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Given on 10th February at the Mass in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes at Westminster Cathedral.

Growing up in Liverpool, well Crosby actually, the story of a man called Jack Traynor was well known to me. He was the miracle man.

Jack Traynor was born in Liverpool and grew up in the parishes of St Patrick’s and St Malachy’s, parishes in which I later served as a young priest. As a young man, at the outbreak of the First World War, in 1914, he was called up into the army.  He was very badly wounded in Gallipoli, in May 1915 in his head, chest and arm, rendering it useless. Then he began to suffer epilepsy and became an invalid. He was described as ‘permanently and completely disabled’.

Just over one hundred years ago, in July 1923, he went to Lourdes, overcoming great opposition from the organisers who feared the journey would be too much for him. He arrived  late at Lime Street Station, missing the first train but getting the second. He was repeatedly told that the journey would kill him, that entering the baths in Lourdes could kill him. Yet, in Lourdes, he was completely cured and restored to good health.  

He took up work again delivering huge sacks of coal as was customary work at that time. In fact, I can remember coal being delivered at home, the horse and cart and the strong coalman covered with coal dust yet always cheerful!  

In the days of Jack Traynor’s return, the whole of Liverpool was rejoicing, echoing the spirit and song of the First Reading:

Rejoice Jerusalem
Be glad all you who love her,
Like a son comforted by his mother will I comfort you.
(Isaiah 66:14).

Yes, Jack Traynor whose mother died when he was young, had learned from her how to know, love and trust Mary as his heavenly Mother. 

It was this understanding that had made him so determined to go to Lourdes. That enabled him to trust Mary, our Mother, entirely. This was the disposition of his soul, which meant he could receive the miraculous cure granted to him. And, having been cured, his first action was to run to the grotto, outrunning his nurses, to thank his Blessed Mother.

We can learn so much about love for our Blessed Lady, and indeed for Lourdes, from the story of Jack Traynor.

But, today, we also pay attention to the Gospel, the account of the Marriage Feast of Cana, as given to us by Saint John.

In this account, Mary speaks but nine words. But those nine words teach us so much about her and about why we instinctively respond to her with such readiness and love.

Her first four words are: 'They have no wine.'

These words teach us that Mary gazes at us with a mother's concern and with a mother's attentiveness to all our needs. She is not afraid to pick up our needs and present them to her Blessed Son. This is why we come today to honour Our Lady, in her title of Our Lady of Lourdes, because she is practically such a good mother to us all. We come to her with our burdens, with our sense of lack and inadequacy, and not just for wine! And, we know that we can present them to her with confidence because she sees what we need. She knows what we need. And, she responds to what we need.

The other five words of Mary are spoken to the waiters in the restaurant. She says: 'Do whatever he tells you.'

In these five words, we understand the whole direction of Mary's life. It is to point us to Christ. It is to bring us to Christ. It is to present her Son before us as the One who is to be obeyed, the One who brings us all the gifts we need. And today we may remember one of his commands that we are to store up treasure for ourselves in heaven rather than store up riches here on earth. Our heavenly, spiritual store is made up of all we offer to the Lord: our love, our prayer, our suffering, our praise and our service. 

Everything we have learned in these last few months about the coming of Our Saviour includes this role for Mary, of pointing us to her Son. The shepherds came, they gave their attention to the Child; the wise men came, they presented their gifts to the Child. They did so, I am sure, at the beckoning of Mary. Simeon and Anna had eyes for the Child within the crowded temple. Mary presented the Child to them and welcomed their blessing and proclamation of his coming.

When we are in Lourdes, we learn the same lesson. We come to Mary, we present to her all our needs. And, we give our worship to Jesus, her Son, especially in the procession of the Blessed Sacrament every day. 

As we gather in the Cathedral this afternoon, please let us remember these nine words of Mary:

'They have no wine.'
'Do whatever he tells you.'

With these words to guide us, our hearts rightly sing the praises of Mary and give our obedience to her Blessed Son. May God bless us on our Pilgrim Way. And, may God give us the gift of his peace. May we never cease to have recourse to Mary, our Mother, who knows all our needs and who will bring them to her Blessed Son.


✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster

Image: Mazur/