In August of 2009, I spent a week in Paray-le-Monial, France, where I spoke and showed film clips to a gathering of 4,500 Catholic young people from all over Europe. Centuries earlier, a nun from Paray, which is located in the heart of the Burgundy region, had a remarkable vision which gave birth to deep devotion to Jesus. She was a simple nun. She lived in a small, rural town surrounded by lush fields and rolling hills far from the centers of human power. She lived the hidden life of a cloistered nun, a dedicated life of prayer and adoration. Yet, she saw something no one else had seen. And what she saw is still touching and transforming lives more than 325 years after her first vision.
In so many ways our sophisticated, modern world is so vastly different from hers; yet, in the most essential ways, life today is still very much the same as it was for this obscure, humble, veiled sister living long ago and far away in a monastery in Paray-le-Monial in the 1670’s. We still all seek communion, all need something beyond ourselves. We need to know the heart of God, to give our hearts to God and to each other.
Jesus revealed his most precious heart to Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a divine heart beating and overflowing with endless love for humanity, a human heart bowed and broken by the suffering endured by countless humans around the world because of poverty and violence, unjust and chronic poverty, unwarranted and brutal violence.
During a free day, I made a side trip to the village of Ars. Long ago, in this remote village in the south of France, St. John Marie Vianney (1786-1859), known as the Curé of Ars, noticed an old farmer who used to sit for hours in the humble, empty church. When the saint asked him what he was doing, the farmer replied: “He looks at me and I look at him.”
It really is that simple, but modern life is so connected to so much we are easily disconnected from the All. Television and the internet have turned our interior dwellings into shanty towns. Instead of looking in, they prompt us to look outward, and we become what we gaze upon. When praying, we turn away from ourselves and turn toward God. Lent, which begins in two days, is the perfect time to try to disconnect from things that distract of from God.