To celebrate our one year anniversary, my husband and I went to LaCrosse, Wisconsin for the weekend. You might be wondering, Wisconsin? Really?
Well, we decided that for our first anniversary, we wanted to make it a mini-pilgrimage and thank God for the gift of our vocation, for the joys and the struggles & for the invitation to grow and to understand the realities of love and sharing in one life together. We had a year of adjustments, struggles, joys, frustrations, achievements… marriage is a holy job that strips us of our pride and requires us to delve in with sleeves rolled up to learn more about ourselves, each other and the Will of God for our relationship and for our marriage!
We also wanted to be pilgrims on our anniversary to recognize and remember that we are on a journey Heavenward and that this earth is a way to sanctify and help each other to grow in order to become the best versions of ourselves and get to our ultimate destination: Heaven.
David and I spent Sunday at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, WI, and to say that it is a beautiful place is an understatement. The Shrine, the grounds and the gardens are incredible and so peaceful.
When we entered the parking lot, we came across the visitor’s center that houses the shops, cafe, and maps for information about the Shrine. To get to the Shrine itself, it is a ½ mile walk up the winding hill, scattered with beautiful statues and ornate gardens, as well as beautiful views of the hills.
On our way up, there is a small building that has stained glass windows and votives everywhere. It’s a quiet spot where individuals send in prayer requests and candles are lit for various petitions. As we sat looking at the structure of votives and taking in the space, it hit me as to how many prayers are going up to Heaven, represented by all the lit candles.
When we arrived at the top of the Shrine, we were in awe at the impeccable stone, architecture, flowers and spaces throughout. It reminded me of California with the architectural designs and the light-colored stone.
We entered into the Shrine and we were greeted by a man who informed us of the Mass and the decision for the Mass to be ad orientem. I didn’t really know what this meant, so he explained and pointed us to a sign that gave us further details about this decision by the Shrine to celebrate the Mass in this way.
The priest offers Mass facing the same direction as the people, because he and the people together are offering worship and sacrifice to God. He is not turning his back on the people to exclude them. Rather, as a Christian community, all are facing ad orientem (i.e. toward the east), waiting in joyful expectation for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will return to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire (Rite of Baptism, 1962).
The early Church determined the position of the altar should be faced Eastward. To quote St. Augustine: “When we rise to pray, we turn East, where Heaven begins. And we do this not because God is there, as if He had moved away from the other directions on earth…, but rather to help us remember to turn our mind towards a higher order, that is, to God.”
We attended the English-speaking Mass and heard a beautiful homily on the importance of the Rosary and investing in prayer time. The priest emphasized the importance of perseverance in prayer and recognizing that love is not a feeling, but it is a choice of the will. To pray, even when we don’t feel anything or feel like it, is an active choice of the will to love Christ no matter what we are feeling or what we would rather be doing in that moment. Prayer is a way to build a relationship with the Lord and to grow in holiness.
After Mass, we attended Confession and proceeded to walk around the Shrine. It is built based on Italian-style churches in Rome with frescos, paintings, high domes and ceilings. It is a magnificent building and architectural feat!
There were 3 paintings and 1st class relics that are in the Shrine that are near and dear to my heart. The painting of St. Gianna Molla, who was a wife, mother and pediatric surgeon, who offered up her life for the life of her unborn child. Can you imagine such a decision? This incredibly smart, talented woman ultimately chose holiness – although it seemed so crazy to the world and those around her to choose to leave her husband a widow and their children in his care. But, out of love for Jesus and for the gift of their child, she didn’t want to risk the pregnancy and she and her husband made a heroic decision to honor the gift of life that God had given them. I can’t even imagine making such a decision! St. Gianna was not only a mother to her own children, but has been a mother to say many who pray to her and ask for her protection and intercession. God had big plans for her and she and her family chose to selflessly witness sacrificial love to the world!
The second image and 1st class relic is that of my beloved friend, St. Therese of Lisieux. This woman gets my heart. Every Church that I go to, I have found her in a painting or a statue and I know it’s her way of being my friend and reminding me that she’s praying for me and helping me along my path to holiness.
The 3rd and final image and 1st class relic that meant a lot to me was that of St. Faustina Kowalska. I have ever so slowly been reading her Diary this past year and she is such an incredible, beautiful saint. She brought the image of Divine Mercy to all of us and I have learned more about her thanks to Formed and a beautiful series by the Augustine Institute, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, which walks through Christ’s Divine Mercy during tumultuous times in history. If you don’t have Formed, you should get it through your parish (it’s free!) and if you haven’t seen this series yet, it is so worth watching! The Augustine Institute produces such incredible material!
After walking through the Shrine, David and I walked back to the car to grab a bite to eat and then walked back up to look at Shrine of the Unborn, the Stations of the Cross walk and Rosary walk.
The Shrine of the Unborn leaves you speechless as you see a large statue of the Blessed Mother holding small children and tenderly looking upon them with such love and care. There are spaces that have the names of children written who passed away and it was so humbling to see the losses of such little ones and to pray for those who have lost children due to miscarriage, illness and abortion. The loss of child is always hard on a mother’s heart and my heart goes out to all women who have suffered the loss of unborn child(ren). Witnessing my own mom’s miscarriage of one of my siblings when I was 10 was a sorrowful experience for our whole family. But, we must remember the promise of Christ: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
We then walked through the outdoor Stations of the Cross & Rosary Walk and looked at the beautiful designs and sculptures in place for a contemplative and meditative experience for visitors. It was truly such a gift to be able to spend the day at the Shrine and soak in the beauty!
If you haven’t visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I highly recommend it. We definitely see ourselves going back to visit. It’s such a beautiful, peaceful place to go!