This morning at 7.30am Irish time Bishop Denis celebrated Mass at the Grotto in Lourdes on the first Kildare & Leighlin Diocesan Pilgrimage there. Our 1200 pilgrims plus many more gathered together in prayer in the place where Bernadette met Mary, Our Lady.
It was very interesting in the past couple of days I got two postcards, one from Nevers and the second from Knock. The Nevers card reminded me of the tomb of Bernadette and how it was her wish never to return here to Lourdes. It reminded me of the witness statements I read some time back of the three exhumations of her body as part of the process towards canonisation. The very last exhumation took place 46 years and 2 days after her death. Doctor Comte’s who was charged with detaching relics from her intact and uncorrupt body, talked about her liver organ being in a remarkable state of preservation. The Knock postcard wishing me well with this pilgrimage reminded me as far back as June 2014 the seed for this pilgrimage was sown! Three years later that seed has reaped a great harvest! Mass at the Grotto is for all pilgrims I think the goal of their pilgrimage.
The series of apparitions, eighteen in all, began here on February 11th 1858, one of the key messages coming from that conversation with the young Bernadette Soubirous and Our Lady was that a church must be built here. Bernadette was told to dig in the mud, and a spring of water gushed forth. This was the place of the dump; this is where the poorest gathered to collect firewood or refuse that still held currency in the home of the poor. That’s the Bernadette we are dealing with!
The spring of water that resulted from her digging has over the many years become a great source of so many miracles of healing. People wonder today what is the great gift of Lourdes. Is it cures or miracles? I think of the story of the pilgrims returning some time back from a pilgrimage here and as they packed their check in bags, aware of weight restrictions, they stuck one bottle of Jameson in the middle of the Holy Water containers. They were, as luck had it, stopped by customs officials on their way into Dublin airport, as the official checked through the bags and dutifully found the Jameson, he wondered was this another miracle of Lourdes! There are not many miracles in the physical sense today, and even those that we, must first be rigorously examined. Perhaps the real gift is somewhere near the second Station of the Cross as ‘Jesus accepts His Cross’, the gift of acceptance of the disability, the illness, the depression, the anxiety – whatever that Cross may be is perhaps the greatest gift Lourdes offers.
I notice many people who walk around the Grotto sanctuary touch the rocks that are seeping with water. We are all touching the holy water coming from a spring above; we are touching the rocks that were here in 1858. It brings me back to that small section in front of the Apparition Chapel in Knock where there are some original stones from the gable apparition wall. Just like here at the Grotto pilgrims walk up and rub the stones, a prayer is interrupted, a petition offered, a thanksgiving made. And all of this because a young illiterate girl by the name of Bernadette Soubirous, a miller’s daughter, living in a cachot met Our Lady within this cave back in 1858.
We stand today on holy ground. “This is holy ground, in this holy place, where God’s love is found, we come to seek his face”. Matthew’s gospel reassures us it is the young, in fact it is “mere children” to whom the richness of the gospel unfolds. Through the humble, barely literate thirteen year old Bernadette, Our Lady called sinners to conversion, and enkindled within the Church a great fervour of prayer and charity, especially here in Lourdes embracing the sick and the lonely.
Lourdes is many things to many people – the baths, the grotto, the confessionals, the stations, the cups of coffee, the evening sing song. Lourdes is very special. Late at night here at the Grotto groups huddle in quiet prayer. Shsst! In our own way we find that tile I’ve spoken about so often that marks the spot where Bernadette and today, 159 years later, we kneel. We walk in Bernadette’s shoes! And we are squeezing into those shoes because most of us have outgrown the shoes of a thirteen year old! “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children”. Thank you Lord for the gift of the thirteen year old Bernadette to our church and our faith. Thank you for the witness of the sick this morning and the example of those accompanying them on this pilgrimage.
St. Brigid, pray for us
St. Conleth, pray for us
St. Laserian, pray for us
St. Bernadette, pray for us
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.