Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2.5)
I write this letter to you while in Lourdes with the Diocesan Pilgrimage, and these words have lodged firmly in my heart – it is the theme of Lourdes this year taken from the Gospel of the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2.1-11) “Do whatever he tells you.” The servants, although perplexed at Mary’s intervention, did exactly what Jesus told them and as a result, not only was the water turned into fine wine, but what could have been a disastrous situation was turned into a great celebration. Obedience to Jesus’ word brought about a wonderful transformation. However, I am sure that most of us would have to admit that we struggle with obedience, obedience to any authority, let alone the Lord. Obedience is not the flavour of the month in our society, in our world!
The first miracle of Jesus took place at the Wedding Feast of Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine; as his life drew to a close, he performed another miracle which reaches even to us today in a real and personal way – at the Last Supper he changed bread and wine into his Body and Blood as a permanent memorial of his presence with us. And he said, “Do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22.19)
And so we gather every Sunday to fulfil his last commandment, and celebrate the Eucharist together. But we also know that many who belong to our Community of Faith find this commandment difficult to obey. Around this time of the year we celebrate the reception of First Holy Communion in many of our parishes, and yet, for some of our children it will be their first and perhaps their last. While we recognise that this is not totally their fault, still we must admit that many of us refuse to “Do whatever he asks of us – do this in memory of me” even from an early age. We might ask ourselves, “Why is this so?” However once we recognise that this is what the Lord asks us to do, and in doing this we come into his presence in a real and mystical way, we must surely recognise what a crucial question this is.
It is important for those of us who come to mass regularly and are able to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, to become more and more conscious of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. We live in a culture which does not easily acknowledge the existence of God or the validity of the Church’s authority. Despite our best efforts, at times, we find ourselves struggling to assent to the truths of our Faith. It is then that we need to make our own the prayer of Doubting Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” Or, perhaps the prayer of the father of the boy with the unclean spirit in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9.14-29), “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” If we find ourselves doubting as we come to the Altar, these are wonderful prayers to give us strength. They will lead us to our own personal act of faith in obedience to Jesus’ word and at the same time can help to bring about a genuine transformation in our lives.
It is in this present context that we are about to celebrate a National Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool from September 7-9. Here we are asked and helped to focus on the reality of Christ’s lasting presence in the Eucharist which inevitably leads us to want to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament.
While here in Lourdes, during the course of the week, great emphasis has been given to the presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, especially in the Mass. This is particularly the case with the International Mass celebrated each Sunday and Wednesday, where people from all over the world and of different tongues are gathered together around the Altar, united in the language of prayer and praise. Each afternoon there is a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessing of the Sick. In so many ways, this is the central act of faith and worship in Lourdes. Like the father of the boy with the unclean spirit, we turn to the Lord and beg, “If you can do anything, take pity on us.” And once more, hearing that prayer, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” the Lord turns his compassionate and healing gaze on us.
Although not all of us can be present at these wonderful events which take place on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, each week when we come together to celebrate the Mass, we can join the Eucharistic procession to the altar of our local Church, begging for healing and an increase of faith. However, a wonderful opportunity is offered to each one of us to deepen and strengthen our faith, to learn and understand more about Jesus’ real and mystical presence among us, during the days of the Eucharistic Congress this year. Places are still available, the opportunity is there for all to take.
Surely we will heed our Lady’s words to the servants at the Wedding Feast of Cana – “Do whatever he tells you.” And how could we ignore what Jesus himself told us at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me”?
I hope to be present with as many of you as possible during the days of the Eucharistic Congress, September 7-9 in Liverpool.
Yours in blessed hope,
Terence Patrick, Bishop of Middlesbrough
The contact person for the congress in our diocese is Father William Massie:
T: 01482 343216