Thursday, November 3, 2011

Paris, Ignatius, Calvin, and Me

It's been a little more than five years since I wandered the streets of Paris, thinking about Ignatius of Loyola and John Calvin, who had both studied in the same neighborhood in which we were staying ~ wondering whether they ever met, and musing about the diverging paths the Catholic and Protestant churches were taking during those early years of the 16th century ~ paths that would converge in my own rather eclectic spiritual life. (All of those questions eventually led to an independent study in seminary!)

One afternoon that week, I sat in the Chapel of the Martyrs in Montmartre, imagining Ignatius and the first Jesuits there 450 years earlier, committing themselves to God and to one another.  I prayed the final prayers of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, and made my own commitment to following the path toward ordained ministry, if that were really what God had in mind.  A big IF, I might add.   I laughed and I shed a few tears, and I guessed that not too many paths toward ministry in the Presbyterian Church have begun in that particular setting.

I have most assuredly had many opportunities to wonder whether I had taken off down a road completely of my own making, one that perhaps had very little to do with God.   At the time, during those days of discernment five years ago,  it seemed that three years of seminary, requiring me to live in two cities, would be something of a challenge.  That it might be difficult to pursue both a certificate in spiritual direction and an M.Div., at the same time.  That I might be a little too old.

Those concerns seem so trivial now, in light of the death of my son and the new challenge of breast cancer ~ matters which have caused me to question everything I have ever done and to ponder whether I should simply pull the front door of my house closed and never venture out again.

But ~ here I am.  I have consecrated and served bread and drink.  I preach every Sunday now.  Yesterday I spent the waning hours of the afternoon riding in a tractor and then a truck as one of my parishoners gave me the grand tour of his farm.  In two more weeks I will have major surgery.  I am a minister of word and sacrament, and one of the many times and places in which that astonishing reality began to take shape was in the small chapel about which I at that time wrote the following:

While I had initially planned a trip to Paris in large part for the purpose of getting to Chartres, the Jesuits found their way into my objectives, too.

My quest eventually focused in on Montmartre and on the tiny church at the foot of the Basilica of Sacre'-Coeur known as the Chapel of the Martyrs. Sacre'-Coeur is a famous landmark in Paris if for no reason other than its singular appearance on a hillside to the north of the city.

Almost no one has heard of the Chapel of the Martyrs, and probably very few people stumble across it, located as it is on a side street slightly out of the way of the usual Montmartre walking routes. I was at something of a loss myself, until at the very last minute I stumbled across an article giving the address and indicating that it might be open on Friday afternoons.

"Okay," I announced, our first full day in Paris being also our only Friday there, "we are off on a quest for the first Jesuits," seven men who met in the Chapel of the Martyrs and made their first vows among themselves on August 15, 1534. The chapel itself was, like many of the sacred buildings in France, destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt during the next century.We found it nestled on a busy side street, almost hidden behind scaffolding, but with a sign indicating that it would open at 3:00.

The chapel itself is nestled partway underground and maintained with the simplest of decors -- whitewashed walls, clear windows, a plain altar, and a large oil painting on the wall of the Jesuits making their vows at that spot. I won't try to convey what it meant to me to sit there quietly for an hour, to pray and absorb the powerful event that had taken place there but, after nearly a year in the company of Ignatius, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I guess it took.


  1. Robin, you have followed a courageous journey of faith and our precious Jesus has been with you every step of the way. Please know that many pray for you as you face surgery very shortly. As I read your blog I was reminded of the New Testament reading in today's liturgy: "...we do not live to ourselves...we live to the Lord...we are the Lord's..." Romans 14. Your faith journey is evidence that you are the Lord's. God bless, Lynda

  2. Beautiful. God works in mysterious ways....

  3. This was a lovely, vital posting. I felt as if I was following you into that chapel.