Diocese of Clogher
Lourdes Closing Mass
Sunday, 10 July, 8.30pm.
My brother priests and dear friends,
The Gospel that we have just listened to is a beloved and familiar passage, the oft-told story of the ten lepers. It is a story that speaks of loss and gratitude. Leprosy causes loss; loss of health, mobility, livelihood and worst of all, maybe the loss of family, friends and community. Lepers were usually cut off and segregated from the rest of society.
These lepers of our story could represent any of us with loss in our lives, loss of health, loss of a job, loss of a marriage, loss of dignity, loss of self-esteem, loss of security or loss of loved ones in death or in an accident. On Sunday, 18 March 1979, in Aspen Colorado, a twin-engine light plane crashed shortly after take off.
Mrs Stephanie Ambrose May, at that moment, lost her husband John Edward, her son David Edward, her daughter Karla Emily and her son-in-law, Richard Owen Snyder. Mrs May kept a diary for the next two months in which she recorded her feelings, her emotions. Let me read you her entry for 7 May :
“My burden is heavy, but I don’t walk alone. My pain is unrelenting but I thank God for every moment that he blessed me with. I pray that my life will be used for his glory, that I might carry my burden with Christian dignity and that out of my devastation, may his kingdom become apparent to someone lost and in pain. I must climb to a different level and search for a different life. I cannot replace or compare my loss. It is my loss. I am not strong. I am not brave. I am a Christian with a burden to carry and a message to share. I have been severely tested but my faith has survived – I have walked in hell but now I walk with God in peace. John Edward, David, Karla and Richard are in God’s hands. I am in God’s arms and his love surrounds me. The rose will bloom again.”
Over time healing takes place even if scars remain. There will always be bad moments when we break down and cry over our losses but the difference is that these losses will no longer be the centre of our lives. They will turn us into wounded healers bent on the good we can do which arises out of our tragedies. Take the mothers who have lost children to drunken drivers. Some have gotten together to form MADD (Mothers Against Drink Driving). They are working hard to prevent other mothers suffering their loss. They are not forgetting their dead children but their grief is channelled into saving other lives now. Healing comes as we bring ourselves to a deeper level of living.
This growth can lead us from loss into gratitude. We learn to give thanks from the ashes of our losses. We can give thanks for the acceptance, the forgiveness, the understanding and the tolerance we have learned from our losses. You may recall a movie of many years ago called Little Big Man starring Dustin Hoffman. Towards the end of that film there is a touching scene in which an Indian named Old Lodge Skins, who has lost his physical health, is going blind. He knows he is dying and he begins to pray to God. “O Lord God, I thank you for having made me a human being. I thank you for giving me life and for giving me eyes to see and enjoy your world. But most of all, Lord, I thank you for my sickness and my blindness because I have learned more from these than from my health and from my sight”.
We are at a higher level of living if we can show gratitude for our losses and what they did for us. Similar sentiments are expressed in the prayer of Mary, the Magnificat. “my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour – he who is mighty has done great things for me – he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty – .” There are new and different opportunities ahead, new hope beyond the losses and growth beyond despair. When we reach that point like the returning leper and Old Lodge Skins we can give thanks.
We should offer our gratitude to those who shepherded us through our pilgrimage –
Canon Mullin and his priest-helpers, the Brencardiers and the Hand Maidens, the Doctors and Nurses, the Musicians and Pilgrimage Secretary and theYouth Volunteers. May the Lord reward your generosity and your care and may he be generous with his grace to all the unseen helping hands which sustained us on our pilgrim way. We thank the Lord through the intersession of Mary for the opportunity to experience the grace of this special place in God’s conversation with mankind. May the Lord give health and acceptance to the sick. May he give hope and peace of mind to the troubled. May he be with us all and may Mary our Mother keep us in his care. May the Lord lead us to salvation and to where our hearts will finally be at rest. Let us go forth in peace with songs of praise and thanks on our lips.
+Liam S. MacDaid
10 July 2011