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Limerick Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes

Homily - Mass at the Grotto, 21st June 2024

At this Grotto of Lourdes, early in the morning of Thursday, February 18, 1858, the young girl, Bernadette, was deeply touched when Our Lady said to her: “Will you do me the grace of coming here for a fortnight?” And she prophesied to Bernadette “that people should come here in procession”. Our Lady has gently and graciously also invited each one of us personally to come here in procession or pilgrimage. It makes no difference whether we’re here for the first time or back for the umpteenth time. So straightaway here at the Grotto say “thank you” to Mary, Our Lady, who has prompted us to come together for 5 days to be in her company in her city where all find comfort, direction, peace. Remember it’s not just that we choose to come here. We have been chosen in Christ as the First Reading put it.

So, we’ve arrived here physically in Lourdes. But we now have to enter spiritually into the experience. To do that, there are three doors we pass through. I don’t mean wooden or metal doors but doors of faith.

The first door is the door of gestures: we come to the Grotto, we touch and venerate the rock, we wash ourselves with the spring water in the baths, we light and carry a candle, reminders of Jesus the light.

The second door is the door of devotions expressing the faith of the Church. We pray the rosary, we take part in the processions, such as the Torchlight procession or the Eucharistic process, or we follow the Stations of the Cross on the hill or in the meadow across the way.

The third door is the door of the sacraments that we celebrate: we can go to confession, receive the sacrament of the Sick and most especially celebrate Mass together remembering our own petitions and those of all at home whom we love and care for, and of all who asked our prayers here.

These are the three doors that we’ll be going through in these days. As we go through those doors, we’ll be seeing how people love one another and care for the sick and vulnerable. We’ll be catching a glimpse of what the world could be like if we loved one another, caring especially for the vulnerable.

But we could ask ourselves: as we are going through these doors, what attitudes or thoughts might we have? I want to suggest one and I’m going to borrow the words of a song to say it. Some of you probably know of the famous singer Taylor Swift. She is coming to Dublin next week for three concerts. Her new album has an interesting title, ‘The Tortured Poets’ and a lot of the songs in the album have to do with the personal torture pains of heartbreak, criticism by others, bereavement or mourning, anger, disappointment. Now, at various times and in different ways, we all have moments when we feel tortured in big or small ways by something going on in our lives. It can be a sense of guilt about something in the past; it can be a worry about an illness or a condition we have; it can be fear of the future, and, of course, it can be the heartbreak that comes from some problem in our relationships or in our family life. Let’s be honest sometimes too we can be overly concerned by peer pressure, about what all the others are saying is the cool thing to do or think or say. One of the songs Taylor Swift is famous for is entitled “Shake it off”. She explains that because she has become a celebrity, she has found that very often her life is subject to all kinds of scrutiny by other people. She says: “I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off.”

This is the first attitude or thought or action that I’d like to suggest as you that you adapt as go through the doors here in Lourdes. “Shake off” anything that is dragging you down. And there’s a way to do this recommended by St. Peter (1 Pet 5: 6-7): “Cast onto God any problem or burden you have because he cares for you”. I remember someone explaining St. Peter’s advice to me by using the image of a hot coal landing on your hand, you’d fling it away. That’s what we can do here in Lourdes. Fling, cast, hurl our concerns about the past or about now or about the future onto the heart of God who is close to us, the God who cares for us, the God who is full of mercy, slow to anger, abounding in love, giving us strength, setting us free to love.

 It is certainly what Mary, our Lady want us to do. She knows what it’s like to have a worry – we heard it today in the Gospel when we see her and Joseph concerned after they couldn’t find Jesus. She knew worry when she saw the dark clouds gathering around Jesus as he progressed in his public ministry. But she had always kept in her heart his words “why are you worried?”, inviting her to recognise what matters is that we are embraced in God’s plan of love. Mary learned to trust always. We know the story of the Wedding Feast of Cana. She met Jesus, handed the problem situation of the wedding over to him, and then simply trusted and believed the miracle would happen.

So, I can conclude with a short prayer:

Mary, Our Lady, friend of St. Bernadette, we want to imitate you.
Help us to shake off any worries we have, believing in God’s love in all circumstances; 
Give us a hand to shake off our inner blindness so that, like Bernadette, we can learn to see God alone in all things and at all times;
Inspire us to shake off useless thoughts of vanity, impurity or envy, so that we can listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, the Interior Teacher;
Enable us to shake off indifference, so that we can be the first to love and, in a world at war, be builders of peace, co-creators of the new heaven and the new earth Christ came to create;
Finally, grant us to shake off neglect of our eternal destiny, so that that, like St. Bernadette, we too can do everything for heaven, our homeland.