Lourdes & Our Catholic Family
I have spent the last week in beautiful hot weather on pilgrimage in Lourdes with the family.
|Mary reading through the in-flight safety|
The damage is visible, the glass covering the spring in the Grotto has been damaged, the wall bordering le Gave is damaged, but the most visible sign is the bridge from the Domain to the Basilica Bernadette, which suffered a great deal of damage. Overall, the place looks surprisingly good and is 99% open for business. They've done a sterling job cleaning it up so well in such a short space of time.
Our visit fortuitously coincided with both the Diocesan Pilgrimage and the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service Pilgrimage, although we were officially affiliated to neither.
|Recreating that magic moment!|
After as many as eight years of taking part in organised visits to Lourdes, being unaffiliated was always a dream of ours, and this trip presented us with the best of both worlds. We had the benefit of having lots of lovely people we know from the Youth Service and the Diocese with us, the opportunity to join in with activities and liturgies as we wanted, without having to conform to what can often be the rather rigorous routine of an organised pilgrimage. This gave us the flexibility to head out of town, visit Bartres at our leisure, do the High Stations, take the funicular up Pic du Jer, but meet up with everyone for the torchlight procession, and join them for Mass everyday.
It was a great honour and a privilege to be in this company. This pilgrimage is the last for Sarah and James Barber after some 29 years of involvement. Their legacy is something to observe and a great credit to their unrelenting commitment and enthusiasm.
This is also a great legacy for our Bishop, Thomas McMahon, who has always supported our Youth Service.
As he looks forward to retirement, one important element to his legacy is that 251 young people from Brentwood Diocese were at Lourdes this year. The behaviour I observed was impeccable, due to some degree no doubt to careful, experienced management and a packed programme, as well as the care and enthusiasm of the leaders. Brentwood Catholic Youth Service has produced at least six priestly vocations and many more committed Catholic teachers, as well as nurses like my wife, and boring business people like myself. It is prayerful, vibrant and alive; what struck me most was that whenever we bumped into a group of Brentwood Youth in the town, they were polite, engaging, and most of all HAPPY! They were so smiley! It was clear that everyone was having a brilliant time.
Many wonderful priests of our diocese were present and I was able to spend some time catching up with a dear friend, Fr. Mark Reilly. Fr. Martin Boland, who I last saw at the Deanery Lenten Reflection evenings, Fr. James Mackay, our new Diocesan Youth Chaplain, were out there and Fr. Paul Keen, writer and commentator. On Thursday morning, we went to Mass at the Grotto with Bishop Mark Davis of Shrewsbury presiding. Archbishop Vincent Nichols preached very powerfully on the theme of Westminster's pilgrimage: The Cross, The Rock, The Water, and The Light, and Brentwood provided the music for the liturgy. This was a wonderful celebration and I felt so wonderful to be in that special place with so many Catholics from my own Country, coming together to pray the Mass.
|Archbishop Vincent Nichols preaches at a packed Mass at the Grotto on Thursday morning.|
The comment from my own two eldest sons has, so far, focused on the service element of the pilgrimage. They found this very beneficial, an opportunity to put their faith into action, to demonstrate just what being Catholic really means, not just in words but through what they were doing. This is my own strongest memory of Lourdes pilgrimages when I was a young man. It showed me what faith looked like when it was put to practical use. Of course, when you get older, life presents you with situations where you are challenged to manifest your Catholicity more often. From simply refraining from eating meat on Friday, to refusing to use contraception, to your employment policy at work, life is full of decisions which require your engagement and understanding of what it means to be Catholic.
However, their comments resonate deeply with me and speak to a deep desire I shared as a young man who had come in contact with the Gospel. It's clearest message seemed to be one of compassion and helping others. Loving your neighbour, caring for the sick.
|The Brentwood Group|
As a young man, I wanted to know what practical use my faith was, both to me and to the rest of the world. What actual good being a Catholic would do. Was it just about Mass and prayers? They might make me feel better, but what good are they to anyone else? They almost seemed a cop out, something to do instead of actually doing something. Lourdes taught me that it had a real practical dimension that, when applied, had the ability to change the world. Secured in the understanding that it was practical and real, I studied, and came to see how this was fundamentally Trinitarian. We seek the Kingdom where everyone has love for God and love for neighbour and this is an image of the Trinity wherein each member wants nothing but the very best for the others. This is unity in diversity, we do not lose our individuality, but all focus on one thing-- God.
|Mum, Lou and Mary as we walked the Way of the Cross|
Lourdes on the other hand is a place where the faith has taken root, grown, and flourished, nurtured by the visions seen by Bernadette and the subsequent miracles that have occurred, the mortal efforts of raising the Basilicas and Domain, the pilgrims, the shops, cafes and restaurants that have grown up to service them, the processions, the Masses, the chants, the prayers, the acts of devotion and worship. Lourdes is where something truly miraculous occurred, and continues to occur, and where we come to celebrate that God is truly with us. We come from all corners of the world in an wonderfully eclectic mix of colourful national flags, languages, shapes and sizes. Despite our diversity, we are one, and this is never more clearly demonstrated than at the end of the torchlight procession, when all jumbled together in front of the Rosary Basilica, everyone turns to each other and with great affection, offers each other the peace of Christ. The reality of the Kingdom becomes clear in the focus on the sick and handicapped among us. William couldn't get over the way in which, pushing a wheelchair afforded him priority in all manner of things whilst in Lourdes.
In Lourdes, one sees what it would be like if all the world had Christian priorities, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.