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.