Given at the Grotto where Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette in 1858 on the diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land in July 2014.
It is always a great privilege to celebrate Holy Mass here at the Grotto. Here we can sense ourselves to be that little bit closer to heaven. It is as if here the veil between Heaven and earth is a little thinner, a little lighter, and that we can just catch a glimpse of our true home.
It is an even greater privilege to he celebrating Mass here at 7.00pm, precisely when every hotel in Lourdes is serving dinner. We have this place to ourselves, in some special peace and quiet.
This is our time, then, to bring all our prayers to Mary, to remember before her all those who have asked for our prayers, who are close to our hearts and who are most in need. This is the time to have that conversation with her, the heart to heart to which we have been invited: to listen, to allow silence its proper place in our hearts.
This evening, in a special way, we give thanks for all the blessings received during these 25 years of our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. So many people of our diocesan family have made this journey to this holy place, bringing their stories and their prayers. Think of them for a moment: your family members and friends, so many young people, so many religious sisters and brothers, so many teachers, deacons and priests and, of course, today we think especially of Cardinal Hume. He had such a great love for Lourdes and he was such an outstanding teacher of our faith, something which shone with a particular brightness here in Lourdes. He knew the story of St Bernadette so well and he unfolded it for us with such care and insight.
We can think, too, of all the people who have come here for over 150 years, since the first miraculous cure which took place on 1st March 1858. The sick, those broken in body and in spirit have come, countless hands reaching out to take this water, as Mary instructed Bernadette to do; reaching out to touch this rock on which has stood Our Blessed Lady, Mary; the Immaculate Conception and our promise of heaven; Mary the Ark of the Covenant; Mary the Mother of Jesus; Mary, our mother too.
We thank God that we are here! How glad we are! How profoundly we rejoice for, as Isaiah said, 'To us his servants the Lord has revealed his hand.'
We are here to greet Mary and it is so lovely to hear another's greeting in our Gospel passage. We listened to the greeting offered by Elizabeth as Mary comes to visit her:
'Of all women you are the most blessed!'
'Blessed is the fruit of your womb.'
'Blessed is she who believed the promises made her by the Lord would be fulfilled!'
Mary is three times blessed, three times praised, extolled, magnified!
I learned recently that this English word, 'blessed', used to translate the Latin word 'benedicere', comes from a very old English word with links back to a blessing made with blood. Maybe that is not so strange because the blessings granted to Mary carry with them a cost, a great cost. Even as Mary is blessed as the one chosen to bring Jesus into the world, to be the Mother of God, so too she learns that the sword of sorrow will pierce her heart. She will stand at the foot of the cross watching this most precious Son died before her eyes.
This is the nature of blessings. With them comes a mission, a task, and one that demands our all. If we accept the blessing with a full and open heart, then we will also accept the suffering that goes with it. Being chosen by God means at the same time a crown of joy and a crown of thorns.
Receiving the gift of life itself, the very first blessing, means sorrow and joy intertwined. Being given a particular vocation means living with happiness and distress, joy and sorrow. Every mother, every father knows that their vocation is a mingling of sorrow and joy as they nurture and cherish their love and the new life is so often brings.
Sorrow and joy are indeed inseparable. And their intertwining teach us a great lesson, a lesson fundamental to how we approach life and our faith. The lesson is this: Jesus did not come to make life easy; he came to call us to greatness, to make us great! At every time of life, at each stage, whether as youngsters or in old age, this is his invitation: that we strive for greatness, for largeness of heart, for holiness of spirit!
As we gather here on our pilgrimage, we learn this lesson. Jesus calls us to greatness. This is the lesson that Mary offers to us, for she herself, we know, is both Mother of Sorrows and Queen of Heavenly Joy. In her we have a companion in our distress and a promise of joy to come. She is our guide to greatness!
Every one of you carries this lesson with you, on your person, at this moment. It is expressed in the badge of our pilgrimage, on your jacket, on your identity card. Look at it: the ring of thorns, with sharp spines, surrounding the word Pax, Peace. This is a proclamation that peace is a gift of God, God' blessing, and it comes set in a crown of thorns. 'Peace among thorns.' This is our motto, the motto of Cardinal Hume, used a the symbol of this pilgrimage since its beginning.
No peace comes without the thorns of life. We cannot remove or avoid them. If that becomes our chief aim, then we enter a false world, a self-constructed world that loses touch with the truth of reality and leaves us dissatisfied. And we can only bear the thorns, carry the sorrow, within the promise of peace, the faithful, reliable promise of God to us all.
Blessed is she, Mary, who stood in this place, who stood at the foot of the cross, who is Queen of Heavenly Joy.
Here, in this Grotto, Mary promised happiness to Bernadette, not in this world, but in the next. She gives us the exact same promise. Here we struggle among the thorns of this world. Yet here we find peace and know that it will indeed be fulfilled.
Blessed are you all who believe that the promise made to you by the Lord will be fulfilled.