Opening Mass at Lourdes Pilgrimage

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Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin

Opening Mass at the Grotto at Lourdes, 8th September 2015


“We gather once again this year on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary to begin our 2015 Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes.

We gather on this opening day at the Grotto where Our Lady appeared to Saint Bernadette.  We gather in prayer and we gather to reflect on the lesson of Lourdes.  Why are we here?  What does Lourdes teach us?

Let us look firstly at a little bit of history. The apparitions at Lourdes took place at a time of cultural and political change in France and in Europe.  As on so many occasions in history, there was a growing hostility to religion and a hope that a different type of society, where religion would be more marginal, would lead to a better society.

There are many who would feel and think in similar terms today in France, in Europe and indeed in  Ireland. We encounter what Pope Benedict called “a kingdom of God without God”.  Mary appeared to Bernadette with a different message, a message of prayer and conversion and a return to the teaching of Jesus. In the decades after the apparition, Lourdes and especially this Grotto which is at the heart of the Shrine, has maintained that message in an authentic way.

The message of Lourdes is a message which calls us back to the heart of the Christ’s message.  Mary’s answer “yes”, enabled – as we heard in the opening prayer “the dawning of salvation”. Still today it opens in our hearts the desire for the salvation which comes through her Son.  She brings us, as the prayer noted, that “deeper peace” which dwells in our hearts when we follow the path of Jesus Christ.

What is the message of Lourdes?  One dimension of that message is that it is a message of peace.  Those who have been in Lourdes before will notice that some changes have taken place in the lay-out of the Grotto area and it is clear that the aim of these changes is to render this holy place even more peaceful.

Our first impression this morning, I am sure, was a realisation that this is a peaceful place, a place of calm and of silence.  Most of us have far too little time to be silent.  In a society of so many noises we can even become afraid of and uneasy with silence.  Day after day we follow the hectic pace of life and allow ourselves too little time for prayer and reflection.  We are all busy and we can always somehow find a reason to justify our being busy, even if this is to the detriment of entering into communion with God.  Lourdes gives us a special opportunity to be quiet and let the peace of Christ enter into our hearts.

I greet especially this morning those pilgrims with us who are sick.  The days of preparation and the hard journey will have dominated your thoughts in these last days.  Now you have the opportunity to experience the quiet and peacefulness of Lourdes in which you can also renew in your hearts the comfort that comes from being close to Mary.   All of us are with you with our prayers.

I greet the priests present, those from our own diocese and those who have joined us.  The times we live in mean that we all find that we have so much to do, that so many extra tasks fall on our shoulders, and still we do not have the time to do many of the things we would like to do in our ministry and care.  Again let us enjoy these moments here in Lourdes where we can renew our energies through allowing the peace of that comes from Mary to renew our hearts and our love of priestly ministry.   In these days I ask all of you to pray for the priests of Dublin and the priests who minister in Dublin.  We owe them a debt of gratitude for their dedication.

This year we also have with us two of our permanent deacons, who will carry out during the pilgrimage their own special ministry of charity and proclamation of the word of God.

I greet the young people especially those who are here for the first time.  You will have heard much about Lourdes from your friends but I am certain that you will soon discover for yourselves just how special Lourdes is.   I hope that the pilgrimage will be for you a unique experience in which you will come to reflect on what is most important for your lives.  Lourdes makes us look on life through a different lens from our everyday lives.  Lourdes is a place where the sick are not problems; in Lourdes we learn from the sick.  We thank God for the gifts we have but we also learn that these gifts are not given to us just for our own satisfaction and fulfilment.

I greet those who come to help and especially those who return year after year to be of service to the pilgrimage.  The fact that you return means that you have grasped something of the message of Lourdes and the more you return you know just how much more there is still to learn from this message and you return home with a deeper faith and a deeper sense of who you are.

I greet the many individual pilgrims who are here, and those who are here with parish groups.  All of us are here as pilgrims.  Each one of us comes with some special intention or anxiety or hope or aspiration within our hearts which perhaps remains known only to us ourselves.    We remember also the intentions of those who have asked us to pray for them.  Open your hearts to the message of Lourdes and allow it to bring you peace and healing that we desire

Lourdes is a place of healing and not just of the physical healing from illness.   Each one of us needs healing and wholeness.  So much of our time is taken up with a flight from encountering ourselves and allowing that healing, which alone God’s fidelity alone can guarantee, to free us.   So often we flee into distractions and illusions; we flee into despair or depression.  We allow ourselves to be overcome by guilt and introversion, rather than allowing that superabundant love with which God loves us to change us into being more loving persons.

Let Lourdes in these days be for all of us a place of healing.  Mary belonged to that group of believers who always remembered that God is faithful and never abandons his people.   Let God’s generous love overwhelm us and affirm in us our dignity, our worth, our potential, our individual calling and God’s confidence in us.

Lourdes is a place where we can regain confidence in ourselves and in what we can attain in our lives. There is a phrase of Pope-emeritus Benedict, written many years ago during the Second Vatican Council, which always give me strength and encouragement:  “Mary exemplifies the paradox of grace which touches those who cannot accomplish anything by themselves”  The central figures of Lourdes Mary and Bernadette were both witnesses to humility, not a humility which humiliates, but a humility which recognise our inadequacies, even our sinfulness and weakness, in such a way that then allows the grace of Jesus Christ to touch our hearts and enables us to do things which go beyond what we had ever imagined.

My prayer is that each one of us will return home after these days with a sense of the fact that even when we are at our weakest, through the intercession of Mary and Bernadette the grace of God will embrace us and change us.

Finally, in Lourdes in our encounter with Mary we come to understand the Church.  Mary is the model of the true believer. Mary is the Mother of the Church.  Let us pray especially for the Church of Jesus Christ in Dublin.  We pray for the renewal of the faith of the Christian community.  We pray for that deeper peace we spoke about.  We pray for that peace for ourselves and that we can bring that peace to the times troubled and sadly violent culture which continues to raise its ugly head around us.

We begin our pilgrimage asking the protection of Mary and Bernadette on all of us in these special days. ENDS