Homily from Archbishop Martin at Mass at Lourdes Grotto, Saturday September 8th
Once again we are gathered at this Holy Shrine to begin our Annual Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. We come together in prayer. With our prayers are united those who are Auxiliary Members of our Pilgrimage and we remember their generosity and their intentions in our prayers. We unite all our prayers especially with those who are sick or troubled, that these days will be days of rest and healing, of consolation and renewal in faith. We bring together at this altar the intentions and prayers of all those who are with us on pilgrimage, of our benefactors and of all those who have asked us to pray for their intentions.
Lourdes is a shrine of prayer and faith. Our encounter with Mary, whose birthday we celebrate today, renews our faith and teaches us what faith means in our lives.
Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed a Year of Faith for the entire Catholic Church beginning on 11th October next, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The Year of Faith is not just another passing event around a fleeting theme of the day. It is an event focussed on what is most central in our renewal as a Catholic Church.
This year our Archdiocese of Dublin had the special joy and privilege of hosting the 50th International Eucharistic Congress. Those of us who had the possibility of attending the Congress experienced something which went beyond our expectations. We had a special experience of the life of the Church and of the renewal that is taking place in the Church.
We witnessed that experience of the Church at the Congress especially in the various celebrations of the Eucharist, in the continuous adoration of the Blessed Eucharist and at the evening Eucharistic Procession. We saw the profound desire for renewal in the faith in the extraordinary interest in the workshops which focused on renewal of faith, of prayer and of Christian commitment in our lives in society. We experienced that sense of renewal in the vast Hall of the RDS in Dublin which became a showcase of expressions of Church life, especially the witness of men and women religious and of lay organiations.
The Eucharistic Congress surpassed the expectation of all of us and brought to those who were present at it, or associated with it right across all the dioceses of Ireland, a renewed sense of pride in belonging to the Church. Almost two thousand volunteers gave their time and energy and enthusiasm to supporting the event and I know that especially many of the young volunteers at the Congress experienced something of Church life which they had not experienced in the same way before.
We gather here at Lourdes reflecting on the Eucharistic congress and preparing for the Year of Faith. We do not look back sentimentally to a past event. We wish to draw from our experience of the Eucharistic Congress a real sense of what the mission of the Church is today and what our calling as Christians is in the world in which we live. It is in that sense that we turn to Mary.
The Second Vatican Council presented Mary as a model of faith and a model of the Church. More than any other human being Mary’s life became intertwined with God’s plan of salvation of humankind. Mary totally accepted God’s will and freely chose to cooperate with God’s grace. In that way Mary took on a crucial role in God’s plan of salvation. Through opening herself to the message of the Angel, Mary made God’s plan of redemption possible in time.
Mary’s entire life then became an act of faith in God’s saving plan. In announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict recalled many of the ways in which Mary through her unswerving faith contributed to the birth of the Church and became model of the Church. In every aspect of her life of faith Mary gives us an insight into what the life of the Church is.
Mary accepted the Angel’s word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God. This lofty mission, Mary realised, was no merit of hers but was the fruit solely of the marvellous design of God. It was this plan of God which Mary proclaimed in her powerful prayer the Magnificat, which recalled how God throughout history had remained faithful to those who placed their trust in him.
From the moment of the birth of her son onwards, Mary remains by his side in his preaching and ministry and healing, reflecting in her heart the significance of each moment; her fidelity to her son brings her closest to him at the moment of his sorrowful death. Mary also however experienced the joy of her son’s resurrection and was with the Twelve assembled with in the Upper Room as the Church was born through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Church continues the mission of Jesus in our time. Here at Mary’s shrine we realise that the saving and healing power of Christ is today present for us through the ministry of the Church, if we renounce arrogance and self-pride and open our hearts humbly to God’s saving love as Mary did.
Through her intercession Mary wishes to bring that saving and healing power of her son to all our hearts. When we turn to her in prayer, her prayerful intercession enables us to be more like her: her prayer enables us to understand God’s plan for us and for the Church, in the measure in which we become, like her docile, to God’s plan of salvation.
Mary’s intercession calls us not just to think of ourselves and our own needs but to work for the salvation of all. That is the mission of the Church. Her intercession means not only that we experience the saving power of her son but that we become instruments of saving alongside her son, that we bring that saving power to others. Our celebration of the Year of Faith will lead us to renewal of our faith, knowing that in professing our faith we open a door for us and for those around us into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God.
An essential dimension of the Year of Faith will be a call to formation in our faith, especially to adult faith formation. Faith in Jesus Christ is demanding. But our understanding of the content of our faith is not something purely abstract: the content of our faith is not a book of abstract principles or norms: it involves an encounter with Jesus who saves. Our faith is not the contents of the book which we can read in the evening on our own and feel inspired. Our faith is the faith of the Church, into which we are immersed in Baptism, and not something that we determine on our terms. There are few better ways to profess our faith than through the Rosary, which is the overall theme of all pilgrimages to Lourdes this year. In the Rosary our faith springs into prayer.
We pray at the Shrine of Mary this morning for the gift of faith and for that healing which so often in the Gospels is the fruit of faith. We pray especially for the sick that they will experience in these days the healing power of Jesus, in the Mass, in the Sacrament of the Sick and in our prayer together.
We pray for those in our times who have difficulty in believing, especially many young people. May their sincere searching for meaning and truth and hope in their lives be a gate opening their hearts to the mystery of God. My hope is that just as at the Eucharistic Congress the young people who are here with us on this pilgrimage will have a new experience of faith in Jesus Christ and in the Church, as they experience here in Lourdes how the love and healing power of Jesus is present among us.
We pray for our Church and for our society. We pray for our families, for our children. We pray for all those who work with the pilgrimage, veterans and those who are here for the first time. We pray for our priests. We pray this year especially that respect for all human life will be a singular dimension of the way in which we live our lives as individuals and as a Christian community. We make that prayer this morning as we commemorate the birth of Mary herself, which opened the way for the birth of the saviour.
May our celebration today of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this holy place be a moment in which, as we prayed in the opening prayer, we experience deeper peace, knowing in faith that through Mary came the dawning of salvation, a salvation which is offered to us still today through the presence of God in his Church. ENDS