one of our pilgrims, and I really thought that we sell ourselves so short. These lovely kids, one of them a boy with Down’s syndrome, often brought out the best in us. Such gorgeous kids, and so often the focus of attention for all the right reasons. This is a vey easy group of people to come to appreciate for their hearts — we all seem to be singing from the same song book. As the newest MSC person, I have a long way to go.

There’s another bloody reason for sharing travel — this gorgeous girl with her rather left bank boyfriend are enjoying a bottle of wine, not just a carafe, and this girl is so much the one in charge in this relationship! Ahh, to share a bottle and converse over its merits…

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I was genuinely sad to leave Issoudun. The enormous fun we had outside the sessions in the group was fantastic, the meals were convivial with lots of sharing, and the La Cognette adventure was a thrill. Great food and wine, great company, and to take the team out was a pleasure — amazing that no one had thought to do it before!

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I enjoyed the morning runs and, when the sun finally reappeared, photographing in the evening and finally at night.

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I think both Fiona and I agreed that it would have been good to stay in the quiet if Issoudun for another night and spend some in the Crypt and the Chapel, reflecting on what we had been shown and told. If another group comes over, I will certainly be recommending it. And if anyone wants a slice of provincial life, they could do a lot worse than spend a couple of nights at the centre. The bed and board is good and you have two or three really good places to eat in the town.

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I hate leaving and goodbyes(mine will be a quick funeral, and then on to the pub), but it was good to put of farewells until Paris for some of the travelers. Fiona and I came to the mutual conclusion that we were really worn out by everything and I was suffering a bad case of post-inspectionitis. We decided to cancel our dinner date, which gave me an evening to get my head together, go for a run, visit Les Invalides and then wander up Rue Cler for a feed (I did late lunch at one of the cafes opposite l’Ecole Militaire, which was pretty good, but a bit pricey. I am learning to prefer a salad and a beer, or look for the price fixe).

I’m just starting to appreciate just how busy I have made this trip…

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This entry won’t be long because it is very much focused on the spirituality of the OLSH sisters, and while its is clear that the Chevalier Family is on some kind of a journey of integration, the differences are interesting but profound. They are certainly working with Chevalier’s insight, but the three sisters had done a great deal more than Hans and Johannes on this dimension. Linda offered four images to get us started.

  1. Mary as ‘mother in the faith’ rather than sister, because it recognises the way in which we are all nurtured in faith by ‘mothers’.
  2. Mary’s life as one understood best in the context of Jesus’ work of salvation.
  3. Mary as friend (“a friend is one who hears the song in your heart and plays it back when you forget”), and one whom often seems close in times of spiritual dryness.
  4. Mary as model, which is the idea used by Paul VI in Marialis Cultis.

The team concurred on the idea that the Marian dimension was one that got Chevalier started on the importance of relationship in the conduct of the members of the order, although it is also Trinitarian and Incarnational. Lots of stuff here worth pursuing from both a theological and spiritual perspective.

Here is Cathy with the chair in which Fr Chevalier was carried out the presbytery, when the confiscation orders were applied.

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To live like you in the love of your Son.

I can only add some of the beautiful images of Mary and her Son I have found in my journeys as a kind of response and a final thanks to the team. A couple of images from my night walk around the time conclude the journal.

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This day was really a reflection on how our journey can be influenced by Chevalier’s journey. Hans and Johannes presented some good historical and biographical data on which to draw contemporary conclusions.

It was good to talk about the French preoccupation with Marian apparitions, although I still don’t quid understand why they all happened. They do seemed have twin sources, in the declaration of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and in the ongoing threat to the French church. The fact remains that, from Lourdes until the end of the Century, there are over twenty Marian apparitions. What is most interesting is that, even though Fr Jules was certainly influenced by Saint Margaret Mary, he was not particularly concerned with the growing devotion to Mary of itself, because his mariology was particularly Christological. That explains his care over the image of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart: Mary had to be honoured in her relationship to Jesus.

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Incidentally, neither order of sisters are Marian because of the focus of the devotion on the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

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The small details about the statue tell us a great deal about Chevalier:

  • he rejected the idea of a baby Jesus, he wanted to show Jesus as young adult, old enough to be going about his Father’s business but young enough to still be a relationship with his Mother.
  • Mary has to look at Jesus.
  • her arms show Jesus to the world, while his reveal his Sacred Heart and point to her as the source of his humanity.
  • Chevalier made very French, 19th Century assumptions. Rome warned him from using terms like ‘queen’, but Chevalier’s usage was based on the belief, from French law, that a queen was always subordinate. His understanding of maternal love was based on power, the ongoing role of a mother in the life of the family, so the child has the obligation to give obedience to the mother as a matter of right).

As Hans points out, there is enough Scripture on which to base a theology of Mary in a modern context, but we should understand the culture of Chevalier’s time so we can keep faith with his essential vision. He saw humanity as called to follow Mary in showing Christ to the world. Pretty good insight for a simple country priest.

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