Fr Tim: Preparing for Pilgrimage

Steve McDonald – “You are special” – is the theme of the 2018 HCPT Pilgrimage set by Cardinal Dolan Archbishop of New York.

As I’ve said before Pilgrimage is a two-fold process, outwards and inwards. We go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. We leave our homes and travel to the south of France in the hope that our time there will help us to grow, in our spiritual lives, in closeness to Jesus through Mary. We travel inwards on a journey of self-discovery, trying to appreciate better who we are as children of God – loved, valued and cared for.

Our pilgrimage can be a deeply spiritual experience which touches the heart. Indeed it can change lives – the lives of others and our own lives too. For such an experience to take place it is important that we keep the idea of “Pilgrimage” at the forefront of our thinking. It is so easy to allow ourselves to slip into the ‘holiday’ or ‘tourist’ mode and forget that ours is a spiritual journey, and we need to prepare personally for that – not just think preparation is about the paperwork and departure times etc etc – and one of the ways of doing that is by focussing on Mary and Bernadette, staying close to them in the days and weeks ahead as we make ready.

No one understands the mystery of the greatness of God’s love more that Our Lady. First she carried that love in her womb for nine months and then gave birth to her son the personification of God’s love. St. John his favourite disciple put it clearly “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son.” Just as Mary brought God’s love into our world, so she continues to bring his love into the world today, to us, who visit her in Lourdes.

Jesus spelled out the quality of his love “blessed are the poor in spirit” and “the poor have the good news proclaimed to them”. God’s love begins with the most excluded and works back in. This is surely what his mother teaches us in Lourdes. She chose one of the most marginalised, a sickly, uneducated child as her personal friend and messenger. She chose little Bernadette as her evangeliser, to promote her message of love and hope. Through the actions and words of this unlikely messenger she fashioned a world where love reigns supreme.

In HCPT we gather year in and year out. We come in answer to the same invitation Our Lady made to Bernadette, to come to her grotto. We retell the story, and our very full week always has the Grotto as its focus. The Grotto has three focal points, the statue of Mary, reminding us if where she stood and conversed with her chosen one; the candelabra a glowing evidence of prayer said and heard, finally there is the simple little spring. Jesus is the source of living water. That is life, God’s life which is love.

Our presence in Lourdes, in answer to Mary’s invitation, is to refresh ourselves in the presence of Jesus. Personally this year, it will be different – some of us have recently been to her house in Nazareth on the parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and now meet this same Mary in Lourdes. Spend time with her, dwell with her, seek her intercession and that of Bernadette, open your hearts to them, and they will show you that you are special.

May Our Lady and St Bernadette pray for us.

Fr Tim Edgar, 8 January 2018

 

Jonty: Making Lourdes your own

As I sat down to start to write my blog post, it occurred to me that my Lourdes experience and my exposure to the world of HCPT began about 5 years before I myself ever travelled with the group. For those 5 years, Lourdes was somewhere that, after the Easter Sunday masses, dad would fly off to for a week and would come home from both exhausted and invigorated. It was very much a place for other people, and when I first went with HCPT that was very much what I expected. How very wrong I was.

 

The first day of any pilgrimage with HCPT, at least in my experience, is one of organised chaos. With so many places to be and things to do, as a new helper it can feel that Lourdes isn’t really a place to call your own; people that have been for years tell you where you need to be, what you need to do and so on. It is only truly when you have arrived and become settled that you can start to build a relationship with the place. The preparation for the pilgrimage forms the foundation of the relationship and the related experiences and stories of others allows you to understand what to expect, but this is can never be enough.

 

Lourdes is a liminal space, a space between our world and the divine, and therefore goes beyond any description that anyone can give of it. Lourdes quite simply demands to be felt, to be experienced if you want to get anything out of pilgrimage. The trouble with this is making sure we reach about and touch the divine that is there reaching out to us.

 

The best way you can make Lourdes feel like home is through Prayer: to find time to go down to the grotto; to go to the basilica’s and simply pray, to pour ourselves out in prayer to the divine and let it hold us fully. This can be done anywhere but the liminal nature of Lourdes makes it easier, not because God is in some way more ‘present’ than He is in other places, but because we are more present; in Lourdes Mary, the Queen of Heaven, appeared to Bernadette forging with her an unbreakable link between Heaven and Earth. Going is the first step, committing the final leap and throwing ourselves fully to God’s mercy.

