Monday, January 24, 2011

New People Every Day

First of all, I must note that my plans today changed. In a previous post, I wrote that M. et Mme. Garde were coming for me today, Monday, to visit the Cistersian Monastery of Thoronet. Yesterday, I received an e-mail from them saying they were having car trouble and the car had to go into the Renault dealership today. So our trip has been moved to Wednesday.

Everyday I meet new people coming and going. First, this morning I learned my two new friends from Italy are leaving tomorrow after petit dejeuner. They are leaving to go north towards Aix en Provence and then to Arles. I have visited both of these cities. Aix en Provence is a vibrant college and market town. Arles is a city dating back to the ancient Roman times with a Coloseum, which is much better preserved than its most famous counterpart in Rome. It also has an ancient theater, which is also extremely well preserved; preserved enough that it is still in use today for concerts and plays.

Padre Luciano, left, Padre Angelo, right
 Padre Luciano is a Franciscan hermit, Padre Angelo is a diocesan priest. They are both from the central region of Italy, near Parma. They go together on retreat once each year. They drove here to La Sainte-Baume and will continue to other shrines before returning to Italy next week.
We are standing in front of a doorway built in 1522. It originally stood at the entrace of the grotto up on the mountain for nearly 300 years. It was removed 200 years ago and was on display in museums and churches until it was placed here in the hotelerie at the entrance of the chapel in 2006.
We had all our meals here together since they arrived on last Thursday, the day after me. It didn't take long before there were comments about the food. They live in the area of Italy which produces some of the world's best olive oil, and of course the famous cured meat, prosciutto di Parma. They realized how much I love my coffee. Many of you know of my reputation for liking strong coffee. 

These two Italians of course are accustomed to the strongest and the best espresso there is. (I can't wait to get to Italy.) Padre Luciano has a joke about coffee. He says there are three kinds of coffee: (Of course you have to hear this spoken in French with an Italian accent.) First there is coffee of St. Claire for women, ('clara' means 'clear'); then there is coffee of St. Philip Neri for men, ('nero' means 'black' in Italian); and then there is coffee of St. Alphonsus 'Liquori' (the saint's name is actually 'Liguori') for clergy. This little joke came up after I refered to liquor in coffee as "sucherro Italiano". (Italian sugar) To my surprise, neither had ever heard of it expressed that way. It must be a Federal Hill thing.

View to the north of La Sainte-Victoire
 Today was also housekeeping and laundry day. Because Monday is the slowest day of the week at the hotelerie, Frere Henri, (who I just learned yesterday is the real name of Frere Hotelier) said that one of the ladies on their housekeeping staff would be at my door at 9:30. If I had my laundry ready, she would take it. That was great because when I arranged for laundry in the first place, I figured I'd be doing it myself. With the staff in my room, it was the perfect opportunity to take the morning for a nice long walk. I walked towards the village of Plan D'Aups, hoping to find a little store for some personal items. Its a beautiful walk, and gave me time to do meditation with spectacular scenery. As I came to the crest of a hill, the view to my right opened up and I saw another mountain range to the north, similar to the cliff of La Sainte-Baume. The shape of it and the features around it looked vaguely familiar. Later I learned that I have in fact been there. It is La Sainte-Victoire, a mountain range made famous by the 19th century artist Paul Cezanne. I had taken a half-day bus tour a few years ago which included his home in Aix-en-Provence, and the places he loved to paint.

We were joined at Mass by a group of young priests who belong to a "pious society" called La Societe d'Emmanuel. A pious society is a kind of religious order but it generally includes not only priests, but professed men and women, single laity and even married couples and their children. This group was the priests of this society who meet together every two months for prayer and reflection. They are here for 24 hours. They travel and give retreats, and their focus is evangelization with the "emmanuel" message - "God is with us". Today, a young couple were seated next to me at dejeuner.  I introducd myself. She said, "you are the American priest, you are here for a month and then you travel to Rome to study. Turns out her mother was at table last week.

I Skyped with Pastor Don Bliss today. Learned it's just as cold in East Freetown as it is here. We had a nice chat about what I'm doing here. He challenged me to take off the watch and go with the flow of the prayer time here. He understands what this is all about. It's been 4 days and I'm just now getting into the slower pace. There is really something about living by the bells. We used to joke about it at the seminary as though we were giving up some kind of control. But I see these priests, brothers and sisters living here by the bells. Everything gets done. And the whole life is governed by the prayer time. It forms and shapes all that is said and done. My wallet and the cell phone are in the room. I don't carry them around. At Don Bliss' suggestion, from now on so will the watch.

Ah! Speaking of bells - it's dinner time. Be back later.

Well I thought I would have time to write more between dinner and night prayer. But I've been chatting with an interesting young man who arrived for a week-long retreat. He is in between jobs and wants to do some spiritual discernment. Now its time for night prayer. I will be back to resume later.