Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster

Mass at Sacre-Coeur, Lourdes

Given at the parish church of Sacre-Coeur, Lourdes, on 28 July 2015.

It was on 9th January 1844 that Bernadette was baptised and, as Bishop Nicholas told us, the baptismal font in which that baptism took place is now in this church at the back. It was a very special family occasion, as baptisms always are. It was the anniversary of her parents’ wedding and her godmother was her mother’s sister. Her name was Bernarde. So, maybe, it was for that reason that they decided to call the newly born baby by the name Bernadette. Other children followed in the family and would have been baptised in the old parish church here in that same baptismal font.

Today I’d like to suggest that each of us try to call to mind the place of our baptism. Maybe you don’t know where you were baptised. Please ask when you get home, ‘Where was I baptised? I’ve been to the place where Bernadette was baptised. Where was I baptised? Where did my life in Christ begin?’ That leads us to understand the words of St Paul, that we centre our lives on Christ and on all that He tells us of His Father, who made us and who holds us always in love.

Maybe too at this moment we could picture in our mind's eye our parish church, the church that we go to week by week, or maybe only occasionally. Let’s have that parish church in mind, even as we are here in this parish church.

By the time Bernadette was 14, the focus is her life changed. She had been away from Lourdes, but she’d wanted to come back. It was, as we know, in 1858 that the focus of her life moved away from the parish and centred on the Grotto, where these wonderful apparitions of Our Lady to Bernadette took place.  

The story of what was happening at the Grotto transfixed this town. It created a phenomenon. Bernadette was under great pressure, but she maintained her simple story of what had happened, insisting that it was true. Her parish priest here didn’t believe her; half the people didn’t believe her; the others crowded down to the Grotto to see what they could see. The focus of her life, as we have come to think of it, was all about the apparitions.

But that is not the whole story. We should remember that, even as those apparitions were taking  place, Bernadette was preparing for her first Confession and her first Holy Communion. Even as those apparitions were taking place, she was involved in the life of her parish. In the church that stood here before this one, she made her first Confession and she received Holy Communion for the first time. And, week by week she came to Mass.

I wonder what that was like for her. On the one hand, she was in the middle of a great controversy. On the other hand she just came week by week to Mass to receive Holy Communion. I wonder if she felt that everybody was looking at her? I guess they were, and maybe whispering about her. But she kept her eyes focused on the Mass, focused on what is important.

I think at times those things can happen to us too. When we go to our parish church we  might not always feel understood. We might feel that some people there don’t really accept us, maybe because we’re young, maybe because we’re a bit awkward, maybe because we don’t quite fit in. Like Bernadette, there might be differences between us and the parish priest. Sometimes we can find it difficult to see how our own personal experience of God fits in the life of the parish. But this story of Bernadette, here in her parish church, should really encourage us. We should keep coming, keep coming to church week by week, no matter how it feels, no matter if it seems difficult.

What we learn here in Lourdes is that we don’t walk alone; we cannot walk our Christian life alone. That’s why Bernadette kept coming to her parish church, even with her remarkable personal experiences. She kept coming to hear the Word of God, coming to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, coming to be prompted to be generous, just as Bishop Nicholas was explaining in the catechesis yesterday. That's what she did; that’s what we should do too: week by week, not missing out, coming to be fed and encouraged on our pilgrimage through life.

In the Gospel today we heard two important words. We heard Jesus pray that we might be consecrated, consecrated in the truth. The word means made holy, made holy, so that we can have a kind of wholeness, an integrity about ourselves. And that only comes when our lives are centred on the Lord because it’s only He who can give us that deep, firm centre in life from which all good things flow.

The other phrase we heard in the Gospel is about being made one, having a unity of purpose and of heart and from that unity knowing that we grow in strength.

This was just a small town parish church; now the whole world comes here. The whole world finds a unity here through the example of Bernadette, through Mary our Mother, bringing us to Jesus, who alone can make us one.

So today let us, in our hearts and prayers, bring our parish here, to the parish of Bernadette and ask for her prayers with ours. And when we go home, bring this pilgrimage to our parish so that we may be indeed united, one in the mission that the Lord has given to us all. Amen.

+Vincent Nichols                                    

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