Memories of Saint Michael’s Mountain

My devotion to Saint Michael the Archangel began the summer of 2000, the same year I graduated from high school.  During that summer I participated in an exchange program where I stayed with a French family in the beautiful town of Loches (near Tours).  One of the weekend trips scheduled as part of the exchange program was a visit to the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy.  Located in a breath-taking setting, the monastery sits on top of a small island about half a mile from the French coast.  For centuries, the island was only accessible during low tide when the ocean totally receded, unveiling the ocean floor and allowing pilgrims to cross.

I was struck by the beauty and peace of the place.  For thirteen centuries monks had prayed on this island.  I had never felt so close to God as when I walked across the cloister from where there was a commanding view of the ocean below.

The cloister, below a view of the Abbey’s shadow as seen from the cloister

I bought a medal and learned the Prayer to Saint Michael.  I began to pray it occasionally.  When college started I would pray it almost daily before going to bed.

During my sophomore year in college the Lord made it evident to me that I needed to change course in my life.  I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life, even though I made it with great peace.  I applied to seminary.  Without planning it, it was on September 29th, 2001, the Feast of the Archangels, that I drove home and told my family I wanted to go to seminary.  That I felt called to be a priest.  I am convinced, by this and many other happenings, that Saint Michael played a crucial role in my answering God’s call.

Years of seminary studies followed after and on April 2006 I had the opportunity to return to Mont Saint Michel.  This time not as a visitor, but as a pilgrim.  Not as a tourist, but as a retreatant.

I arrived on a cool afternoon to the train station of Pontorson 5.5 miles from the Abbey.  Outside the deserted station I found the bus schedule.  There were only two daily buses to the Abbey and I had just missed the first one.  The next one was at night.  I decided to walk.

My first sighting of the Abbey (on the horizon, right in the middle)
Finally approaching

As I walked along the road from Pontporson towards the sea I spotted the Abbey a long distance away.  I slowly but surely approached it.  The more I walked the more I identified with the thousands of pilgrims who had walked this very same path throughout the centuries towards the beautiful Abbey.  After about two hours I crossed onto the village and began my ascent through the village’s one street towards the Abbey.  I quickly found myself standing before imposing wooden doors.  I had reached my destination and the walk had been well worth it.  I rang the doorbell.  I knocked on the door.  I sat down and waited.

Five minutes passed and I tried again.  Suddenly I became afraid, “perhaps I am too late and the monks will not come to the door!”  Eventually a monk appeared and welcomed me, I had arrived just in time for dinner.

After eating a simple meal in silence, I was invited into the Abbey church for night prayer.  I sat with the monks and sisters in an exquisite medieval church without any tourists or distractions.  They began to chant and I thought I had entered paradise.  I had never heard such beautiful voices.  That was my first encounter with the Fraternite Monastique de Jerusalem.

I spent the next three days with the monks, living in a small house in the village.  I was given my very own key into the Abbey.  In the evenings after the tourists left, I would walk around the cloister praying a rosary.  I was by myself, but certainly not alone.  I joined the monks for prayers and Mass.  I had the opportunity to walk on the ocean floor during low tide, making sure I didn’t go too far out since the tide rose quickly.

The back entrance into the Abbey
View towards the village from the Abbey

The experience was so powerful that I am afraid of repeating it.  I am afraid I would be disappointed if I returned and it would not be quite the same.  On Sunday after morning Mass and lunch (where we were allowed to speak) I continued my journey.  A journey that continues and I always reflect on in a special way every September 29th.

I became a pro at finding the perfect place to place my camera and take a selfie.
Pictures are mine, all rights reserved, 2006.
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