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Fr Josh Miechels: French village touches God

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There’s something heavenly – literally – about Paray-le-Monial. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

If you ever visit this little corner of France, you can encounter the heart of the crucified Jesus

I thought I understood Paray but I hadn’t.

I am writing this on the third of four trains today on my way to the lovely vaguely Australian-weather-like village of Mirepoix in the south of France having just finished what the French call a “session” in a little town called Paray-le-Monial.

Paray is special because it is there that Jesus revealed his Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. This private revelation was not simply a heart to look at, nor just an experience of it – he also articulated to her the content of his heart.

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The first and most important thing about the message of Jesus in Paray is just how much God loves us. One of the biggest problems we have in the Church in Australia is how little we appreciate how much God loves us. I remember one priest (now a bishop) remarking that one of our problems since the council is that we have spoken about the love of God – and little else. I think that’s true. The way we have often explained this love of God is that God is this vague far away indeterminate spirit who never looks but benevolently on everything we do.

The obvious problem with such a god is that he is obviously not loving – being so uninterested in me as to just bless whatever I want to do – and so obviously not really God at all, but rather a weak and pointless Eternal Wonderfulness Spirit sadly denuded of gonads and any effective reality who is uninspiring of trust and lacking of understanding of real, incarnate, painful human life and the fun of being flesh and blood. Little wonder, as the stats tells us, most of our youth, especially our young blokes, abandon Christian living as soon as they’re out of primary school.

The heart of Paray is the heart of Jesus crucified. Going to Paray, spending time there, is taking time with that beating heart, being moved by the warmth of that heart, and being healed by it. The heart of Jesus is an open one. Cut open, just like the heart of each of us who is broken-hearted by what the others did, by my hurt and pain – and at the same time God’s heart, totally divine, the encounter of my human heart with that of the creator of my heart, to undo and put back in smooth order. Jesus hurts – because who loves him? And yet there he is constantly, seeking, hoping for, our yes.

And that’s the point of the summer sessions. The whole thing – the heart-capturing liturgy, the architecture, the talks by experts, the personal testimonies of stuff that really happened to people, the availability of people to talk to and pray with, the convivial meals and the constantly surprising evening programs – volunteers pour out their time and energy to help facilitate one single thing: a deeply personal encounter with Jesus standing there, heart open to all, gushing forth his healing blood and water. It is perhaps no accident that a river runs through Paray, and that it is cocooned in stunning blood-orange sunsets.

The heart of Paray is the heart of Jesus crucified. Going to Paray, spending time there, is taking time with that beating heart, being moved by the warmth of that heart, and being healed by it.

In Paray, people meet Jesus.

This is not paid advertising: it’s just what I saw. I have been going to Paray since 2004, but these 5 days were the first I have gone as a priest. It’s the first time I’ve lived Paray in that way, and certainly it’s different from that point of view. Firstly because I was flat chat. Paray is a place to find rest – to doze our heart against the warm security of the heart of Jesus. But not for priests – at least, not necessarily in Summer.

I had to make an effort to plot out a time for adoration. And even then, despite being carefully hidden away in a dark corner of the Chapel of the Apparitions,“Excuse me Father are you here for confessions?”, “Excuse me Father, I happened to notice you were hearing confession, could you also hear mine?” My days were flooded with the work of mercy:- afternoons spent in the team for the parcours Aujourd’hui (“Today”, as in “Zacchae’us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today”) to accompany those divorced and in a new relationship; mornings and evenings spent hours of availability for confessions.

There are many ways to meet God – he is so generous. One easy way is in Paray. If you want to meet God, go to Paray.

Related Articles:

Fr Josh Miechels: What do we need? Saints
Padre in Paris: Fr Josh’s Mission trip to France

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