I welcome you all to our pilgrimage here in Lourdes. We have come by plane, boat, train and coach. But our journey has had one purpose: to bring us here, to meet together at the shrine of Mary our beloved Mother.
For some of you this is a happy return to a much loved and holy place. For some, it will be your first visit. Please, will all those who are here for the first time now stand, so that we can greet you and welcome you in a special way.
Now, in many ways our pilgrimage is a practice for life itself. On pilgrimage we live in a concentrated way all the issues that mark our greater pilgrimage through life. Here there will be fun, irritation, frustration, hardship, great generosity, weariness and even some boredom. On pilgrimage we can learn lessons that prepare us for life and help us to play our part more fully and willingly.
One thing we will learn here, as we have already found out, is the virtue of patience! We cannot have what we want just when we want it. No, we have to learn to wait, and to do so with peace and equanimity. There may be plenty of practice ahead!
The Lourdes we come to is a community and a town that has been through a traumatic time. The floods have wreaked great damage, not once but twice in the last 10 months. One lady who works here burst into tears as she tried to explain to us, just yesterday, what it all meant. So please be as generous as you can in the collections that are taken up, as they will be used for the needs of the shrine and the pilgrim centres. And I am very pleased to be able to present a handsome cheque to the Bishop of Lourdes, collected across our diocese, when I meet with him on Wednesday. Thank you for your generosity.
Not everything will be just right. But please be slow to complain. Pope Francis speaks powerfully about the damage done by complaining. He puts is bluntly: 'Those who stew their lives in the juice of their own complaining simply destroy hope for themselves and for others!' But remember that asking for help is not the same as complaining. If you need help, please do not hesitate to ask.
Now there are three things I would like you to keep in mind as a guide to your pilgrimage, three things to do.
The first is to Remember. Please remember all those who have asked for your prayers while you are here. Please remember all those who are close to you and in need of one kind or another. Please remember the needs of many forgotten people in our society. Bring them all, in your heart, to this Holy place.
The second is this: Speak! Speak to our Lady. She is our mother and it is right to talk to a mother, to bring to her our anxieties and problems and all those that we are remembering. When I was a boy, coming home from school, my Mum would ask me how the day had gone. 'All right', I would reply, not a word more. But later, when we were doing the dishes together, I would chat away and tell her everything.
That is what we are to do here: tell her everything, for she is our loving Mother who wants to hear and who wants to help.
Then the third thing you must do is to Listen. Here The Lord can be speaking to us, a little more clearly, a little more directly. So we must listen. He will tell us what he wants us to do, what his plans for us really are, what he has in mind for each one of us.
So we must listen. To do so we have to learn how to recognise the voice of Jesus, the tone of his voice, what it sounds like, the words and phrases he uses. These we learn from listening to the Gospel accounts of his actions, of his words. As we recognise his voice, so too we will learn to trust his promises. And in this Mary will help us, for she is the one we call blessed, precisely because 'she believed the promises made to her by The Lord.' And so should we.
As we Remember, Speak and Listen we will be learning how to act, what we are to do and how we too can be channels of grace for each other, not only here in Lourdes, but also in life, day by day.
The theme for Lourdes for this year is that of 'The Doorway of Faith.' And in that theme we will focus on four particular symbols: the cross, the rock, the water and the light. We shall return to those.
The doorway of faith. How important it is that we try to be for each other such a doorway of faith. By what we do and say may we make belief in the promises of the Lord a little easier for each other to believe. We can easily do the opposite, slamming shut the door of faith by our bad behaviour. We priests know this only too well.
Mary, in her way, always opens the door of faith for us. She is the first of all disciples, the one whose heart is always focused on the Lord and who will teach us how to come to him. With her as our teacher, and here in Lourdes, there is so much for us to receive.
May God bless our pilgrimage. May Mary lead us, now and always. Amen.