Homily at closing Mass in Lourdes

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11th September 2013

“Our pilgrimage draws to a close.  Since the start of our pilgrimage on Sunday morning, at the silence of the Grotto, we have passed four full and intense days together.  We have taken part in extraordinary liturgies; we have prayed together and for each other; we have experienced that sense of belonging to the one family of the Church, as the mercy and the loving kindness of Jesus Christ has been palpable in our midst.  We have been there for each other and we have enjoyed being together as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, despite our differences in age and in background, in our state of health and in our sense of personal well-being.

We prepare now to go away back to our daily lives renewed, each of us touched in a special way by the mystery of this holy place.

Each of us knows in our own hearts how we have experienced these days.  We know that in the quiet and the calm of this place the secrets that lie hidden in our hearts have been touched: our failings, our anxieties, our hopes and our disappointments.  The waters of the baths of Lourdes are symbols of the healing and cleansing, renewing and life-giving power of God.  They symbolise the refreshing power of our baptism in which we became sons and daughters of God and entered into a personal bond of friendship with Jesus Christ.  Here in Lourdes that bond has been refreshed and given new vigour and each of us in our own way goes away refreshed with new hope.

The sick among us in particular will have felt that special bond of friendship, which springs from our encounter with Mary and with Bernadette who show us the way towards the mercy and kindness of Jesus.

The Gospel reading we have just heard – of the Wedding Feast of Cana – can help us to interpret something of our experience here at Lourdes. It is a remarkable story with a very deep meaning. We find it in the very early part of the Gospel of Saint John as the Evangelist. He sets out to show his readers the newness of the message of Jesus Christ and how shows us how Jesus Christ brings newness and transformation into our lives, into our Church, and into the world.

In this miracle story, it is not just that Jesus performs a gesture of politeness and generosity towards his hosts at the wedding, who find that their preparations have been found wanting as the wine is not sufficient.  The wine is really a symbol of Jesus Christ. He is the “newness” which is the answer to what is wanting in our lives.  Jesus is the answer who can fill the void that exists in our lives when we discover that our own plans go astray. He is the one who transforms our abilities and our hopes and leads us in a new direction.

We see in this miracle story something of the way in which Jesus acts in us and for us.  Just as at the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the first thing that Jesus asks when our plans go wrong is, ‘what do we have to offer’.  He asks that the water jars  be filled with the simple water that is at hand.  He takes and transforms what we have.  He takes and transforms what we have and he transforms it not just into the wine we need, but he transforms it into a wine, which is better than we had even asked for or imagined.

Indeed, he takes and transforms that humble water into the best wine and he does so in abundance.  The scripture scholars indicate that the water jars would have produced about 180 gallons or nearly 700 litres of wine.  The point was not that all would have a great party and a heavy hang-over next day, but to remind us all that when we trust in the Lord his response will always be superabundant, way beyond what we deserve and way beyond what we can expect.

That has been our experience here in Lourdes.  We came as sick and we go away with an experience that is different to that we may have thought about. We go away with a different understanding of peace and serenity. 

Others came to help and to be of service and we go away  knowing that we have received more than we gave.  We all go away a little humbler and realising that there are deeper dimensions to life than we tend to think in the daily business of our lives.

In this story, the place of Mary is central.  We see her faith and we see what faith means.  Mary herself does not fully know the mystery of her son. She makes her request to him but is told his hour has not yet come.  Right through her life Mary has to watch as her son carries out his mission in ways that she does not expect or understand.  In all this tension she always maintains trust in him, even as his life and mission take on a direction which she could never have imagined, even as she watches her son who spent his life doing good being rejected and led to a criminals death.

Mary even in moments of darkness always remains faithful and her fidelity opens a path of transformation in human history.  She asks us to do as her son tells us even when we do not fully understand.

Mary opens our hearts to accept the transformation of values that can take place in our hearts, if we learn that same sense of trust in Jesus, even when we find it hard to realise what Jesus is saying to us.

As we come to the end of our pilgrimage let us use these last moments of silence and simplicity to ponder what Jesus has been saying to us in these days in this holy place.  Let us look into our hearts and into our talents and into our aspirations and have the courage to take up the challenge of transformation that Jesus places before us.

Two days ago at the celebration of the anointing of the sick, Father Paul Ludden reminded all of us of the sickness and anxiety and sinfulness that lurks deep down in each of us.  May we have the strength and the honesty, each of us in the quiet of our hearts, to recognise our weaknesses and to trust in the Lord that his loving kindness will embrace and transform us.  Never give up hope; never give in to cynicism and compromise.  The Lord works through us and with us in our weakness. 

As priests, we can come away renewed in our calling knowing that our personal difficulties and the particular challenges we face in today’s society can be transformed.  I ask all of you to pray for your priests and to support your priests. Who knows,  there may be among the young men and women here, some who harbour a calling to follow Jesus in a special way in priestly or religious life or in some special commitment in Christian life?

The story of the Wedding Feast at Cana is about the Church.  The Mother of Jesus and his disciples were invited to that event at the beginning of Jesus’ mission. Later in the Scriptures, on the day of Pentecost, we encounter the disciples gathered with Mary, at the birth of the Church. The Church where alone we encounter the power of Jesus Christ which transforms us to be witnesses in the world, to that loving embrace of Jesus, which we have experienced in a special way in these days in Lourdes.

Let us bring that experience of Lourdes with us in our lives and in our hearts wherever we go in the days, months and year ahead.

At the end of this pilgrimage I would like to make an appeal.   In these days we have shared here in Lourdes an extraordinary experience of peace.  This contrasts with the constant news we receive about the violence of shootings and stabbings that marr the life of the streets of Dublin.

Such horrendous violence can become so commonplace that we become anaesthetised to it and even worse, it acquires for its perpetrators a sort of warped sense of celebrity.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Violence degrades and brings shame on its perpetrators and sponsors  Violence only leads to further violence and grief.  Vendetta generates further vendetta and leaves both the perpetrators and the community less secure.

We have to raise our voices unambiguously to condemn those behind this violence.  As communities we have to support and cooperate with the Gardai; we have to speak out; we have to shame the perpetrators;  we have to educate our young people;  we have to mobilize our communities; we have to pray for an end to a dangerous cancer in our society. ENDS