The Catholic Thing
Eucharisteo Print E-mail
By Karen Walter Goodwin   
Sunday, 02 September 2012

Last December, a friend called to say she’d proposed I be among the “beloved malades” on an annual pilgrimage to Lourdes sponsored by the Order of Malta. I felt what they call Eucharisteo, the deepest kind of gratitude.

My friend promised no guarantee of acceptance. There were prerequisites: I must be sick enough to qualify; lucid enough to disavow unrealistic expectations; and well enough to endure a seven-hour charter flight to France. I needed to secure my doctor’s permission and to schedule interviews with a Malta nurse, a hospitalier (a combination guide/companion for body and spirit), and a physician, all of whom would be final arbiters of my suitability.

It seemed unlikely I would be disqualified for being insufficiently sick. In the prior six months, I’d suffered a breast cancer recurrence, received two subsequent diagnoses of different types of colon cancer, and later the threat of a cervical malignancy.

In my professional experience as a producer, “Stage 3” designates a rehearsal space for a play or a sound stage for a TV show or movie. But at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Stage 3 means an unfavorable diagnosis, although not necessarily a death sentence.

There is a delicate tension between hope and fear in the interior life of a faithful Catholic – or anyone – who receives medical reports of this sort. The patient needs an action plan, a team of medical practitioners, and above all the truth, because false hope can be more toxic to the suffering soul than chemotherapy is to the afflicted body.

I can attest to the fact that prayers at such times may seem to go unanswered. But I can also testify that despite the anxiety and sorrow that accompany such news, in short order the paradox of unbidden blessings flows. A pilgrimage to Lourdes, for instance.

       The author greeted by Cardinal Wuerl

I was schooled by the Daughters of Charity to offer each day’s prayers, works, joys, and sufferings in reparation for my transgressions and for the intentions of my loved ones too. My body became a sort of burnt offering each day in the last year as it was slashed, poisoned, and seared in hopes of restoring me to health.

Gentler remedies were also tried. But the most mysterious weapons in the arsenal were prayers said, candles lit, and kindnesses given by family, friends, and even strangers.

And now Lourdes. I would come to think of the pilgrimage as not only a spiritual journey but also a form of palliative care. My immediate concern, however, was the practical and spiritual preparations necessary to be a pilgrim. But I’m good at organizing things, so I asked my prayer warriors to pray for me, revved up those daily devotional practices, bought a good guidebook to Lourdes, packed for variable weather, and brushed up on my schoolgirl French.

It was sweater weather in Lourdes. We malades moved in our assigned voitures d’infirme, rickshaws pulled and pushed by our designated Dame and Knight, to the Rosary Basilica for our first Mass, passing through (in the words of Wendell Berry) “a lived benediction within a damnable circle of fire.”

There are a lot of sellers outside the temple: street vendors; produce, wine, and cheese markets; religious souvenir shops; beggars with their legally required canine companions. And we left behind our own internal “commerce”: medical treatments, economic woes, war-zone telecasts – any distractions that might diminish our tenure en France.

There were opportunities for confession and Eucharistic adoration and candlelit rosary processions. One day included the anointing of the sick by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington. We participated in a Benediction liturgy. We visited the Grotto baths. We said the Stations of the Cross and chanted vespers with Carmelite nuns. We ate family-style meals.

We were a family. All our waking hours were marked by tender love, profound peace, and no real sense of time. Blessed John Paul II observes in his Letter to Families that modern rationalism does not tolerate mystery. Yet surely even a skeptic entering the domaine of Lourdes will sense that something extraordinary happened there in 1858. It’s still happening today.

And wherever we were and whatever we did, we were surrounded by the splendor of the universal Church: among men and women of most races, cultures, languages, ages, and states of health and grace.

           An Order of Malta candlelight procession at Lourdes

Was I healed? Most transformations occur over time. Epiphanies such as St. Paul’s on his journey to Damascus are rare, but however long it takes, the point of a journey to Lourdes is the same: a conversion of the heart more than a cure of the body. And some passage of time is usually required for either outcome.

My cancers are in remission, and I trust time will be my friend. A particular broken place in my heart is beginning to mend, and this is miracle enough for me.

One of my sister pilgrims died since we returned to the States, but her fondest wish was fulfilled at Lourdes. With the Grotto in the background, she and her husband renewed their wedding vows. It seemed a foretaste of heaven.

C. S. Lewis wrote that there were times he thought people don’t want to go to heaven, “but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”

It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

I live now in the rippling echoes of Lourdes. I am mindful of the yellow roses on the bare feet of Our Lady. I live in the Way of Beauty, albeit with the thorns of those yellow roses. Eucharisteo!

