Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes

“Choose today whom you wish to serve”

Blessed John Paul II came to Ireland in 1979 and when he finally reached Mary’s Shrine at Knock he declared that he had arrived at the “Goal of the Pilgrimage”.

And what did he do at Knock? He led the people in the celebration of Mass, the Holy Eucharist. Just as we are doing here this morning at Mary’s Shrine in Lourdes.

And the Mass together at the Grotto is very much the climax and goal of our pilgrimage here at Lourdes, too. Why is this so? Why is the Mass at the Grotto so central?

The answer is simple, in a way, and yet deeply mysterious.

First of all and above all, it is because of what the Eucharist is for the Church whose Model is Mary, and of which Mary is the first member. In celebrating and receiving the Holy Eucharist, we become one with Jesus… Simply that!

One with Jesus not in any kind of notional or abstract way, but really and truly, in a similar way to Mary after she said “Be it done unto me.”

One with him in Body and Blood.

“This is my Body, given for you” – the moment of consecration.

“This is my Body, given to you” – the moment of reception.

“This is my Blood, poured out for you” – into you.

His body becomes ours, and ours his. His blood, my blood, and mine his.

When we receive Holy Communion this morning, you will make the little pilgrimage from your seat, or your wheelchair, up towards the Altar of Sacrifice, the Table of the Bread of Life. In receiving the Holy Eucharist, I accept an extraordinary truth: that this flesh and blood of mine, this body, this not so perfect, sometimes burdensome, often weary body of mine is what St. Paul says it is – the Temple in which Jesus wants to live, just as he wanted to live in Mary’s womb, to bring us salvation.

“Did you not realize that you are a Temple of God with the Spirit of God living in you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy that person, because God’s Temple is holy and you are that temple.”

My body – holy? My Person? That’s what Paul says. And what we believe.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a young Carmelite who died a death in terrible pain with Addison Disease in 1906 in Dijon, France, used to say that the human body, the person I am, is the very heaven in which Christ chooses to live! And hers was a body wracked with pain and wasted by disease.

If all this is true, and if I believe it, then the little pilgrimage here now to receive the Body of Christ is precious, fruitful, life-enhancing beyond anything we could ever hope for. That’s our faith.

So the Mass does matter, – and receiving Holy Communion, not because we are perfect or pretty or handsome by the world’s standards, but because whatever I look like or feel, we have God’s Word for it that this body is sacred, God’s own Holy Temple, one with Jesus in a Communion that is Holy, –  and in that way, one with each other.

The second reason the Eucharist here at the Grotto is at the heart and centre of our pilgrimage, is because it is Eucharist at the Grotto. Fr. Joe told us at Mass the last evening that this used to be the dump. It was the place poor children foraged, Bernadette being one of them. Look how it is transformed! Look at the possibility that was hidden in this most seemingly God-forsaken place. Look at the comfort and healing that happens here! Look at the care, self-giving, self-sacrifice, the love this place brings out in us! Look at what is brought out of the seemingly God-forsaken, sickly, supposedly slow 14 year old girl, who longed to receive her first Holy Communion. In January of 1858 she sent a message to her parents from Bartres, “I want to come back to Lourdes and go to school to prepare for my First Holy Communion.” Look at the strength she was given here, and the determination, how she blossomed. Look at all that was begun by God through her, and through her grasping at the rosary, her turning to pray the mysteries, with the beautiful lady of the vision who eventually revealed herself to her as “The Immaculate Conception.”

The delicate, sickly Bernadette was a girl of simple faith, childlike faith, and it is the strongest, most powerful force in all the world! This place, we here, 154 years later in such numbers, is the proof, the evidence, of the fruitfulness of this little life: fruitful because it was a life of such total faith.

The Lady asked for a church to be built so the Eucharist could be celebrated here. She wanted people to come to Holy Communion here and know their Communion with Christ and with each other, in spite of the differences that so divide and so pain us, and no matter what their status or condition in life.

That church got built, and many churches. The Holy Mass is celebrated, and we’re all coming here to scavenge and forage in our need at the Mass at the Grotto.

This is a place of faith – the faith of Bernadette, of Mary, of Peter, of the Church, our Faith – the faith that is spelt out so simply for us in the mysteries of the Rosary.

“I only know my Rosary”, Bernadette said. And it was enough.

Next October the church will begin to celebrate a Year of Faith. There is a saying in Connemara for the thing most important to a person : b’shin é an céad cloch ar a phaidrín’- ‘That is the first bead on his rosary’

The first bead on the Rosary of our lives is Faith: Faith in Jesus and in his Word.

And the second bead on that Rosary of our Lives surely, as with Bernadette, is the Eucharist, in which we, no matter how wretched or poor our lives, discover again and again our oneness with God in Jesus, and our Communion with each other in him.

All of that is lived out in such a real way here in the way we support and help and are present to each other on this pilgrimage and in how we place the most needy and helpless amongst us at the heart of our pilgrimage.

In life we all have choices to make. It is the gift of being an adult, but it is difficult too. At Mass today, we find the Readings are all about adult choice.

Joshua puts a choice before the People of Israel, “Choose today whom you will serve! the Lord who led you out of Slavery, or some other God.”

Jesus puts the same challenge, very gently but firmly, before his disciples, when many were turning away because he had told them, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man… Will you also go away?”

Here at the Grotto with Bernadette, with Mary, the Immaculate Conception, with Peter and the Apostles, we make our choice: our act of Faith, in celebrating this Eucharist today: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of Eternal Life, and we believe; we know you are the Holy one of God.”