Homily at Opening of Virtual Lourdes Pilgrimage

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Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin

Church of Saint Bernadette, Clogher Road, 8th September 2020


This is a gathering that none of us had anticipated.  For only the second time in its history, the Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes cannot gather at the Shrine of Our Lady.   The coronavirus that has spread right across Europe and beyond prevents us from travelling; it prevents us from what for most of us is an important moment each year in our spiritual calendar.  For us Lourdes means so much, whether we are sick or in good health, young or old. Lourdes is a truly a privileged place.

What makes Lourdes so special?   How can it impress so many:  strong believers, the just plain curious, and even perhaps the cynical; how can it gather the sick and the healthy, the important and those without any pretence of importance.  Yet after being in Lourdes all go away with a unique experience. What is it that is so special about Lourdes?

It is something that is hard to explain. The fact that Mary should have appeared there to a poor, barely literate girl is in itself something remarkable.  The fact that that encounter should result in something which has had an impact for generations, something that has affected the lives of so many and has brought healing and serenity to the gravely sick and the most distressed is something which begs explanation.

Over the years, Lourdes has quietly flourished in the face of even hostile cultures, whether of atheistic Marxism or agnostic materialism.  Lourdes retains its unique character and appeal.

When we look closely, we can see that Lourdes is a place where accepted values are overturned.   Lourdes is a place where the sick and the handicapped are treated as the most treasured pilgrims.  No one in Lourdes is judged on outward appearances.  A holy shrine welcomes humble sinners.  In a world full of self-confidence, those who are troubled, who are anxious are accepted and recognised really as pilgrims, all of us on the same path towards an acceptance of that “joyful hope” to which we are all called.

Lourdes is a shrine of Mary, but Mary is the first to point our hearts and minds towards her son Jesus.  Mary in her short conversations with Bernadette indicates to us the path towards her son:  the path of repentance and penance, the path of prayer and of the Eucharist.

Lourdes is a place of prayer.  Who knows how many persons, young and old, have silently travelled to Lourdes over the years to place themselves in prayer before Jesus, a prayer of humility admitting one’s weakness or sinfulness, a prayer of petition seeking something important for our own lives or for the lives of those dear to us, a prayer to be cured, healed and made fully oneself, a rare moment of genuine prayer of worship an adoration, a recognition of the lordship and transcendence of God.

Prayer means placing oneself humbly in the presence of a reality that is greater than us and recognising that our lives are in the hand of someone greater than us, and that that someone cares for us and supports us the God of love.

Mary is a model for all humanity, also because in being free from original sin, she in a very special way mirrors that original image of God that was the distinctive mark of humankind, before the damaging and disfiguring sin of Adam.  Through her obedience to the Word of God, Mary constitutes the beginnings of the restoration of the original harmony that God had desired for his creation, that redemption through Jesus that will free humanity and creation from the effects of original sin.

This evening, if only virtually, we place all the intentions of our own hearts at the Grotto of Lourdes which is a remarkable oasis of peace and the deep serenity we all seek.  Lourdes is the place where we learn from the humility of Mary and Bernadette.

Let us confidently turn in prayer and ask the intercession of Mary and Bernadette for all our intentions.  As we become aware of the growing number of people contracting the Coronavirus in the greater Dublin area in these days, let us recall all to a sense of common responsibility and solidarity to do all we can to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mary was the faithful one who stood by Jesus on the Cross.  She was with the small community of the early Church, in prayer and in expectation of the Spirit, imploring the gift of the Spirit for the Church.  In a special way this evening, we ask her intercession for the Church in this Archdiocese of Dublin as we journey on our daily virtual pilgrimage of renewal in faith and love.