I received a notification last week that my Celtic calix restoration was complete. I was advised that the craftsman involved "enjoyed refinishing this old precious item to its very best form possible." My sacred vessel arrived this weekend of the Lunar New Year, the 2nd lunar month from winter solstice, in this case the closest supermoon of the millenium. 2023 is a year of hope and reflection with big changes, health-wise & career-wise for me personally, as I continue to rehab from a covid19-coma while transitioning from 'doing' as an orthopedic surgeon-healer to that of 'being' as a spiritual hospital-chaplain. Laurence Gardner wrote that the Grail was transformative, "Whom does the Grail serve? It serves those who quest despite the odds - for they are the champions of enlightenment."
On inspection, my treasure was meticulously nested in two corrugated boxes. I carefully unpeeled each layer of packing. This chalice was now magnificently transfigured. It was substantially fortified and robust with a new silver coppa or cup quite capable of performing the task at hand--that is maintaining the continual succession of the sacrificial celebration by containing the consecrated divine presence of Jesus in unity, body and blood. The entirety of the inner and outer surfaces were gleaming with newly applied gold plating. The Celtic nodo or node sparkled with silver plating accents. Finally the piede or foot was engraved with my soul's battle cry or heart-song--Spero Meliora--I aspire for greater things.
The seemingly unobtainable healing grace sought by Arthurian knights and symbolized by the Grail is, however, attainable. Regarding sacramental communion, Saint-Mother Teresa instructs us to, "Put your sins in the chalice for the Precious Blood to wash away. One drop is capable of washing away the sins of the world." We, as Sons-of-God, can be in daily spiritual communion with our Lord if we but do the following: "Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, to carry, and to give back. It must be held out empty--for the past must only be reflected in its polish, its shape, its capacity (Dag Hammarsköld)." The Tao tells us that "It is easier to carry an empty cup than one that is filled to the brim... it is the emptiness inside that makes the vessel useful...we work with the substantial, but the emptiness is what we use."
The combined economic effects of ‘Brexit’, Covid, and the energy crisis have not made the past three years easy for anyone. Earned income has dropped considerably, and the cost of living has risen sharply – and the Micawber line of financial survival has become the knife-edge of reality for far too many careful people. We are all in the same storm; and many of us wonder when ‘normality’ might return.
Against this backdrop, I was fortunate to receive a gift from my aunt, with the instruction that I was to treat myself in a way I might not be able to from my own resources. Thus, for the recent Epiphany weekend, I found myself travelling via Eurotunnel to a hotel in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris for a short but welcome break.
On the Friday morning (the Feast Day itself), I said the morning office in the Square du Vert Galant, a small city park on the north-western tip of the Île de la Cité. I guess most visitors to Paris might overlook this peaceful oasis. Few would know that it wasn’t created until 1884, when two small islands beyond the Pont Neuf and the equestrian statue of Henry IV were connected to each other and the main island, and built up into the present space.
It was on the smaller of these two former islands, the Isle des Juifs, that St Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, had been burned at the stake alongside his regional preceptor for Normandy, St Geoffroi de Charney, way back in 1314; but sitting on the south western side of the small park for half an hour, with just an early morning street cleaner performing his daily round, gave a strange sense of connection with both history and the divine presence in nature.
A walk the length of the Île de la Cité followed, passing the massive re-building site that is currently Notre Dame de Paris, crossing the Isle St Louis to reach the church of St Gervais & St Protais, just to the east of the Hotel de Ville.
An interesting church to visit, as the style is Gothic, but the façade, being built over a hundred years after the main church is in the classical or French Baroque style. The organ dates back to the early seventeenth century, and was where various members of the Couperin dynasty of musicians (Louis and Francois particularly remembered) occupied the console. The chapel behind the main altar, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary - unusually having an architectural crown suspended from the roof over the altar. The church itself, became home in 1975 to the Monastic Fraternity of Jerusalem, a new monastic community founded with the intention of living the desert life of Charles de Foucauld in the modern city centre. Where in France, the historic church buildings are maintained by the secular state – it is in some way both curious and refreshing to find a sense of living faith and vibrancy in one of the lesser-known churches of Paris.
A short journey up Ligne 1 of the Metro put me at the main entrance to the Tuileries Gardens, where on the south side is the Musee de l’Orangerie, home to eight of Monet’s gigantic waterlily paintings. Having visited the gardens at Giverny, Monet’s home for over forty years, it is inspirational to sit in front of these vast paintings, appreciating the dappled impressionistic effects of sunlight in the waters – and indeed Monet’s lifetime of work in creating the gardens themselves.
A filling snack lunch in the museum café gave the overworked legs a short time to rest before a very crowded four stop trip on ligne 12, and a visit to the chapel at the Rue du Bac. Otherwise known as the chapel of the Miraculous Medal, this place of pilgrimage was where in 1830, Catherine Labouré, a religious novice, received three visitations from the Virgin Mary; through which the starred medal was described, and then created and issued.
I have now visited this place twice, the first time some seven years ago, hearing Mass on that visit. This time, I just sat quietly in prayer, observing the special nature, and the divine presence within the chapel. Fervent pilgrims were kneeling at the altar in rapt devotion; whilst Parisians on their daily round of work and shopping would also come in for a few moments pause and refreshment, before bowing their heads and returning to their routine tasks.
These four brief visits were enough for my stamina on this day. But the awareness and blessings brought by them, were enough to remind my better or higher self that there is inspiration and encouragement in the uncertain times which we are all living through. Let us pray for each other that we may all be open to the divine blessing, however and wherever we find ourselves.
Dom Paul-Bernarde OSBA
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