Given at Westminster Cathedral on 7 February 2015 on the World Day of Prayer for the Sick
As a child I was, from time to time, really afraid of the dark. When the light went out at night in my bedroom and on the landing, or when I woke in the dark, a deep chill would fill my heart. Sooner or later I would cry out. My mother would come. I knew she would. And in her embrace calm would be restored. That's what mothers do, and those who act in their place. So I really do understand today's first reading when the Lord says, 'Like a son comforted by his mother so I will comfort you.' We thank God for such comfort, for every mother and every loving carer.
Today, at this Mass, we learn again that it is never the intention of God that we should be left without a mother. Rather God has taken great steps, gone to great lengths, to give us a mother, a mother for everyone, a mother for all times. At that supreme moment of the life of his beloved Son, just before the Son placed his very self, his spirit, into his Father's hands, our loving Father determined the Son would first commend us all into the hands of a loving mother. Mary stood at the foot of the Cross in order to receive this great commission. 'Behold your Mother!' These beautiful words of Jesus, which are addressed to each one of us, should remain always in our hearts and minds. 'Behold your Mother!' We're never without a mother, never without one on whom can we call, no matter how dark it may seem, no matter how chilled our hearts have become. It is never God's intention that we should be without a mother.
Pope Francis speaks so eloquently of the role of Mary as mother. It is she who makes a home out of a stable. It is she who ensures that the wine does not run out at the feast, at the time of rejoicing, as we have heard in today's Gospel reading. It is she who comforts us in our pain and sorrow because her heart, too, has been pierced by a sword. It is she who does not leave her station at the foot of the cross, at the side of her dying son, nor leave the company of the sorrowing disciples, because they are now her children in the Lord.
Today we rejoice in her, as our mother, under her title of Our Lady of Lourdes.
We remember that she is the one who enriched the poverty-stricken life of Bernadette, so that we are encouraged to come to her in our poverty, empty-handed and ready to give the little we have.
We remember that it is she who drew Bernadette back to the Grotto time and again, so that she could fill her young heart with joy and with true praise of God in prayer. The face of Bernadette is radiant with this joy. And this prayer of praise is richer than the finest of wines. It gladdens our hearts and deepens our celebration, making our joy complete because in this prayer we reach out to the very source of that lasting joy.
We remember that it is she who responds with such astonishing generosity to the sick and the burdened who come to her in Lourdes. She raises their spirits with her glance of love. Her loving presence is reflected a thousand, thousand times in the faces, the hearts and the hands of all who care for the sick both in Lourdes and at home, for she is mother to every helper, inspiring and guiding them in every action.
At this time, in the Diocese, we are seeking to renew our sense of mission, the call that each one of us receives, first of all at baptism, to share the joy of our faith with others. The invitation is clear: in every parish we are to look again at all that we already do to see how well it makes clear to others the message of our faith. We must ensure that message of Jesus, our Saviour, is not somehow hidden, or left unsaid, unstated. This is the call to a new evangelisation and there are many opportunities to reflect and act in response to this call. I am grateful to Bishop Nicholas Hudson for giving such a thoughtful lead to this initiative. Your calling as helpers of the sick has a special place in this evangelisation. And so too does everyone who is sharing the suffering of Christ in their own life. The witness of suffering borne with grace and patience is precious in the sight of the Lord and of immense power in the sight of the world.
In the words of Pope Francis, Mary, our Mother, is the Star of this Evangelisation. She is the star for her light shines so brightly that it illuminates our path. She is the star because she is simply the best at bringing the Father's love into the world, giving her own flesh for the task and drawing us all to the Eternal Son. This she does 'par excellence' in Lourdes. With our hearts full of joy, then, we thank her for all the blessings she brings to us through that holy place.
Forgive me for mentioning Our Blessed Lady under another of her gracious titles: Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, of Perpetual Help. It is just a year ago that I received as my titular Church in Rome the shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Now the image adorns our Cathedral and has become another focus of prayer for so many. In this I rejoice!
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols