28 May 2009

You have just worked out where the cheapest cup of tea is and got to know the waiter, when it is time to pack up and go. No sooner have you worked out where you are supposed to be and who with, than we are packing and setting off on our travels again. However, as we go back, we have a pretty good idea to what we are returning. There will be some surprises as we go home, some pleasant and not so pleasant, but the majority of stuff we know. And that is the thing which can make us feel a little bit down – back to the humdrum, the ordinary, the everyday.

I would say that we have had a good time here together, wouldn’t you? It has been hard at times, and a bit tiring, but that is the nature of Pilgrimage, travelling together on a holy search. It is out of the ordinary and so you are willing to put in that extra effort, that little bit more time and energy, so we are bound to be tired. Things have happened here, to us and to people we know. We have learned things about ourselves, one another, the world in which we live, our relationship with the Lord, with the Church, with Our Blessed Lady. I suspect that some of us, if not all, might say, “this week has changed my life.”

Then we go back home and everything we left behind falls on top of us again as soon as we enter the door! What was that about my life changing? Actually it is when we return to the ordinary, the day to day things of life that our real Pilgrimage begins. We are taught that our life is a Pilgrimage, a holy journey, a holy search, together, supporting one another and encouraging each other.

Look at Bernadette; this was her home for 22 years of her life. Here she was loved and nurtured in her family; here she witnessed the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin. Then she was almost inundated by people searching her out, wanting to speak to her, wanting to pray with her. All she wanted was quiet and obscurity, anonymity. Eventually, after completing her schooling in a boarding school run by the Sisters, she entered the novitiate in Nevers on 7 July 1866 and never returned to Lourdes again. In many ways, for Bernadette that was when her real pilgrimage began. She says the same in her very simple but wise way. She was asked by a friend the night before she left for Nevers, “Don’t you feel anxious at the thought of leaving for Nevers?” She replied in a very matter-of-fact way; “For the few years we still have to live in this world, we must do our best to spend our time as well as possible.”

The ordinary and the humdrum can appear a bit frightening from this side. We have been able to express our faith, our devotion in a very open and uninhibited way. We have found ourselves talking about matters of faith and spirituality. We have been able to share with one another how God is at work in our lives. We have witnessed the Gospel being lived out in the reality of each day here in Lourdes. It is not the same at home. People would think you are mad if you spoke in the same way there. It is best to keep quiet, keep your own counsel. No. Don’t be frightened, don’t be afraid, don’t be timid. You have received blessings and gifts these last few days, take them with you and use them. Remember what Jeremiah was like in the first reading, and remember what the Lord said to him, and says to you and me, “Go now to those to whom I send you. Do not be afraid of them for I am with you to protect you.”

The message and gift that was given to the blessed Virgin at the annunciation was not easy to talk about and tell others about. Mary knew she would be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and could possibly face being stoned to death, but she was completely open to God’s will and trusted in his word. We heard her response in the Gospel at Mass a few minutes ago, Blessed is she who believed that the promises made her by the Lord would be fulfilled. And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my Saviour…”

Take everything with you that you have received and learned here at Lourdes. Like Mary, ponder it, reflect on it, think about it, pray about it often. Let it become so much part of you that nothing can take it from you. That way you will find indeed, your life has been changed in these few days together. And despite all that awaits you on return, Lourdes is in your heart, in your spirit, and as a result it will influence the way you live out that ordinary, humdrum reality of daily life. It will even influence the way you speak and the way you relate to others. They will want some of what you have found here and they will ask you about it, and then will be your opportunity to tell them what great things God can do. Perhaps you won’t use Mary’s exact words, but the meaning will be the same, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my Saviour…because he has looked upon his lowly servant.”

So we journey on, we continue our Pilgrimage, our holy journey, our holy search, knowing that we are accompanied by Mary herself, and all the saints including Bernadette, and supported and encouraged by one another. God bless.

The Lord is my strength, my song.
He has done glorious deeds.
He is my Saviour.