Given at the Mass in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes on the World Day for the Sick at Westminster Cathedral on 13th February 2021
On Thursday, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, live pictures were streamed from her Shrine. We were able to be with people gathered at the Grotto, quietly moving around, praying peacefully. We were able to take part in the grand celebration of Mass in the Underground Basilica, filled with people and the singing of the choir. These moments brought comfort and encouragement to many who love the Shrine and look forward to being able to go there again in the future.
This afternoon we gather, as best we can, to express our devotion to Our Blessed Lady and to ask her to stream to us not images of Lourdes but her gifts of compassion and hope.
The Gospel reminds us that we are right to do so. The Wedding Feast in the village of Cana gives us real insight into the relationship between the Mother and her divine Son. As only a mother can, she knows his heart. She understands his deepest longing to redeem his people, in whatever their need. And she is utterly confident that he will answer her requests, maybe above all others. And so it is.
We, then, are right to bring our needs to her, asking her to intercede for us with her Son. Indeed, as at Cana, she already knows the longings of our hearts and the despair that sometimes touches them. We ask, fervently. Like many a mother, she is there before us. But the asking is so important.
Today there is no shortage to our list of requests. We pray for all our sick and for those we know who have died. They are many. Yet we pray also for those beyond our personal knowledge or the reach of our community. We pray for all who have died in this last year. We pray for all who suffer at this time: those struggling for breath, whether in hospital or at home; for those waiting for treatment for their condition which they know is worsening even as they wait. We pray for the perseverance and deep resilience we need to live through these difficult times. We pray for an inner strength of spirit, as we face the turmoil of minds and hearts, trapped in the limited horizons of this lockdown. We pray for all who stand on the front line of the struggles of this pandemic, those working long shifts in difficult conditions. And I ask you to say a prayer for all our priests that we too may be steadfast in our ministry, supported so generously by you, God’s faithful and beloved people.
This is a long list; and it could be a lot longer. But we need not worry for there is another lesson to be drawn from Cana in Galilee.
At his Mother’s behest, Jesus not only meets the need presented to him, a shortage of wine for the wedding, but he does so in abundance. Six huge water jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons, all changed into wine. More than enough for any wedding, so much more!
This is the measure of the Lord’s compassion for us, his needy people, who have over-calculated our cleverness and independence, forgetting that the foundations of life lie with the giver of all gifts to whom we should never fail to turn.
Yet perhaps it is not surprising that in the midst of this pandemic there is a revival of prayer. The father of a friend of mine spent some weeks in an intensive care unit, like so many others, being helped through this terrible disease. He said that he had never seen so many rosary beads before. In the hour of need we turn to her who is always close to us. The instinct to pray is deep within us. At times of need it cannot be easily resisted. Indeed, we know that the fabric of faith is so important to our daily living, and we can give a reminder of this truth to others simply by saying that we are going to pray for them. This is an offer that is rarely rejected!
This afternoon, as we gather round this lovely statue of Our Lady of Lourdes to be refreshed in our love and prayer, we again turn to our Blessed Mother, knowing that we have a place in her heart. She holds us constantly before the eyes of her Son, telling us, as she told the servants at Cana, ‘Do whatever he tells you’.
At her bidding, then, we trust in his promises and seek to live by the horizon which he opens for us: the vision of true solidarity with every brother and sister, especially those in need; the vision of generous love as the secret of fulfilment; the vision of a life which death does not end but which opens into its fullness when we leave this earth. Today we heed again her words, her instruction, her example as she leads us to her Son in whom alone is our health and salvation.
Indeed, here and now she leads us into that Last Supper of the Lord, in this Eucharist. She brings us to stand with her at the foot of his Cross, made present in this holy sacrifice of the Mass. She invites us, with her, to be gentle, compassionate and firm witnesses to the hope that his victory over death brings, especially today when we feel that we are walking in its shadow. She beckons us to share in her joys, fulfilled in her heavenly crowning, a joy into which we too will be drawn at the Lord’s command.
Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster