Homily at the Mass in the Grotto in Lourdes 5 Sept 2017
When we gather at Lourdes next year, the World Meeting of Families in Dublin 2018 (WMF) will have just ended. Thus this morning I will reflect on Lourdes and family and home. Saint John Paul said, “The future of humanity passes by way of home and family”. Family is that essential to all of human society. For most people the heart of their lives is two families / homes: the family / home you are born into and grow up in; the family/home you form when you settle as an adult.
This year’s theme at Lourdes is a line from today’s Gospel, the Magnificat, “the Almighty works marvels for me”. You can see this in two aspects, God’s grace and care in your past life up to this day, and your confidence in God’s grace and care in the future. I want to look at two key families of Lourdes, those of Our Lady and of Bernadette. See how in spite of the greatest of difficulties both Mary and Bernadette could say of their families “the Almighty works marvels for me”.
Our Lady’s life was not easy: when engaged to Joseph there was the stress of the mystery of her pregnancy; she was very vulnerable in a stable giving birth on account of ‘census requirements’; with her baby she spent time in Egypt because of the threat to Jesus’ life; tradition tells us that St Joseph was deceased before Jesus began his public ministry. Then in Jesus ministry and his preaching he made enemies, his very life was threatened. Mary was there throughout his journey to the Cross. Regarding the life of the Holy Family life was not easy, yet what a wonderful family. Through that family God the Father gave the world Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So much went so wrong in the home of Bernadette. When her parents married their future looked bright. Yet before their first child Bernadette was ten the family was in deepest poverty, in real crisis, her father was unemployed and they were homeless. For a number of years they lived in one barely habitable room in a former prison. From childhood Bernadette had very poor health. In her teens she was anointed a number of times, – fearing she was in danger of death. Aged twenty two, in her first year in the Convent, her mother died (her youngest brother was just seven), her father died five years later. It was so difficult for Bernadette in the convent aware of her family struggling back home, an orphaned family, both parents deceased. She herself died aged thirty five, having been extremely ill for more than four years. For the Soubirous family life was always a great struggle. Yet look at what God has done through Bernadette, the eldest child of that family: the apparitions of Our Lady; the growth of Lourdes and its life over 157 years; all that God has done for so many people through Lourdes; St Bernadette, who lived such a short life so dominated by poor health, has touched the lives of so many. Her goodness surely points to a truly loving Soubirous family and home.
Of the Holy family, of the Soubirous family, Our Lady and St Bernadette can say “the Almighty works marvels for me” .Truly many, many families everywhere can say the same. Families can say that because family is God’s way of filling the world with love. Is there a greater source of “God’s love” than family, home, couples and marriage? Can every Christian family, aware of the Good News of the Gospel say: “As a family, God has given us all we need to be happy and fulfilled. Everything that will come the way of our family, we can cope with it with the help of God.” Thus can every Christian family, amid their cares, trials and difficulties make their own Mary’s words, “the Almighty works marvels for me”?
Maybe our best preparation for the World Meeting of Families is to sit down and recall the story of our own families, and of other families, past and present, in our communities: Recall the joys and the sorrows, the successes and failures, the graces and the crises. See amid it all, all that is good, loving and true in each family. When St John Paul said “The future of humanity passes by way of home and family”, he could have added: “and that is the way God created us, that is God’s greatest gift to us, home and family filled with His love”.
A final point, – How many, many people have come to Our Lady at this Grotto, lost and heart-broken as a result of serious illness or addiction or the death of a loved one or some other very bad news they themselves or their loved ones have received? And how often has Our Lady “turned Darkness into Light” for them here at Lourdes! Somehow they have gained acceptance and a conviction that they are not alone, that God is with them and that God’s love is expressed in the love of their families and friends. How often have they gained acceptance of God’s will, how often have they come to realise, “the Almighty works marvels for me”? Today each of us can ponder our own life’s journey, ponder the journey of our own homes and family. In gratitude and Christian hope we pray with Our Lady, “the Almighty works marvels for us, in our homes and families”. I ask that all of us pray for the success of the World Meeting of Families, Dublin 2018 and of the preparation for it in all the parishes of Ireland.
Bishop Ray Browne