Karen Walter Goodwin, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is a producer with over a
dozen Broadway shows to her credit. She is founder of Fifth Avenue
Entertainment and serves on the Department of Business and Economics Advisory Board of Catholic University of America where she is Adjunct Professor.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (17)Add Comment
written by ib, September 02, 2012
Simply inspiring! Thank you for your spiritual insight following on your trip to Lourdes. Something still is happening there, people are being led to Jesus by St. Mary!
written by Jack,CT, September 02, 2012
Just wanted to tell you, you will be in my prayers for
continued remission, Jack
written by Mack, September 02, 2012
Dear Karen,

Thank you so much. Your witness is a gift to all. I will light a candle for you before Our Lady of LaSalette at Mass today.
written by Debbie, September 02, 2012
Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I too, have been suffering with more than one illness for over two years now, but nothing as severe as yours. Your beautiful story is touching. I will add you to my prayers.
God be With You,
written by Bill H, September 02, 2012
Beautiful and inspiring, Karen. May this joy always remain in your heart. You are in my prayers.
written by Randall, September 02, 2012
Thank you, Ms. Goodwin, for writing this.
written by Lúcia, September 02, 2012
Deus te abençoe. A Virgem Maria te proteja. "God bless you. Mary Virgo protect you."
Best prayers from a Brazilian retired teacher, 82.
written by Valerie Andrews, September 02, 2012
What an exquisite testimony to the ways that we are used by God, can be taken to our limits, then restored and comforted and given a new experience of wholeness. Your words are rich and inspiring, as is your life. We need these stories about the openness of faith, and these heartfelt role models. Thank you for lighting the way for others.
written by Kathy, September 02, 2012
Thank you for your story. Do you have any encouragement for those of us who are ill but have no chance/money to be able to go to Lourdes?
written by debby, September 02, 2012
"I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next...."

how much, dear sister, these words of our Mother to St. Bernadette must burn in our souls! and yet, having Her with us, in us, praying through us, us responding to Her as Her very weak and sickly (in need) children, does this not bring such a Heavenly Joy even now in the midst of the valley of tears to us? a kind of happiness the world cannot begin to fathom?
You are in my prayers. Thank you for your gift of Faith multiplied 100 times already in this short life! Your holiness and true Health are quite visible, Karen.
written by Karen Walter Goodwin, September 02, 2012
Just now reading the comments. Makes me think of Jane Austen. I always love being addressed as gentle reader when I return to her novels. Now I have a few of my own gentle readers thanks to all of you.

@Kathy: Sr. Helen Scarry described the pilgrimage to Lourdes as 'a call within a call'. Our vocations have unique 'calls within the call', but as Jacques Philippe says our path is markedly easier, "when one has learned, little by little, how to conserve, in all circumstances, a profound peace of heart." Such peace of heart is pure gift from God and in Blessed John Paul II address to women religious is a message to us all about how to receive such a gift of peace: "dedicate a sufficiently long period of time every day to stand before the Lord, to tell him [our] love and above all let [yourself] be loved by him." One can do this from a sickbed, in a workplace, at an adoration chapel. Anywhere. Anytime.
written by John Peters, September 03, 2012
Forgive me Karen if I appear to hijack your posting. I would like t address this to Kathy. I have prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet for the twelve months that my mother in law was diagnosed with a particularly vicious strain of leukemia, along with the daily rosary. After all the treatment you can imagine was given to her, we took her home to die among her loved ones,but that was not what happened. She is now living a medecine free life, and the last thing her specialist told her was...keep doing what you're doing, ....i continue to pray the Chaplet, and the rosary in thanksgiving. I hope this gives you some hope.
written by Fr. Leonard Tumaini Chuwa, September 03, 2012
Thank you so very much for your substantive, inspiring and challenging sharing. Yes, Our heavenly Mother has a great way of reaching each of us when we want to reach her in faith. She mediates the special grace that we need at every moment in our lives, especially at the moment of our death. So generous of you to share this with us! Eucharisteo.
written by brian redmond, September 03, 2012
Dear Karen,
You are teaching us what it is to be in The Church.Not to be a member, but to Be in The Church.
Thank you.
written by John H, KM, September 03, 2012
Karen. What a blessing it was to have you on pilgrimage with us in Lourdes. You describe so well the spiritual gift we all share. All the best and God Bless. JBH
written by Gaby DeLeon, September 06, 2012
You captured the true spirit of the Pilgrimage - with no expectations other than going with an open heart and to God's will. I am honored to be at your side in this blessed journey of faith. May God be always with you in your physical healing. Gaby
written by Julie, June 19, 2013
"dedicate a sufficiently long period of time every day to stand before the Lord, to tell him [our] love and above all let [yourself] be loved by him." I keep coming back to this in the comments section....thank you for is changing my life.

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