Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran at the Grotto, Lourdes
I have been coming to Lourdes for over forty years and, today, I saw something that I never noticed before. Just on your left, after you come in St. Joseph’s gate, there is a sign which says: “This tree is classified as one of the most beautiful trees in the Department”. I looked up and, sure enough, there it was, just standing in among the other trees, but much higher than any of them. It crossed my mind that this tree was there before I ever came to Lourdes. It is a wonderful tree, but it doesn’t wave its branches to attract attention. It just stands there, giving praise to the creator, by being what it was meant to be.
Mary the mother of Jesus is, for the most part, a quiet woman. She is always there when she is needed, to do what God wants her to do, but she never sets out to draw attention to herself. In the whole of the Gospels she only speaks four or five times and it is always about what God is doing. Today’s Gospel passage is a very good example. Mary arrives at the home of her cousin Elizabeth on the other side of the mountains and Elizabeth welcomes her with the greeting “Blessed is the fruit of your womb, and how is it that the mother of My Lord should come to visit me”. In reply Mary says: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”. In order to understand this great song of rejoicing, we need to go back to the beginning of the story, when Mary learnt from the Angel Gabriel, the God wanted her to be his partner in giving a Saviour to the world.
You can imagine the scene. It is probably one of the passages from scripture that is most frequently represented in art. But what it comes down to is a young woman who, before she has left her parents’ house to live as the wife of Joseph, discovers that she is expecting a child. All we witness is the conversation between Mary and Gabriel; we don’t know how Mary made sense of the news for herself, or how she told her parents about it. But she tells us in her own words that she is filled with joy because of what God has done for her. Clearly this is a young woman who trusts in the goodness of God and knows that only goodness can come from him.
Mary’s gratitude for what the almighty is doing in her life does not only allow her to accept with joy the child in her womb. It also energises her to cross the mountains to be with her cousin Elizabeth who, as the Gospel tells us, is also “with child”. That is where we find them this morning.
This morning, I want to suggest three small things to you, arising out of our reflection on Mary’s great song of joy.
The first relates to Mary’s attitude of gratitude. Could I invite you to try and nourish in yourself a spirit of awareness of and gratitude for the goodness of God towards yourself. This may not always be easy if you are facing difficulties and disappointments, but I honestly believe that if we were to find a few moments each day to be still and to reflect back over the day that we have had, we would always find something for which we can be thankful. Often indeed, it is those who have least who seem to have the most gratitude in their hearts. Others of us, perhaps, have a sense of entitlement. Pope Francis has reminded us that one of the ancient traditions of the Church is the simple prayer of blessing over the food we eat, which helps to open us up to the mystery of our dependence on God and also to make us aware of others who have less than we have.
The second thing is this. Pope Francis tells us: “The gift of a new child, entrusted by the Lord to a father and a mother, begins with acceptance, continues with lifelong protection and has as its final goal the joy of eternal life” (Amoris Laetitia, 166). Mary understood this and her heart was filled with joy. In our society today, the news of a pregnancy is not always received with joy. Perhaps this is because we sometimes fail to recognise that each child is a gift from God, whose life has a meaning that goes way beyond simply belonging to us. We need to rediscover in our own families not only the unique value of every human life, but also the dignity of parents as sharers with God in his work of creation. I invite you to renew your commitment to defend human life, especially in the present climate which sees human life as disposable. I also encourage you to do all that you can within your own community to support women (and men) for whom the arrival of a new child presents a particular challenge.
Finally, I want to invite you to look again at the generous response of Mary to God’s call. Ask yourself if you are ready to trust in the goodness of God and to say ‘yes’, as Mary did, without having all the details of His plan clearly worked out in advance. Allow yourself to be inspired, not only by Mary herself, but by Elizabeth, by Bernadette and by so many other men and women down through the ages who have given their lives in the service of God and of their brothers and sisters.
You have travelled here to Lourdes to visit Mary. Some of you are struggling with illness, disability or bereavement; others are worrying about family or work. Some of you are starting out on a new stage in the journey if life. In the midst of all of that, God has something great that he wants to do with your life. I’m not talking about someone else’s life. I’m talking about yours. Does that very thought surprise you? Maybe you can already discern his presence working in you, as Mary did? Maybe you already have some idea of what he wants you to do at this particular moment in your life. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what age you are, God is always working in your life.
I think most of us recognise that the world is changing faster in this generation than it ever did before. All the voices in our culture: in media, in advertising and in the cinema reflect that lack of permanence. We are being told all the time to keep our options open; that something better is just around the corner.
Be we must be grateful too for the witness of so many people who do continue to make and to live commitments which are rooted in love and in the desire to offer the gift of themselves. Each year we invite couples in our Diocese to celebrate the jubilee of their marriage and we have similar celebrations to mark 25 or 50 years of priesthood and religious life. All of this bears witness to the fact that it is possible through God’s grace, even if it is not always easy, to live fruitful committed lives. On our pilgrimage this year, we are privileged to have with us Dorothy and Paul who, just yesterday, exchanged their consent to be husband and wife. Last Sunday, a young man from our diocese began his formation for the priesthood in Maynooth and one if the sisters in our new community in Roscommon will make her final profession on September 8th. These are all signs of hope.
God may be asking you to consider a new direction in your life, or simply to continue walking faithfully and generously in the path which you are already following. St Luke tells us, in his account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple that Mary “pondered …. in her heart” all that had happened and all that she had heard. During these days in Lourdes, and after you return home, I encourage you – from time to time – to ponder; and often to ask God’s wisdom, so that, in the midst of all the other voices, you can hear what he is whispering in your heart. Welcome with joy, as Mary did, whatever great thing he may be doing in your life.
Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran at the Grotto, Lourdes on the occasion of the Elphin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes
30th August 2017