Our Lady’s Reminding Us of Her Son’s Message and Mission, Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes
February 11, 2014
1 Kings 8:22-23.27-30, Ps 84, Mk 7:1-13

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today’s readings point to two essential aspects of our Christian faith of which the Mother of God, whom we celebrate today in a special way on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, reminds us most powerfully.
  • In the first reading, King Solomon, having seen the Lord come down into the Holy of Holies in the Shekinah, the cloud signifying his presence, exclaims with wonder, “Can it indeed be that God dwells on earth?” God came to hover over the place where the Ark of the Covenant was. The Fathers of the Church always pointed to Mary as the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant, because she carried within her the New and Eternal Covenant, God-with-us. She teaches us that God’s plan is to dwell not only “on earth” but within us, to share a life-changing communion. All of her approved apparitions are signs to us that God is still with us.
  • Mary also shows us what our response to God’s presence ought to be as well. In the Gospel, Jesus, using the words of the prophet Isaiah, cried out that many of the Pharisees and others were a “people [who] honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me,” putting far more weight and value in their own human traditions that the most weighty aspects of God’s commandments. Jesus calls us to love him with “all our heart.” Solomon today tells us that God keeps his covenant with [his] servants who are faithful to [him] with their whole heart.” It’s not that God is ever unfaithful to his covenant, but he can’t keep his covenant with those who only honor him with their lips, with a small portion of their heart. Mary’s whole life teaches us what it means to honor God with one’s whole heart, and soul, and mind and strength. She treasured God’s word in her heart so much that that word was able to take on her flesh. Her heart was pierced out of love for God. Her heart was pure and saw God even in the midst of terrible agony and pain. Her heart was a heart that constantly said yes to God, said fiat, and let her whole life develop in accordance with God’s will. Mary’s maternal mission is to help us participate in the heart transplant that her Son came from heaven to earth to bring about, taking out our hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts of flesh, hearts that can love God the Father and others with the love that beats in the heart of Christ.
  • God has allowed the Blessed Mother to appear to those on earth not to reveal anything new to us, but to remind us of what Christ her Son has already revealed. And when she appeared to our patroness St. Bernadette Soubirous 156 years ago today in Lourdes, France, she sought to remind her of five separate lessons that so many of us have forgotten. She sought to help her, and through her us, to learn to love God with all our heart in these ways, so that God might in fact dwell within us in these ways.
  • The first thing she reminded St. Bernadette about was the importance of prayer. She asked her to go to the pastor Fr. Peyramale and through him request that a Church be built in the grotto, a house of prayer, a house in which people could come to encounter her Eucharistic Son. This is what Mary had done 327 years earlier outside Mexico City when she appeared to St. Juan Diego and likewise asked for a house of prayer. Mary as a loving mother wants to help us to pray. She told St. Bernadette that she wanted people to come here in processions of prayer — like happens in Lourdes every day with a Eucharistic Procession and a candlelight Rosary procession — leaving our old ways behind and walking together with Mary in prayer in the footsteps of her Son. Each of the 18 times Mary appeared to St. Bernadette between February 11 and July 16 of 1858, she led her in prayer. She likewise wants to lead us. Prayer is more than an exchange of words or ideas but an exchange of persons, in which God seeks to abide in us and wants us to abide in him. So often, however, we put other things in front of prayer. Mary came to Lourdes to remind us all of prayer’s primacy!
  • The second lesson of her Son of which she reminded us was about a particular type of prayer that’s always urgent. She asked St. Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners and to do penance for their conversion. It’s a very consoling though that starting 156 years ago with the 14 year old daughter of François and Louise Soubirous, and continuing with millions who have come here since, people have been led by Mary to pray for our conversion, they’ve done penance here for us, just as we are called to do for others.  She had Bernadette on several occasions kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners. The name that Mary revealed to St. Bernadette highlights the hope for conversion that inundates this holy place as a result of prayers for penance. In response to St. Bernadette’s repeated requests to reveal her name, Mary eventually said not “I am Mary of Nazareth,” or “I am the Mother of God.” Instead she said in the local patois, “Que era soy a Immaculada Concepciou,” “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It points to how she, from the first moment of her existence in her mother’s womb, had a total enmity toward sin, how she was so full of grace, which means full of God, that there was no room for sin. She wants to help us to have that same enmity. When she appeared to St. Juan Diego in Guadulupe in 1531, she revealed herself as a mother of mercy. When she appeared to the three shepherd children in Fatima in 1917, she asked them for prayer and mortification for the conversion of poor sinners and taught them to pray, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of your mercy!” If Mary could speak to us right now on her feast day, I’m convinced that one of the things she would say, with great maternal love is, “How many times do I have to ask you to join me in praying for the conversion of sinners?” Jesus, her Son, taught us to pray for the conversion and forgiveness of sinners in the Our Father and most poignantly in his first words from the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” But so often we fail to pray for the conversion of ourselves and others. So often we worship the Lord with our lips but not our whole hearts, because our heart are divided by sin and therefore not corresponding fully to God’s covenant. Just as she did with St. Bernadette in Massabielle, Our Lady of Lourdes wants to help us to hit the reset button on this essential aspect of Christian life. The healing waters that flow in Lourdes are a sign of the healing waters of baptism that wipes away our sins. That water continues to pour out with blood from Jesus’ open side in the confessional, where that water and blood remit all post-baptismal sins, something that occurs here in Lourdes each day in more than 50 languages. When Blessed John Paul II came here in 1983 for the 125th anniversary of the apparitions, he said that the essential message of Lourdes is that the Virgin without sin brings help, hope and healing to sinners. That’s why she wanted people to come here in prayerful procession, that they might experience the conversion to which Christ continually calls us.
  • This leads to the third things that Mary teaches us — better reminds us of — in Lourdes, about her Son’s desire to heal us not just of our sins but also of many of our physical, emotional and spiritual ailments. Our Lady asked St. Bernadette to wash herself in the waters of the spring and pointed to a place where there was just a little puddle. Bernadette dug there but all she got in her hands was mud. She wiped her face with the mud and people thought she was crazy. But later that day that puddle grew into a trickle and then a full stream was revealed. In the cold, crisp waters of that stream since, over 7,000 people have claimed that they have had miraculous physical hearings, 69 of which have been fully medically vetted, but many others have never been reported. Just as Jesus when he came to dwell on earth healed so many people who approached him with faith, he continues to want to heal today. And he does in Lourdes. After our parish pilgrimage to France in September, one of the pilgrims sent me an email that detailed the healing she received. Again, it’s not something that is going to be on the front cover of magazines, but her healing is just as real as any of the officially approved miracles. She wrote, “I remember the last day at Lourdes when my back and feet were killing me.  I had been having serious back and numb feet problems under the care of doctors at Mass General Hospital since October, 2012 and sitting on the bus wasn’t helping.  You may remember my telling you that when you spoke about the strenuous uphill Stations of the Cross and then bathing in the holy water, you ended by saying ‘If you can, doing the stations would be better but bathing (not just water on face and hands, etc) in the baths would be best — if you can do it, would be best! I had decided like many others, no stations and no bathing naked in the baths if I could just do my face and hands. After you spoke, I said to myself, ‘Are you crazy?  You are here with all these health issues and you are not trusting in a miracle at Lourdes?’ Whatever, your words made me think of what you said, ