Lourdes Day Mass - Saturday 6 December 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

When Mary said to the angel, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let what you have said be done to me’ (Luke 1:38), she accepted, despite its perplexity and the huge dimensions of the task she was given, what was the will of God for her.  She wondered at the purposes of the Almighty and trusted him implicitly.

It is in the same spirit of entrustment and hope that we come in our frailty, in our human need and illness, for mercy, strength and comfort to Jesus Christ, the fountain of life, the author of our salvation, the healer of the wounds of broken humanity.

Once again we celebrate the first apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes to Saint Bernadette Soubirous on 11th February 1858 at the grotto of Massabeille near the town of Lourdes.  In 2008 Pope Benedict went as a pilgrim, took part in the torch light procession and celebrated the Jubilee Mass of the Holy Cross in the field across the river on the following day.

The story is familiar to many of us.  A simple young girl from Lourdes, Bernadette Soubirous, saw a light and in this light she saw a lady who was ‘beautiful, more beautiful than any other’.  The woman addressed her with kindness and gentleness, with respect and trust.  Bernadette said she was looking at me as one person who speaks to another.

Pope Benedict, whom I will quote liberally in this homily, highlights the beauty of Our Lady who revealed herself in the apparition of 25th March 1858 as ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’.  From Scripture we know her as the woman clothed with the sun, the one who had the crown of twelve stars, who left death behind her as entirely clothed with the life of her Son, the risen Christ, and is for us a sign of victory and love, of good and of God, giving our world the hope it needs.

The Pope reminds us that countless people have borne witness to that beauty.  When they encountered Bernadette’s radiant face it left a deep impression on their hearts and minds.  That light Bernadette had living in her.  What is significant too is that the Soubirous family had a family life which was a tale of deprivation and sadness, sickness, incomprehension, rejection and poverty.  While there was love and warmth in the family, life at the Cachot was hard, but the shadows of earth did not prevent the light of heaven from shining.  ‘The light shines in the darkness.  A light that darkness could not overpower’, as Saint John says in his first chapter, verse fifteen.

For us who come to this Mass we remember that our Cathedral today is Lourdes.  Lourdes is, as the Pope says, one of the places chosen by God for his beauty to be reflected with particular brightness.  Hence, the importance of the symbol of light.  The lighting of candles by Bernadette and countless pilgrims is a reminder of this.

Now comes the point of our pilgrimage today.  We come to encounter the beauty of God for our lives.  In the words of the Pope:  ‘By coming here to Lourdes on pilgrimage we wish to enter, following in Bernadette’s footsteps to this extraordinary closeness between heaven and earth, which never fails and never ceases to grow.’  In these modern times we take the example of Bernadette and use the Rosary as our prayer under the gaze of Mary, because it leads us to the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, which is life-giving and strengthening to us.  ‘When we pray it,’ the Pope says, ‘Mary offers us her heart and her gaze in order to contemplate the life of her Son, Jesus Christ.’

The challenge for us today is to keep the light of faith and prayer alive in our lives, to confess our sins so that we will attain a purity of heart so that in our life we can take up the mission of extending Christian love by introducing God’s light into the world, pointing out its true source.

Lourdes is a reminder to each of us that we are invited to take hold of the light, to walk in faith as Mary did and to remember the Pope’s words:  ‘The life and faith of believers makes it clear that the grace of the Immaculate Conception given to Mary is not merely a personal grace, but a grace given to the entire people of God.  In Mary, we in the Church can already contemplate what we are called to become.  Every one of us can contemplate here and now the perfect fulfilment of his or her own vocation.’

So, my dear friends, may each of us today remain full of thanksgiving for what the Lord has chosen to reveal of his plan of salvation through the mystery of Mary.  By walking with her may we come to know the power of the cross and know, in the words of Jesus, that his Mother is our Mother who leads us on our journey until the day when we will be with Jesus and with her forever.

+ Denis J. Hart,

Archbishop of Melbourne.


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