Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 29, 2004
Bring open hearts to Lac Ste. Anne
Pilgrimage demands you make space for silent prayer time with God
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
For more than a century, Lac Ste. Anne's yearly July pilgrimage has become a regular summer feature in Western Canada. It continues to draw people by the thousands yearly. Nowadays most people drive to the sacred ground though initially many travelled by horse and wagon. And some walked. A few still walk.
Like many prayer centres of importance the pilgrimage at Lac Ste. Anne has its origins in its own inspired roots. Father Lestanc, an early Oblate missionary in the late 1800s in Western Canada had returned to France for meetings and a visit home after many years away.
Before returning to Canada he made a pilgrimage to St. Anne d'Auray, a famous pilgrimage in his native Brittany, in northern France. The shrine is dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus.
The callAs Father Lestanc was presenting his list of petitions to St. Anne, it was as if she was asking him:
"And what have you done for me lately?"
And LeStanc decided then and there that he was called to begin a pilgrimage dedicated to St. Anne at the lake that used to be called Devil's Lake
So the following year, he invited the local population to gather for special days of prayer in July at the time of the feast of St. Anne. People came in great numbers and thus a spiritually healthy tradition in Western Canada was given birth and the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage just took off.
God's graceMany of the readers have attended the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage over the years and many have been blessed by it. In this column a few years ago I reported about a cousin of mine being profoundly moved the first time he came to the pilgrimage, so much so that his entire life changed. He became a dedicated and faithful Catholic when he had been lukewarm at best.
Discreetly he had begun helping his pastor in all sorts of creative ways, from washing the floor of the church, to shovelling snow, to fixing things that needed to be fixed as he was adept in many trades.
His dedication to the Church surprised his family. Shortly thereafter he died of a sudden heart attack.
He had gone to the pilgrimage with an open heart and was touched by God's grace. He met the Lord at the pilgrimage and he became a true disciple of Jesus and a man filled with the Spirit and the love of God.
Thousands of people come to the pilgrimage at Lac Ste. Anne every year. Many people receive the sort of powerful blessings that my cousin received that day.
Among many witnesses that I have known personally is a man from Saskatchewan who was suffering terribly from arthritis. Some friends brought him to Lac Ste. Anne a few years ago and they pushed his wheelchair into the shrine and just left him there.
He spent a good part of the day in the shrine, praying and taking part in the various Masses and ceremonies, being touched profoundly by the hymns being sung in his native Cree language.
Later in the evening the friends brought him to the truck where he slept on a cot in the camper.
"For the first time in years," he told me the next day, "I slept like a baby." All the pain in his joints had disappeared as he had been healed of his arthritis.
Not all the people coming to Lac Ste. Anne are healed of their pains and struggles but all can be blessed in some way. Like the man healed of his arthritic condition we need to come to God in faith, in trust and child-like humility, bringing to our God all our needs and petitions.
We need to make of the pilgrimage a truly personal spiritual experience, investing a great deal of time in the company of God, time in the shrine especially, praying quietly, basking in the presence of God.
Over the years, the pilgrimage area has evolved into a bit of a circus with people in the area being more interested in making a dollar and having a good time than in going inside their hearts and mending their soul.
Jesus knocksJesus said: "Behold here I am standing at the door, knocking. If some of you hear me knock and open the door, then I will come in and have my supper side by side with them" (Revelations 3:20).
The Lord will be there for us, he promised it. The question is: will we be there for the Lord?
Will our hearts be anxious, looking forward for a personal, meaningful encounter with God, with Jesus, in the Holy Spirit?
The great St. Augustine some 1,500 years ago wrote this line: "Lord, you have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you." The pilgrimage is a way of recognizing this profound reality and helps us get on the train, on God's train, by recognizing our profound thirst for the spiritual.
The running around and the countless distractions we provide our minds and our hearts with are clear indications that deep in us is a well of life that yearns to come to light. The pilgrimage wishes to provide us with the opportunity to probe into the depth of our soul and to rest with our God who will not fail to bless us in countless ways.
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