Homily from Mass at Lourdes Grotto, Sunday 31st August 2014

Homily from Mass at Lourdes Grotto, Sunday 31st August 2014
Bishop Kevin Doran
Elphin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes 2014

Last Sunday we listened to a gospel in which Jesus said to Peter “You are Simon and on this Rock I will build my Church”. Today, in a continuation of the same passage, Jesus says to Peter: “Get behind me Satan. You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is man’s way, not God’s”. A reminder perhaps that, no matter who we are, there is always room for conversion. The Joy of Conversion is, of course, the pastoral theme for this year at Lourdes.

Some of us complain that we are not as fit as we would like to be. Some of us struggle to fit into our favourite clothes. I think most of us would admit that, as a society, we eat and drink more than is good for us and we don’t take enough exercise. From time to time, like most of you, I imagine, I’ve heard radio interviews about “operation transformation” and here’s how it comes across to me:

  1. Many people really struggle with the effects of being overweight and unfit. In some cases their lives are even at risk 2. People find change difficult. Old habits are hard to break 3. People find real strength from being part of something bigger than themselves. When other people get behind them, and encourage them, it makes a huge difference.
  2. There is real joy in making progress, however slowly. Physical well-being and emotional well-being are closely linked I suppose the basic principle behind all of this is that transformation is achievable, but there is “no gain without pain”.

Now you might wonder why I’m talking about this here this morning, especially when some of you are confined to wheelchairs and suffer the effects of old age of illnesses over which you have no control. I suppose, even when someone has a physical disability, lifestyle can make a difference. But I’m not an expert in physiotherapy or aerobics. What I want to talk to you about is quite different, but the basic principle is the same.

Lourdes is associated in the minds of many people with healing, and it is true that people do experience physical healing here. The facts are all documented and I think there is even a place here in the sanctuary where you can go and read about it for yourself. But physical healing in Lourdes, as it was during the earthly life of Jesus, is simply an outward sign of the compassion of God at work in the lives of men and women. Lourdes is a kind of spiritual “operation transformation” and the real change that begins at Lourdes is the inner conversion of heart and spirit. This is something from which we can all benefit, whatever age we are and no matter what our physical condition.

If you back to what I said about “operation transformation” and you’ll find the same things apply to the experience of conversion

  1. For many of us, our relationships with God and with one another are not all that they could be, because of neglect 2. It’s not that easy to overcome destructive patterns of behaviour; to be faithful to prayer, to keep the commandments, to give up the negative talk, to invest time in understanding our faith 3. Here in Lourdes, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We spend time in God’s presence. We are supported by the prayer of others and we experience the care that people can have for one another.
  2. There is a real joy when we see some small signs of the growth that might be possible in our lives

This is what St. Paul is talking about in the second reading, when he encourages the Romans not to model themselves on the behaviours of the world around them but encourages them instead: “let your behaviour be changed, modelled on your new mind”. That new mind, of course, is the mind of Christ, with whom we are united as one body. Elsewhere in his writings, Paul encourages the people of Philippi, in their dealings with one another, to have the same mind set or attitude as Christ Jesus.

But this is where we need to go back a little to the basic principle that, there is no gain without pain. One of the central messages of Lourdes is penance. It’s not a very popular idea. Just as the prophet Jeremiah says in the first reading, there are some truths that people simply don’t want to hear. The reality, however, is that if we want to grow spiritually strong we have to train; we have to let go of some of our baggage.

A few months ago, just before Confirmation time, I was taking to the children in our primary school in Donnybrook about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. I asked them which of the fruits of the Spirit they would most like to see in their lives.  One of the girls, without hesitation said “self-control”. I think, if we are honest, most of us would love to think that we could exercise self-control in our lives, and that we are not all the time just following the latest trend, like tumbleweed being blown along by the wind.

Physical exercise builds up the body, strengthening the muscles, making the heart healthy. In the same way penance helps us to develop good habits (or virtues), which will stand to us when we are tested. Some of you suffer from ill health or are frail due to old age. To use the words of St Paul, you carry in your bodies the cross of Christ. For you the challenge is to carry that cross as patiently and as cheerfully as possible. In that way, you not only grow closer to Christ, but you inspire the rest of us.

For the rest of us, penance takes different forms but, in the end, it is usually about letting go of things, letting go of time, letting go of our need to always have it our own way all so that we can be in right relationship with God and with one another.  When a crisis comes, we may still experience the struggle to do what is right, but we can face it with confidence, because we have grown strong through God’s grace.

The one thing I would encourage you all to do when you go home, young or old, is to try to be part of the community of faith. In this way you will be supported in living as a disciple and you, in turn, will encourage others.