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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Our Visit to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Enter by the Jubilee door of mercy.
Well, I've accomplished my first resolution of the new year. On Monday we traveled with our youngest daughter and her three little children to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Considering it takes us two hours to get there, the children were incredibly well-behaved in the car, even the 21-month-old. And nobody took a nap!

We started our pilgrimage in the crypt church with the noon Mass which included Christmas carols. The shrine cafeteria was closed so we "lunched" on junk food from the vending machines before going upstairs to walk through the Jubilee Door of Mercy.
The children enjoyed putting their change in the machines and watching the chips and cookies be pushed forward until they fell down where they could be collected. How charming to see the excitement generated by something so simple. It reminded me of the time my Aunt Marie took me and my sister to the Automat in New York where we could pick out anything we wanted for our lunch, put in our money, and open the little doors to retrieve the goodies. I think I was eleven. Funny the memories triggered by little things. Thank you, Lord, and bless my Aunt Marie.

St. Elizabeth Seton, pray for us.
In order to receive the plenary indulgence for the holy year of mercy, the pilgrim performs the act of entering through the door, fulfills the customary conditions of receiving sacramental Confession and Communion while reflecting on God's mercy, and prays the Creed and offers at least an Our Father for the intentions of the pope. Pilgrims are also advised to pray the Jubilee Prayer of Pope Francis. We offered these prayer in the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe where the saint for the day, Elizabeth Seton, is included in the mosaic of saints approaching her miraculous image.

The last and most difficult part of gaining a plenary indulgence is detachment from sin, even venial sin. I think of how we embrace our little sins: the gossip and detraction, the unkind thoughts, the puffed up idea of our own importance, the resentments toward those who have wronged us. We're justified, we tell ourselves, and lose the graces of making the painful break with our pride. But as Fr. Simon Tugwell once wrote,  "Part of the cross we carry is the fact we carry it so badly." I may be misquoting but that's how I recall it. And it really is true. God certainly knows our weakness. Simon of Cyrene is our model. He was not enthusiastic about helping Christ carry the cross, but later he and his sons became Christians. Sometimes, maybe even most times, conversion is a process rather than an event like Paul being struck down on the road to Damascus.

Our Lady of Ireland chapel
We visited many of Mary's chapels and how I love praying decades of the rosary along the way. that was somewhat abbreviated this trip with the little ones, with single Hail Mary's taking the place of decades.

Walking around the shrine is like a living litany to Our Lady. We walk with the saints. With St. Catherine Laboure we say, "Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, pray for us." We kneel at the prie dieu where Pope John Paul II knelt and say, "Our Lady of Czestochowa, pray for us." In the little chapel to Our Lady of Lourdes where a priest is kneeling in prayer, I tell Anya who will make her first Communion this year, that Bernadette is her mommy's confirmation saint. "Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us."

I love Mary's many titles and images and the various shrines built by donations of the faithful from all over the world. Images of Our Lady from India and China and so many countries of both the East and West. They remind me that Mary is Our Mother and she is for all people everywhere bringing us together as brothers and sister.

Blessed Sacrament chapel
I particularly love the chapel to Our Lady of Ireland and the Blessed Sacrament chapel. My mother's adoptive father was born in Ireland although his parents were American citizens. We know very little about my mom's birth family. Adoptive records were sealed in those days. But, as one friend said to her, "You wear the map of Ireland on your face." She was freckled and, as a young girl, was a strawberry blonde. When I visit that chapel I think of her and my own Irish heritage. Our Lady of Ireland, Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.

We missed Confession times at the Shrine, so I will complete my pilgrimage this weekend and finish fulfilling the indulgence requirements. It seems appropriate to me because it brings me full circle from the beginning of our pilgrimage as we set out from Woodstock to its conclusion with Confession in my home parish reflecting on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His great mercy for us.

For those unable to make a pilgrimage to one of the official Jubilee doors, there are other ways to fulfill the requirement for the plenary indulgence. Visit the Jubilee of Mercy website for more information.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us, on our families, and on our poor country.