Opening Mass at Lourdes

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Opening Mass at the Grotto


Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

Grotto of Lourdes, Monday 8th September 2014


“Lourdes is a remarkable place.  There is something very special about being here at the Grotto early in the morning, in whatever weather.  There is the freshness of the early morning and that special sense of peace and calm which you rarely find elsewhere.


We gather here this morning for the opening of this 65th Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes.    Over these years obviously much has changed here in Lourdes and yet nothing has changed.  In a world of constant change, the experience of Lourdes remains constant.  There has been change and extension and improvement in buildings and facilities, but the fundamentals of the experience of Lourdes have remained constant in a world where we are always seeking something novel and updated. 


We gather after a long journey here.  For those who are sick the journey, although full of hope and expectation, it is a journey marked by fatigue.  All of us only yesterday were caught up in a frenzy of last minute preparations for our pilgrimage.  


This morning all of that is irrelevant.  Lourdes is a place where hectic is set aside, even by the busiest of helpers.  The peace of Lourdes makes us see that there are many things in life which are more important than the hectic lives which we tend to create around ourselves.  All of us have a real need to learn to live in peace with ourselves.


My first wish then is that everyone who is here with us today: the sick, medical staff and helpers, parish groups and individual pilgrims, priests, school groups, musicians and liturgists: that each of us will experience true moments of the peace of Lourdes as we enjoy the opportunity of solitude, of prayer and of being together.


That peace will help us to focus on what our lives are really about. Lourdes turns the tables on how we think and act.  Healthy and sick interact as friends.  Here in Lourdes the sick are privileged as they experience genuine care which consoles them and encourages them; the helpers encounter in the sick a sense of how life can be fulfilled and be happy without many of the consumerist supports we all too often convince ourselves – or allow ourselves to be convinced – are essential.  Young and old encounter each other. The young are encouraged by the experience and care and wisdom of those veterans of the pilgrimage.  The veterans find renewed encouragement from the idealism and the freshness of the young people.  We all realise that there is something special about Lourdes because it tells us something of what is truly essential in life,


The inexplicable character of Lourdes, its simplicity, its serenity, its joyfulness and its real care for each other remind us also of what society should be like.  Each year at the end of the pilgrimage I ask myself why are we not able to translate this experience here in Lourdes into the way we live when we return home. I ask why our society in many areas is uncaring.  I ask why we cannot be in the forefront of fostering at home the different life style we encounter here in our interaction.


What is the secret of Lourdes?  I have said before that not even Walt Disney would be capable of creating an artificial Lourdes elsewhere.  A business enterprise could get the best experts to identify and to analyse and try to replicate various aspects which make up the Lourdes experience, but the end product would be something completely different.


The secret of Lourdes is the secret of Mary, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church who appeared here to Bernadette, but whose protecting mantle still embraces this sacred place and each of us today.  Curiously, as the variety of travel offers and opportunities increases, as the attractions of consumerist holidays flourish, the numbers coming to Lourdes hold their own.  Our Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage is larger than it was last year.  I wish to express my own and your appreciation to those who have been involved in its preparation. 


Lourdes then can give us a vision of what society should be like.  In doing that it also gives us an image of what the Church is like and should be like.  We often talk about the Church in terms of institution.  Curiously those who criticize what they call “the institutional Church” are often more than willing to use the institutional aspects of the Church to voice their criticism.  Pope Francis has constantly talked about the Church in different terms.  He speaks of the Church as a mother.  He addressed his General Audience last week precisely on this theme.  What does Pope Francis mean when he talks of the Church as mother?   Mary is the one who teaches us what that the motherhood of the Church should mean.  The Pope said that Mary’s maternity is unique, but that the maternity of the Church is the continuation in history of the motherhood of Mary.


The Church, through baptism generates new sons and daughters of God, and then nourishes them and cares for them.  Just as Mary, in her Motherhood, watched over and protected her divine son, the Church is called to nurture us throughout our lives, to enlighten our paths, to protect us from the spirit of evil, and to give us courage and hope to follow Jesus in the challenges of our lives.


In Lourdes we gain an experience of the protective care of Mary for each of us, sick or healthy, young or ageing.  All of us have within our hearts our doubts, our anxieties, and our fears.  Mary followed the will of the Lord fully in her life.  She lived a life of simplicity and humility, just as Bernadette in her life.  The word of God can enter into our hearts and change us only when we live a life of simplicity.    It is only though simplicity of life that we realise that our lives are not just in our own hands, but that we are always accompanied and supported in every aspect of our lies – even in our darkest difficulties – by Jesus the Lord.


In Lourdes we come to understand more how we are called to build a Church marked not by external signs of institution or power, but by an avalanche of supporting and welcoming and inspiring trust and hope.  In the complex and often superficial culture of our world it is the simplicity of Mary and Bernadette which we should be embracing in our lives as an antidote to the world of compromise that exists around us.


Our Gospel shows us the example of another biblical figure who represents those who were the ones who were able to recognise Jesus in his real identity among the many expectations of the one who was to come: Saint Joseph.  Joseph is a man of integrity who maintains his integrity and loyalty even at moments when he does not fully comprehend what is being asked of him.


In these days may we all pray for the gift of integrity in our search for meaning in circumstances which we do not fully comprehend?  We pray with and for our sick people that they will understand how the Lord is with them in the mystery – and at times in the harshness and loneliness – of their illness.  We pray for our young people that they will not fall into compromise with regard to principles and ideals.  We pray for our priests who are called to minister with courage to their faith in a culture which at times may seem alien and negative.


We pray that all of us will experience here in Lourdes in these days something of that call to simplicity and hopefulness which we encounter here and return home all of us healed and more committed in our faith and in the loving care which flows from faith in Jesus.”  ENDS