Last Monday our family set off for a week’s holiday in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Peneda-Gerês National Park here in Portugal.
We wanted to leave early in the morning, but packing bags, putting everything into the cars and generally maneuvering a large family and their two rather old dogs is not something that is done too quickly. In any case by 11 am we were out the door and on our way.
“Are we going to stop for a picnic in Sameiro like we usually do Mum?” asked the kids. The pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro, almost as a connection between two Marian sanctuaries, “our” Sanctuary of Mary Help of Christians at home in Mogofores, and the Sanctuary at Sameiro in northern Portugal, is a family tradition as we start our week’s holiday in the mountains every couple of years. And this year would be no exception.
“Of course”, I replied. “I’m only sorry that we’re leaving so late. Now we won’t be on time for Mass at Sameiro, and even more so that today is a feast day”.
“Today is the feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus. It would be so nice if we could go to mass in Sameiro. But it will be too late when we arrive. Never mind, we’ll go to the Sanctuary to pray to our Blessed Mother and to offer her up the holidays that She so generously gave us as a present.”
When we reached Sameiro we were hungry and quickly devoured a wonderful picnic. Then we entered the sanctuary peacefully to pray.
As we prayed there in silence it was coming up to three o’ clock and we noticed some movement around the altar. What could it be? Someone was preparing the missal and the ambo. But it wasn’t mass time. There was a youth group in the front pews moving around cheerily, opening the church organ and starting to rehearse some hymns. Now there was no doubt about it, there was going to be mass after all. I quickly called the smaller children who had already run outside after their short prayer and we knelt down to prepare to celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
The mass started at three o’ clock on the dot. The celebrant announced that this was an extra mass to inaugurate a holiday camp that the youth group was about to enjoy in Gerês. I couldn’t make out where the group had come from. And so, with the few visitors who happened to be there praying and this group of young campers, on that beautiful Monday afternoon, we celebrated the great feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
I couldn’t hide my smile as my joy overflowed. I seemed to see Our Lady winking at me, “Did you think I’d let you go away on holidays without mass, you who always stop by my house to say hello?”.
The theme of the Transfiguration led us throughout the week high up in the mountains (where we stayed until Monday), where we were anxious to contemplate the radiant light of God poured over His splendid creation and poured deep into the encounter we wanted to have in our family, with no schedules, practically no internet connection and no hurry whatsoever.
“It is good for us to be here!” we thought, just like St. Peter, as we swam in the lake, paddled and splashed in the mountainside waterfalls, climbed rocks, wandered through hidden country trails and explored villages that seemed lost in time. So many giggles and shared adventures. Inside me my baby jumped with joy. “One day he’ll thank me for this” Frankie joked as he helped me up and down from rock to rock without tripping or sliding.
“I could watch her all day without getting tired” Niall said to me subtly and hiding a laugh as Sara told us, with all the gravity of her 5 year’s experience, about an adventure she had had with Clare a few minutes earlier. Family holidays are precisely that time to look at each other, contemplating the wonder that God has hidden in each member of our family without getting tired of the discovery.
At the end of the day, in one of the villages we came accross, we found the village Church with a wall all round. There, beyond the eyes of the world and separated from the Tabernacle only by a single wall of granite, we prayed the Rosary together.
The transfiguration of life in every mountain we climb…