29 May 2008

We come together for our final Pilgrimage Mass and we gather in a spirit of thanksgiving to Almighty God for all the great and wonderful things he has done for us on this Pilgrimage. We take a moment to count our blessings.

For the times we have not appreciated God’s goodness to us, for the times we have taken his blessings for granted, we ask for mercy and pardon.

I confess….


I suspect that by this point it is dawning on us all that the Pilgrimage is coming to an end. Lots of wonderful things will have happened while we have been here in Lourdes. We have met new friends, cemented friendships which have grown up over the years. We have laughed together, perhaps shed the odd tear together; prayed and worshipped together, ate and drank together, celebrated and commiserated together. We have shared life and Eucharist together. And now it all seems to be drawing to a close. So there is bound to be a little bit of sadness, a little bit of nostalgia. It is only natural.

I John saw a new heaven and a new earth…I saw the Holy City and the New Jerusalem….The one sitting on the throne spoke: Now I am making the whole of creation new…I am the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega.

It perhaps seems a strange reading for the final Mass of a Pilgrimage – we are thinking of ending things, closing things and packing up and moving on, and St John is talking about a new heaven and new earth, a new Jerusalem. Then God himself tells us that he is making all things new, he who is the beginning and the end of all things, the Alpha and the Omega. Perhaps we ought to think again?

The Gospel, too, is telling us about the very beginning of Mary’s journey towards becoming the mother of God, and the conception of Jesus. Again, the Word of God is talking about beginnings when we are turning our minds to closing and moving on. We really had better take stock and listen.

When we go home we will tell everyone that we have been on Pilgrimage and we will have no problems or qualms about using that word. It will not cause us embarrassment or difficulty. That’s good. But the Church is constantly reminding us that the whole of our life is a pilgrimage, a journey. We are travelling, moving on. We can never stand still; if we do then we are actually loosing ground, going backwards, as it were.

The trouble with the journey, the pilgrimage of life, is that at times we can feel so lonely, so isolated. Even when we are surrounded by family and friends, parishioners and colleagues, community and companions, we can still feel cut off. But I suspect for most of us, it did not feel like that this week; just the opposite, in fact? Friends, companions have surrounded us all week. The prayer has been intense and deep, and we have felt close to the Lord and his blessed mother through all the ceremonies and moments of quiet reflection. We have felt included in everything that was going on and felt no fear about wandering into a group of people we did not particularly know. It has been a bit like heaven – do you think so, or am I exaggerating? But it has certainly been an oasis on our journey, on our pilgrimage.

I would say, in fact, that is precisely what these few days have been, an oasis where we can rest, stock up, refill, recharge, whatever you want to call it, and now we are about to begin the real Pilgrimage again. We have to get back to the old routine. The bills will be waiting for us when we get home; the problems we left behind will probably be still there, they might have even got worse! What a gloomy picture! But listen:

I John saw a new heaven and a new earth…I saw the Holy City and the New Jerusalem… here God lives among men. He will make his home among them; they shall be his people and he shall be their God; his name is God-with-them. The one sitting on the throne spoke: Now I am making the whole of creation new…I am the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega.

And the way he did all this was by sending his only Son to become part of this journey, this pilgrimage of life, to share in it completely – he became God-with-us – Emmanuel. Yes, we have found God and goodness and hope and joy in the wonderful things that have happened here in Lourdes this week, but now we are being told something incredible and new and equally wonderful. If we have really learnt anything, if we have really been renewed and reformed, and made afresh in Jesus through Mary, then we will be able to see old things in a new way.

If we really believe that the Son of God is dwelling with us and came to share our life and our world in the incarnation, even though we do not fully understand all that this means, then like Mary we will say – I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me. Then again, like Mary, the Holy Spirit will come upon us and the power of the Most High will overshadow us, and the Father will begin to renew us, and in and through us he will continue his work of making the whole of creation new. Like Mary, we too will allow the Son of God to become flesh in us and we will bring forth in our lives the One-Who-Is-To-Save-His-People, Jesus-Emmanuel, God-who-is-with-us.

So the Pilgrimage isn’t over, it is just beginning. We leave this oasis to journey on and take the strength, the joy, the hope, the goodness on which we have fed well, back to our daily lives. We take with us also the sure knowledge that God is with us now and always, and his Blessed mother will always be supporting us with her motherly prayers.

Mary waited in hope and conceived in faith the Son of Man and became the mother of all the living. She is sister to all the children of Adam as they journey towards the fullness of freedom and raise their eyes to her, the sign of sure hope and comfort until the day of the Lord dawns in glory.

And so we pray:

Lord, God, you have given the Blessed Virgin Mary to your Church as a beacon of unfailing hope. In your goodness grant that those who are burdened by life’s cares may find in her consolation and strength and those who despair of salvation may find their hearts warmed and uplifted as they turn to her in their need.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen