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 Preached to English and Welsh Pilgrims at the Grotto of Lourdes, Monday 29th July 2019

We have arrived at the goal of our pilgrimage which has brought us together in our thousands from across Wales and England. We have come to a place in the foothills of the Pyrenees that has been a place of constant prayer for more than a century and a half. Here the Mother of God invited Bernadette to join her in prayer; and in so doing, she was to embark on a path leading not to physical recovery – this would not be Bernadette’s story – rather, on a journey to holiness in which we find our true health and our lasting happiness.

Our Lady would call Bernadette and the millions who have now stood exactly where we stand today, to renewed prayer in their lives and to constant intercession for those who are most truly sick, namely sinners who remain in their sin. Bernadette was called to do penance both through personal sacrifices and by offering with love her own suffering for their conversion. Our Lady invited us to come here in procession, an invitation to walk together in the faith of the Church. And by asking that a chapel be built, Mary, above all, insisted we make a central place in our lives for the Holy Eucharist. This is the same Mother of Jesus we find in the Gospel who, on seeing the dire need of a couple at Cana, in so few words gave the remedy: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5). In this moment we are each called as, the pilgrims of 2019, to accept this same invitation from the Mother of God and to see the miracle it brings.

Back home we can’t fail to recognise all that ails our society with lasting, indeed, everlasting consequences. We are witnessing an increasingly radical attack upon the sanctity of human life from the womb; upon the divine plan of marriage as the life-long union of man and woman; upon human identity as it comes from the hand of God. An attack upon the whole Christian moral inheritance that is becoming so contentious neither disagreement nor open debate is tolerated. As Christians committed to protecting the environment as we recognise this world as a gift from the Creator we also can’t fail to notice voices which appear to see not human sin but rather humanity itself as a pollutant. Children coming into this world can thereby be seen as a threat to creation rather than as the crowning of all creation. Pope Francis and Pope Benedict before him insist, that threats to our physical environment cannot be remedied without addressing a renewal of the moral environment. “The external deserts are growing,” they say, “because the internal deserts have become so vast” (Laudato Si n. 217). By striving toward holiness which always involves overcoming pride, selfishness and greed both humanity and our common home – the earth – flourish together.

We have a duty to raise the Christian voice in the face of such threats; and to influence public opinion while time and liberty remain. Yet, the message of Lourdes reminds us this alone can never be sufficient remedy. The remedy is always bound up with constant prayer and loving intercession for those misled into sin; in knowing the value of suffering that is offered to God with love; by walking mind and heart with the Church; and above all, placing at the centre of our lives the Eucharist – the miracle of love which is the living, healing, redeeming presence of Jesus Christ Himself. So that in the memorable words of Abbot Vonier: If the Eucharist becomes our first concern, our highest aspiration, then society is saved. It is by turning away from sin and striving for holiness that our true health and happiness is found. This was the message entrusted here to Bernadette and the message now entrusted to us as pilgrims from England and Wales. It is a message that offers hope for our homeland insofar as we accept the same invitation of the Mother of God to “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5).