Opening Mass of ‘Virtual Pilgrimage to Lourdes during Covid-19
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
30th May 2020
Two or three years ago I recalled an encounter I had with a German visitor at Cork Airport as he observed the Diocesan Pilgrimage preparing themselves to travel to Lourdes. He knew it was no ordinary group of tourists – he was struck by the diversity of those travelling by way of age and abilities. What marked us out in his view was the lively spirit and good humour he witnessed.
In the course of conversation he sought to understand and I tried to explain the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim. There is a different bond of connection between pilgrims from a group of tourists. It comes from the shared experience of faith. In the end I felt like inviting him to join us because he would have to journey with us to understand the experience of the pilgrim.
My friends, this meeting came to mind as I reflected on the idea of the virtual pilgrimage which we are setting out on to-day. Not being present to one another in Lourdes leaves a big void on one level yet on another level we can bridge that gap through the richness of our experience and memory of the pilgrimages we have made. For many of us it will be especially easy to draw freely from this deep well of our truly important personal spiritual memories that Lourdes evokes for us.
The Bells of the Angelus calls us to pray, Mary, Immaculate, and Bernadette invite us into their faith journey. The Magnificat is Mary’s song of praise of what the Lord has done through her by her humble submission ‘May it be done to me according to your word’. Only through the lens of faith can we ourselves experience that same grace of God of which Mary and Bernadette were the most wholesome instruments.
Through both Mary and Bernadette, through the Shrine of Dedication that has grown for over a century now we are drawn in by our faith and prayer to the world of beauty and miracle despite the sickness, pain and loss we go through on life’s path. We are drawn into the mystery of Divine Love, of the mystery of our own unique life journey and experience, the dignity and worth of who we are and the good we desire and seek to do in life.
St. Paul’s writing to the people of Ephesus in our 1st Reading includes the magnificent hymn of praise of what the Father has done for us in Christ Jesus.
· Blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens
· In him we have redemption by his blood
· In all wisdom and insight, he has made known
to us the mystery of his will
· In him we were chosen and destined
· In him we also have heard the word of truth
were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit
Along with the account of the Annunciation in the Gospel these are the thoughts and insights the church invites us to cherish in our hearts over these days of personal reflection and shared celebration.
So to these unusual days we bring the experience of threat of a deadly virus – which understandably has given way to many anxieties. Together we seek to support one another to ensure the safety of all. We bring the memories of many deeply significant spiritual moments from past visits to Lourdes or indeed to another place of pilgrimage.
Through the intercession of Mary and Bernadette we cherish and pray for all who put their lives and families at risk for the sake of others. We remember those who are victims of the virus and their families. So many families are grieving the unexpected loss of a loved one – they too are in our intentions over these days.
In the Preface of to-day’s Mass of the Immaculate Conception we will pray of Mary – You placed her above all others to be for your people an advocate of grace and a model of holiness.
“O Mary, conceived without sin,
Pray for us who have recourse to thee”