Last week Frank and I returned from two weeks in Quebec. We tried to balance nature (staying in a yurt in Jacques Cartier National Park near Quebec city, moose viewing, whale watching in the St. Lawrence River near Tadoussac) with culture (old Quebec City and Montreal, practicing French, visiting sites).
One of the sites that we visited was the great 350 year old pilgrimage site of the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupre which is visited by more than a million persons a year. The building itself is beautiful and much care seems to have been taken not to commercialize the inside of the chapels and nave with trinkets. Unlike many famous churches, people are scattered throughout the large space actually praying. I entered the perpetual adoration chapel for a time of quiet in the presence of the holy elements.
After visiting the building and grounds, we were sitting on an outdoors bench and a sixty-something gentleman in a wheat colored alb and deacon's sash and straw hat began walking the path near which we were sitting and relaxing our over-used and ageing feet. He was using his rather large rosary. In a way he seemed to be a Quebecois Friar Tuck.
When he approached us, I asked him if he was a deacon, since I had noticed the diagonal sash. "Oui, Monsieur," he replied. "I staff the blessings office!" He then described his work in "the blessings office" with the many pilgrims who come to the church hoping for a blessing or healing of some kind. Basically, he listens and prays.
It seemed clear to me during my walk through the basilica that blessings are given and received in this holy space. On several walls are crutches, walkers, canes that mobility impaired pilgrims have left behind as a testament to their renewed wholeness after visiting Ste. Anne.
We chatted with the deacon for a few minutes. He looked at us intently at the end and said "Would you like to be blessed?" "Sure," I said, "I can use all the blessing I can get." He prayed that God would bless us in our lives and our journeys. All I could say at the end, much moved, was "Merci, merci." I needed that prayer under those blue skies.
Strangely, as a religious brother with the Community of the Gospel and as spiritual director, I am sometimes asked to provide a blessing. Less often, I am a recipient of these kindly prayers. Even though I was actually having a good day (except for the tired tourist feet!) I did not wake up thinking that I needed a blessing. Yet, even in my good spirits, I did need that blessing, that reminder of God's love.
On the return trip to the United States, I thought a lot about this deacon (we never even asked each other's names) and the "blessings office." In so many ways, he himself is an ambulatory blessings office handing out reminders of sacred presence and abundance to those he meets.
And I reflected on the possibility that each individual can be a walking blessings office to each person who crosses her path. Why not forgot all the big projects and programs of what we sometimes misname "ministry" and just offer God's blessing to a hurting world? I remember in my Disciples of Christ Sunday School class the hymn that was still sung in those days with the refrain: "Make me a blessing . . . . ."