Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Homily at the Grotto of Lourdes July 2015

Bishop Davies resized

 

The beauty of this landscape must never allow us to forget that we are standing on what was once a tip – a littered wasteland – where on a cold February morning in 1858, three teenage girls came to scavenge for bones and rags, sticks and scraps of metal to be sold for food.  Bernadette was the poorest among them. In the town above us, her family had lost their home, their livelihood and even their good name. Bernadette had lost her health, too. It was in such place and in such circumstances that Bernadette met the one who speaks in the Gospel of her lowliness. Our Lady, whom God placed at the centre of his plan for salvation and to whom those words of the Angel were addressed: “rejoice so highly favoured one.” In Mary’s company Bernadette would herself recognise the greatness to which she was also called, in all her poverty, sickness and human obscurity.

In this wasteland beside a river, the same Gospel light, which shone in Nazareth, shone-out for Bernadette and has done so for the countless millions who have journeyed to this tiny place on earth, especially the weakest and the poorest. Saint Augustine used to repeat the phrase: “How much you have loved us …,” and he would explain “we might have despaired of ourselves had He not been made flesh and dwelt among us” (Book 10, Confessions).  In the light of the Incarnation – that God the Son humbled himself to share in our humanity – we learn never to give up on each other and never to give up on ourselves.

In this place it is hard to believe back home a law of despair is about to be rushed through Parliament. The proposed law for “Assisted Dying” will remove legal protections for the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our land. It is the first step on the road to euthanasia: the medical killing of some of the weakest members of society. By the proposed law, those in our hospitals and care homes will be offered assistance to commit suicide. The very ones who should be accorded the greatest support will be legally offered help towards killing themselves. Conscious of the sometimes scandalous neglect of elderly people in our present health and care provision (see LSE Research Analysis of Health Service date, July 2015) we can imagine the pressures under which some of the most vulnerable will come if assisted suicide becomes the mindset of British society. We have good reason to fear that the right to die will quickly become the duty to die. And those who should be most cherished and cared for will increasingly see themselves as an unwanted burden to society. Pope Francis frequently reminds us how it is the weakest and most vulnerable who can teach us the most important lessons of life. And he warns us that many societies are in danger of discarding them.

We may only have a matter of weeks to make our voices heard before Parliament decides whether a culture of care or a culture of suicide and eventually of killing prevails. Yet here, in the witness of Lourdes, we have something more than our voices. From this wasteland a spring of renewed faith and lived charity has flowed in care for each other and in recognition of what each is worth. It often surprises people that a place filled with so much suffering is not dismal and depressing. Instead, Lourdes is filled with joy precisely because here we recognise the real dignity and the true greatness to which every one of us is called.  It was on this waste ground that Saint Bernadette – and a now countless number have come to glimpse anew the greatness and the incomparable worth of every human life.  May it always be so for us.   Amen.

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury

 

(Photo by Simon Caldwell)