St Joseph’s Chapel, Lourdes, 7 July 2017
Readings: Isaiah 63:7-9, John 15:1-8
“We have made our journey to this place of honour to Mary, and in this hill country we place ourselves specially in her care, that she may bring us closer to the Saviour she carried within her to the hill country of Judaea.” – Mgr McGuinness
For all of us there are particular places which have very special significance; just the thought of them can open up a wealth of memories and a whole raft of feelings. The childhood home, where we used to go on family holidays, the school we loved – or the one we didn’t, the honeymoon destination… Key moments and memories of our lives are linked to the “where” as well as to the “who”.
The most important places are of course the ones where we had the most joyful moments and the happiest experiences. These special places aren’t necessarily the most beautiful or scenic or famous. What makes them special for us is the people who were there and the time that we had together.
Today we are gathered in a place which is very special to very many people. Many of you have been here before, some of you many times. You will have your own special memories. Some are here for the first time and are beginning to create their own memories. But it is worth bearing in mind that until 11 February 1858 this place was not considered in any way remarkable and was in no way famous. What has changed that is people – beginning with the 14-year-old Bernadette and the vision she had that day, and then the millions who have come here since. And what has powered that change is faith – beginning again with Bernadette and the purity and strength of her faith which responded to the appearance to her of our Blessed Mother. Not everyone who comes here has faith, and those that do have faith may at times find it hard to sustain.
We come as people of faith, as members of the family of faith which is the Church. We are the Clogher part of the family, and as with all families we have both variety and unity. It has been said that families are like branches on a tree – we grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one. In our Gospel today Jesus uses a similar image, that of the vine, and it reminds us that what unites us is our faith in Jesus and the love which God has poured into our hearts. We have all come on this pilgrimage from different homes, different parishes; we are of different ages and life experiences, but now we are sharing a common journey in a common faith in this one unique place.
Jesus also says to us that a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself. During our pilgrimage together we will have much to give to each other – support, companionship, encouragement and prayer. We will spend time with each other sharing food and drink, conversation and laughter and, very specially, worship and praise that will, I hope, be uplifting and joyful. And in all of this we will be joined by the Lord himself and his own beloved Mother, for as he says in the Gospel: “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.”
With us also are those whom we carry in our hearts – our own families and friends and the many who will have said to us “think of me when you are in Lourdes – pray for me at the grotto!” And also the rest of our diocesan family who are not here – for them we ask, in the words of Isaiah, the Lord’s “great kindness…his mercy…and his boundless goodness.”
As an expectant mother, the young Mary made a journey of mercy and kindness to support her cousin Elizabeth and greeted her with words of joy. We have made our journey to this place of honour to Mary, and in this hill country we place ourselves specially in her care, that she may bring us closer to the Saviour she carried within her to the hill country of Judaea.
Let us pray in our Mass this morning that, through the kind intercession of Mary, this time together will be supremely fruitful for each and every one of us; that we may find joy for our hearts and solace for our hurts; that we may be strengthened as a family of faith; and that we may carry back to our diocese and our parishes renewed hope and special memories from this special place.