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An Unplanned Pilgrimage View Comments
By Jim Brennan

Throughout the year, more than 2 million pilgrims visit the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France, to entrust to Mary their prayer intentions and to observe the basilica’s stunning architecture.
CHANCES ARE, as many American Catholics associate Notre Dame with a university in South Bend, Indiana, as they do with Our Lady. Some may even wonder why a cathedral in Paris was named after a football team with a fighting leprechaun as a mascot. Fewer still are likely to be familiar with the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France. Admittedly, I was one of those in the dark until an inadvertent discovery on a recent vacation.

Our adventure started out as planned, with a few days in Paris, visiting many of the popular attractions including the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and Luxembourg Gardens. When we arrived at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, it was immediately apparent why it is the most visited site in the city, even outranking the Eiffel Tower. Simply observing the 14th-century cathedral’s twin 228-foot towers— sculpted portals that portray scriptural themes and stained-glass artistry— makes it impossible to imagine a more magnificent structure anywhere on earth. And we hadn’t yet left Paris.

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Jim Brennan writes nonfiction, essays, and short stories from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in national publications including American Fitness, Inns Magazine, and Senior Living. He blogs about running and healthy lifestyles at rite2run.wordpress.com, and his memoir, Twenty-Four Years to Boston, is planned for spring 2013 publication.

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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us never tire, therefore, of seeking the Lord—of letting ourselves be sought by him—of tending over our relationship with him in silence and prayerful listening. Let us keep our gaze fixed on him, the center of time and history; let us make room for his presence within us.

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