St Bernadette Centre
23 May 2009 : The Way of Bernadette
I was talking to someone earlier on about coming to Lourdes this year. It has been quite a sacrifice on the part of many people given the uncertain economic climate in which we live. So, the first thing I would want to say to every one is a big thank you, thank you for coming, thank you for answering Our Lady’s call to come here, to do penance, to drink the water, to give honour to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and to walk in procession as an act of witness to our faith and to the wonderful things that God does for each of us and all.
On a lighter note, these same people to whom I referred above – and incidentally they are not part of Middlesbrough Pilgrimage, just in case you were wondering – when I mentioned the word Sacrifice, the husband smiled rather mischievously and said, “If I hadn’t agreed to come here then it would have been a week of decorating the bedroom and kitchen, so Lourdes won hands down!”
Decorating the bedroom and kitchen, keeping a home to live in, grow in and thrive in, all these demand a great deal of sacrifice. Giving your life to someone in love, marriage, bringing up a family all demand a huge level of self offering, self-denial and self sacrifice if we are to succeed. Coming here as a young person and working in Lourdes demands self sacrifice. Entering the priesthood, becoming a deacon, ministering in the Church, witnessing as a religious, all demand great sacrifice. Setting out on a career, in fact achieving any goal demands effort, discipline and self-sacrifice. What is it we say nowadays, “No pain no gain”. Its been said before in so many different ways and we heard Jesus say it in a very profound way in today’s gospel: Unless a grain of wheat fall on the ground and dies it remains a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest. The image of self-sacrifice and self-giving is etched into the world of nature that surrounds us.
The First reading at today’s Mass isn’t very complimentary, if we are going to take it personally:
How many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families?… those who the world thinks common or contemptible are the ones God has chosen
All of us like to think of ourselves as special, certainly in our own eyes and in the eyes of those closest to us. For many of us this is where our self-esteem and confidence comes from. Paul is not telling us that we are nobodies, worthless or the lowest of the low. Rather he is reminding us where our real confidence and self esteem and worth come from. Just let me finish the quote: those who the world thinks common or contemptible are the ones God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. God chooses each of us just as we are, with all our strengths and weaknesses, so that his power can be seen to work in us. Paul quotes in another place, in his letter to the Romans, with God on our side, who can be against us? In other words, with God working in and through us, he can achieve very great and wonderful things.
The theme for this year’s pilgrimage is the “Way of Bernadette”, and the readings we have at Mass today sum up her way. In the eyes of the world Bernadette could not have been considered important, wise or from a noble family; but God chose her so that his love for us could be demonstrated and communicated in her life. She was not educated, at least in an academic way. She was certainly intelligent and quick-witted. However, it was because of her lack of education that Abbé Peyramale and Bishop Laurence began to believe in the apparitions. For Bernadette could not have called the Blessed Virgin “the Immaculate Conception” without some form of miraculous intervention. It was a title that was only just being discussed in the dusty corridors of the Vatican, a world far removed from Bernadette’s.
Her way led her to consider leaving her beloved home in Lourdes and never returning. Mary had told her to do penance for sinners, and she heard that call and followed it to the best of her ability. It would have been very easy for her to become a “celebrity” in a spiritual sense, in a religious way; but that was not to be her way. In fact the words of the gospel sum up the way of Bernadette in all things: Unless a grain of wheat fall on the ground and dies it remains a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest. In order that the love of Christ should flourish and blossom she, the grain of wheat, was willing to die. She wanted to hide in obscurity, and devote her life to loving God, her community and offering herself, her life, her suffering and her death, in union with that of Jesus her Lord for the good of poor sinners.
Always she was opened to be guided by the Church through her superiors. She lived her life in obedience to God’s will, though this did not result in the suppression of her sense of humour or her spirited personality. She focused on Jesus in the Eucharist, spending long hours in contemplation and thanksgiving. She would spend a long time in prayer after having received Holy Communion. One of the sisters asked her how she managed to do this. She answered, “I imagine that our Blessed Lady herself is giving me the child Jesus. I receive him, I speak to him and he speaks to me.” In another place she says about Holy Communion, “We must receive our Lord with love and make him feel at home in our hearts, for then he is bound to pay the rent.” And this prayer and contemplation bore fruit in her life, a life of self-giving service despite her sickness and pain.
So, during these few days we are asked to reflect on the Way of Bernadette. We are asked to consider God’s will for each of us, to what is he calling us? We are asked to give thanks for the gift of the Church, and all that comes to us through the ministry of the Church. We are asked to contemplate and adore Jesus in the Eucharist, and as a result of all this we are asked to be open to a life of greater service to our brothers and sisters.
Those who the world thinks common or contemptible are the ones God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.
Unless a grain of wheat fall on the ground and dies it remains a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.
This is the Way of Bernadette, and during this pilgrimage, it should become our way, too.