Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster

Lourdes Pilgrimage: Mass at the Grotto

         Thursday 25 July 

For us all roads lead here. This is the purpose and end of our journeying: to be here, in the Grotto in Lourdes, where Our Lady came to meet Bernadette and where she comes to meet us too.

Today we claim as a patron and companion St James, whose Feast day is today.

In the Middle Ages, in Europe, all roads led to Compostella, in Northern Spain, to the great shrine of St James. Today we pray for all those who have been killed, injured, bereaved in the dreadful rail crash at Compostella. We pray for them, now, in a moment of silence.

St James is our patron today for two reasons.

First of all, he was one of the three disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration of Our Lord. He actually was given a sight of the glory of God in Jesus. May he help us, in our way, to glimpse the glory of God is so many moments around us, especially here in this holy place.

Then he is our patron because he was also one of the disciples who managed to sleep throughout the entire Agony of Our Lord in the garden! He must have been so weary, so overcome with sleep. We know what he felt like!

Today we have heard words of St Paul which help us to understand ourselves and our journey of faith.

He tells us that we are only 'earthenware jars' but 'holding a great treasure.'

Well, we know we are only earthenware jars. A glance in the mirror tells us that: made of clay, a bit lumpy, useful, even if cracked, chipped and pasted back together. Or maybe we are more like porcelain, rather fine in form and well preserved.

No matter. The important thing is the great treasure we contain. And that is often most easily glimpsed when we look into our eyes, the very windows of our souls.

There we see what St Paul spoke about: the new life at work in us, the life of faith taking shape, coming to be, but only in as much as there is also, in St. Paul's words, death to the old self.

This is the struggle of our lives, of our pilgrimage: to let the new life come to birth as the old life dies away.

During this year in Lourdes, we are presented with four symbols of this new life: the cross, the rock, the water and the light. We ponder them for a moment. The cross, the rock, the water and the light. There is a rhythm about that: the cross, the rock, the water and the light!

In Lourdes these symbols are clear. There is the cross, lit up on the mountain top, high above everything, shining in the night sky. There is this rock, here, upon which this great church is built. There is the water, here in this spring, in the taps and bathes, cleansing and healing us. Then there are the lights, the candles shining in the dark, here at the Grotto and in the processions.

It is good to remember them: the cross, the rock, the water and the light.

These signs also remind of Our Lord's life. The cross on which he opened his arms and bore our sins. The rock, for he is the foundation stone and the corner stone of our lives. The water, that fountain of living water which flows from his side. The light, for he is indeed the light of the world, breaking through all darkness.

The cross, the rock, the water and the light!

Yet these signs can also remind us of ourselves, and of the old life within us by which we so easily turn what could be good into something that is destructive.

The cross onto which we want to nail others, pinning the blame on them, but never on ourselves. The rock, all those stones of criticism which we so quickly throw at others. The water, that stagnant water of our cynicism by which we drown the goodness in others. The light which we so often want to be on ourselves, not on others, the light of celebrity, of self-centredness.

Remember these too: the cross, the rock, the water and the light!

This is the old life which has to be transformed within us. When that happens, then the cross becomes my willingness to stretch out in love for others. The rock is my effort to build up the kingdom of God by building good healthy relationships with those around me. The water is my capacity to refresh those around me with encouragement and strength. The Light is the shining forth of the good example that I give.

But this transformation can only come about if these symbols and signs are also to be found in my daily life, in my day to day spiritual effort. For in this sense the cross is the sign of the cross which I make over myself every morning as I awake, dedicating the day to The Lord. The rock is my solid, reliable practice of prayer each day, the rock of prayer in my life. The water is that refreshing of my spirit which is given to me by Jesus as I talk with him each day. And the light is my readiness to make good judgements about how I should behave, according to the light of my well-formed conscience.

The cross, the rock, the water and the light, now seen and active in my daily life!

St Paul tells us:  'We too believe and therefore we too speak.' Yes indeed we do believe and we are ready to speak out for our faith in our world today. He tells us that we speak so that we may stand side by side and 'yolked to Christ' as we heard the other day. Yes indeed for then we are united in him. And all this means that 'the voice of praise may be strong!'

With Mary aim our midst, with such a Mother at our side, we shall indeed speak out; we shall indeed stand side by side; we shall indeed praise the Lord. Amen.

+Vincent Nichols


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