Homily at opening of Lourdes Pilgrimage

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


 Lourdes, 8th September 2103

 There is always something quite radical about faith in Jesus Christ.  This is stressed very much in today’s Gospel reading.  The words of Jesus are strong.  He speaks even of hating father and mother and even hating one’s own life. 

 The way of faith is the way of the cross, not the way the comfort zones that we can easily create around ourselves.  The Gospel is telling us, you cannot be a half-baked believer but we all know this is not the case in our own hearts.

 Each of us knows his or her own weaknesses, temptations, and compromises.  We all know how we are attached to the things of this world.  We all know how hard it is to be detached from the luxuries that deep down we know we do not really need.  There is global industry and a pattern of life based on tempting us to believe that we need certain products and that somehow our life will be happier if have them.

 How is the Christian to live then in this consumer driven world?  Is the challenge set out in today’s Gospel really possible at all?

 The Gospel reading moves on and in the  second part and gives us some indications as to how we should live out our faith in the realities of our world.  Faith does not necessarily provide magic answers to the challenges of life.  Having faith does not necessarily change the realities of our hearts.   Thinking that our faith can provide specific and direct answers to all life’s challenges only leads to fundamentalism. 

 Faith is not a flight from reality.  We live our faith within the realities of the world and we must engage the realities of the world in the light of our faith.  This does not mean that we can compromise on our faith – but rather that we must always be authentic and coherent in our responses.  When we make plans we must look at the consequences and the risks that are involved and calculate in the light of faith where the true road is.  We have to be realistically honest or we will turn out like the man who started to build the tower without thinking and ended up a frustrated failure.

 The way of faith is the way of the cross and the way of the cross is the way of self- giving, rather than the way of placing ourselves and our possessions and our comforts first.

 There is sometimes the idea that those in religious orders have a vow of poverty and that renunciation of possessions is something for them only and does not apply to the rest of us.  The Gospel reading seems to be saying quite the opposite.  Unless we give up all our possessions, it says, then we will not be considered disciples.

 There is something fundamental, then, about the attitude we must have towards possessions if we want to be followers of Jesus Christ. 

 One of the great themes of Pope Francis is that the Church must never become “self-referential”, closed in on itself, a closed shop preoccupied only with itself, a Church more attached to itself than to spreading the message of Jesus Christ. The Church, he stresses, must reach out;  it must move out beyond itself. An inward-looking Church will never be missionary and will never renew itself.  Pope Francis says that the Church must be a Church whose doors are always open to welcome people; but that is not enough: we must go out through those doors to engage with those who do not come to us.

 We gather here in Lourdes on this day which the liturgy usually celebrates as the Birthday of our Lady.   We come as pilgrims and here in the experience of Lourdes we begin to learn something of what that new life is like that we are called to lead as Christians. 

 The presence of the sick among us reminds us of the deeper meaning of our lives.  It reminds us of the emptiness the rat-race and self-centredness causes in our lives.   The first reading asks “which of us on our own can divine the will of God?” Lourdes challenges all of us to learn that self-affirmation alone can only lead to arrogance, and that real self-fulfilment comes from giving and sharing. True self-fulfilment comes when we move beyond ourselves towards mercy and compassion, towards understanding and embracing others, towards helping and carrying those less fortunate than ourselves. 

 We pray that our pilgrimage this year will be one where we share in prayer and caring for each other in our differing sufferings and anxieties and hopes. 

 We pray for the sick and we ask the sick to pray for us and for the Church.  We pray for those who attend the sick, many of whom have been coming here year after year.  We pray for and with those who come here with the hidden intentions and anxieties of their hearts. We pray for the auxiliary pilgrims who have supported us through their generosity and their prayer.

 We pray for the many young people who are with us and who enrich us with their youthful enthusiasm.  We pray that the experience of Lourdes will give them a renewed sense of what the Church is.  The Church needs your presence.

 We pray for the priests who are with us and who represent the great priests who minister in the diocese of Dublin.  We pray for vocations. 

 Lourdes is a remarkable place and its unique character can only be explained by the central figures which mark its history: Mary and Bernadette.  Both are models of evangelical simplicity.  Mary is the one who put aside any trust in worldly possessions and entrusted her life entirely to fulfilling the will of the Lord.  Through that selfless simplicity Mary unlocked for us a power which changes our lives, and the life of the Church and the life of the world.  

 Together with Pope Francis and the whole Church we pray here this morning, at this place of extraordinary serenity, for peace in Syria and for peace in the world.

 We pray for the Church that it will understand that renewal comes not from inward-looking debates but through becoming ever more the place where the compassion and mercy of God is lived out and shared.

 We pray  that during these days of pilgrimage, through the intercession of Mary and Bernadette, the saving and loving power of Jesus will overcome those forces in the world which menace the gift of peace; will overcome those forces in our lives which lead us to anxiety and emptiness; will overcome those forces in the Church which hinder our witness to that love of God which embraces us day by day, today and tomorrow. 

 May the peace of this place be a powerful symbol of the peace the Lord wishes to bring to each and every one of our 2000 pilgrims during this Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes 2013.