"To take time in one's life for a holy journey helps us remember the truth about who we are and where we are going. It helps us think about what is above, to rediscover what it means to be free, rational and spiritual creatures." ~Dr. Anthony Lilles, Beginning to Pray
Last Saturday, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, I made a pilgrimage with my sisters, nieces, and daughter to Our Lady of Good Help Shrine in Champion, WI. I often bemoan the fact that I can count my travels on one hand and have never been on an airplane. I also frequently lament that I have never been and probably never will be able to visit Lourdes, Fatima or Guadalupe. So it's an incredible thrill for me to have had the privilege and honor to visit an approved Marian Apparition that is within driving distance of my home. God has greatly blessed the state of Wisconsin with the visit of the Blessed Mother to Sister Adele Brise in 1859 and has greatly blessed me with the opportunity to visit this holy ground.
I am on a Divine Mercy Prayer Chain list and the night before the girls and I left for our pilgrimage I was surprised to open my Divine Mercy Prayer Chain email and find this prayer request:
"For my sisters and I as we pilgrimage to Our Lady of Good Help Shrine."
Was this a coincidence? How many other groups of sisters were planning a pilgrimage on the same date, I wondered? It turns out that my sister Cindy is part of the same prayer chain and she was the one who sent in the request. Whew! This world would be far too crazy with two groups of sisters visiting the same shrine on the same day, wouldn't it? I'm sure my sisters and I were enough for the shrine to handle on one day!
While I had been reading up about the shrine in preparation for our trip, I noticed that there are quite a few groups of pilgrims who have walked on foot from as far as 150 miles away to visit the shrine. How I would have loved to make a pilgrimage like that! But my sisters decided that it would be enough suffering and sacrifice if I would chauffeur the 100 mile drive in my beat up non air conditioned 2001 Pontiac Montana. My seriously lousy driving skills offered us many opportunities for prayer along the way.
We arrived at the shrine just in time for the 8 AM Mass on the First Saturday of the Month which also happened to be the Feast of the Transfiguration. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is nestled deep in farm country and as we walked into the chapel we were greeted by the sound of a crowing rooster from a nearby farm. My thoughts turned to St. Peter and his denial of Christ. But it was the words he spoke at the Transfiguration of Christ that resounded in my heart, "Lord, it is good that we are here," and that became my prayer of gratitude for having safely arrived at our destination.
After hearing so much about busloads of pilgrims coming from all around the world, I was a bit disappointed that although we were exactly on time for Mass, the chapel was not at all packed, in fact, our group of ten women and girls all found seats near the front. The chapel has recently been placed in the care of the Fathers of Mercy, and the young chaplain, Fr. Jewel Aytona, CPM, who was just ordained in June, 2011, said the Mass. I have never in my life seen more reverence at any Mass that I have ever attended. During his homily, he focused on the gospel quote: "This is my beloved Son, listen to Him." In particular he focused on listening to God during the consecration. He said, "When the priest prays the words of consecration, he speaks in the first person...This is MY body, This is MY blood." And later, during the consecration, Fr. Jewel held the body and blood of the Lord in the air for all to adore Him for the longest time I have ever seen Jesus' body and blood elevated anywhere by any priest. It was beautiful!
After Mass we prayed the rosary while we stood in line for confession for over an hour. The length of our time in line was a sign that the crowd of pilgrims was becoming larger as the day progressed. The wait was well worth it and I was sure to offer a prayer of gratitude for the priest who listened to confessions in the stifling hot confessional, for there was a man who truly suffered for his faith! The crypt where Mary appeared to Adele Brise was even warmer than the confessional, but the warmest part of all was the feeling of great love that hung heavy in the air. It was easy to feel the love of the Blessed Mother for all of the pilgrims visiting her on the First Saturday of the month, the day dedicated to her Immaculate Heart.
On the side of the altar, there was a little shrine with the statue of Our Lady of Good Help and it was noted that this was a replacement statue as the original one that was given to Adele Brise had been destroyed by fire. A monstrance contained pieces of the two trees, a maple and a hemlock, between which the Blessed Mother appeared to Adele, and a reliquary held a relic of the veil which belonged to the Blessed Mother. This was my favorite part of the shrine; I could have prayed there for hours!
Although our visit ended far too quickly, the blessings continue as my sisters and I will begin our 33 day preparation to renew our Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Feast of the Nativity of her birth. I eagerly anticipate another trip to this lovely little piece of heaven on earth that is so close to my home that I could easily become a frequent visitor. I know that there are many more riches of faith to discover as I delve ever more deeply into the wonders of a Marian apparition in my own home state.
Prayer to Our Lady of Good Help
Our Lady of Good Help, Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, and Mother of the Church, it is with confidence in Thy tender mercy that we place our petitions before Thee as intercessor to Thy Divine Son. Resting our hope confidently in Thy Immaculate Heart to obtain for us that which will give glory to Thine only-begotten Son, we thank Thee.
O Queen of Heaven, as Thou didst ask Sister Adele to teach the children the holy catechism, so also teach us how to make the Heart of Jesus reign and triumph in us and around us, as it has reigned and triumphed in Thee. Reign over us, dearest Queen, that we may be Thine in prosperity and in adversity, in joy and in sorrow, in health and in sickness, in life and in death. Amen.