Fr Tim: Our Lady’s Call

The Trust Mass for Easter 2018, and other liturgies, will be led by the ASCPG – which is HCPT’s US branch. Cardinal Dolan from New York will be celebrating the Trust Mass. Theme is “You are special” and is a link back to the last time the ASCPG took the lead in Lourdes in 2008, and those of us who were there met Steve McDonald, a member of the NYPD who was quadriplegic. Steve was shot by a teenager some 30 years ago. A bullet hit him in the left side of his neck, shattered into fragments and those fragments lodged in his spinal column. The shooter was 15. Steve found the compassion to forgive his shooter. Steve was the patron of ASCPG – he died in January this year. The theme “You are special” is taken from a poem Steve wrote. Won’t quote it all but this is the last verse:

You’re rare, and in all rarity there is enormous value.
You’re Special, and it is no accident you are.
Please realize that God made you for a special purpose.
God has a job for you to do that nobody else can do as well as you can.
Out of the billions of applicants, only one is qualified.
Only one has the unique and right combination of what it takes, and that one is you.

The presence of the American Group is a reminder of how wide the reach of HCPT is. Often, we can become fixated by our own Group but HCPT is a world-wide phenomenon. Some who will be in Lourdes will have travelled from far, but all of us, from wherever we come, have been called there by Our Lady. Our Lady’s call comes in many different ways. Someone invited us, or told us about the pilgrimage or even cajoled us, or we have always wanted to come to Lourdes. For some, that call forms the backdrop to their lives, and year after year they respond to her invitation and are drawn back to the mystery of the encounter of Our Lady and Bernadette. Whatever the reality, we have been called together to make pilgrimage to Lourdes. We have been called together because in Our Lady’s plan it is right for each of us. We are pilgrims!

Pilgrims leave home, journey together, make new friends, tell each other their own personal stories, and travel to a special and holy place. Once they arrive, they tell or listen to the story that belongs to that place. For us it is the story of Bernadette, the story of Our Lady and Lourdes. In answer to Our Lady’s invitation, we pray, we walk in procession, we are church, we wash in the water from the spring and we joyfully celebrate the joy: promise of new life in Christ.

A pilgrimage to Lourdes always makes a difference. Sometimes we know it right away, sometimes it only slowly dawns on us. This holy place chosen by Mary speaks of love, of acceptance of all, of the compassion of Jesus her son for all who suffer or feel abandoned. In our HCPT week we have the opportunity to share the gift of love in a very practical way. As we return home this is what we bring with us, the experience. This experience should help us see things in a different way. It should help us to live in a different way. It should remind us that we are special, not because of us, but because Our Lady has called us.

Above words by Fr. Tim Edgar, 2 October 2017

You can read all of Steve McDonald’s poem below:

You Are Very Special

In all the world there is nobody like you. Since the beginning of time, there has never been another person like you. Nobody has your smile, your eyes, your hands, your hair. Nobody owns your voice, your hand writing, your unique way of communicating with others. You’re Special.

 Nobody can paint like you. Nobody has your taste for food, music, dance or art. Nobody in the world sees things as you do. In all time, there has never been anyone who laughs in exactly your way, and what makes youl augh or cry or think may have a totally different response in another. So, You’re Special.

 You’re different from any other person who has ever lived in the history of the world. You are the only one in the whole world who has your particular set  of abilities. There is always someone who is better at one thing or another. Every person is your superior in at least one way. But nobody in this world can reach the quality of the combination of your talents, your feelings. Through all eternity, no one will ever love, walk, talk, think or act exactly like you. Remember, You’re Special.

 You’re rare, and in all rarity there is enormous value. You’re Special, and it is no accident you are. Please realize that God made you for a special purpose. God has a job for you to do that nobody else can do as well as you can. Out of the billions of applicants, only one is qualified. Only one has the unique and right combination of what it takes, and that one is you.

You Are Very Special!

Poem above by Steven McDonald, may he Rest in Peace: January 10, 2017

Lourdes and finding “meaning”

As I embarked upon university and the beginnings of adult life, I began to delve into a search for meaning. I was plagued by feelings of isolation, of inferiority in an intellectually charged community, and, ultimately, of being at a complete and utter loss of the ability to do anything with any perceived “meaning” in the world. All these emotions, along with kind and friendly words and encouragements in the right places, drove me to spend more and more time at Church, and as a result, closer and closer to God.

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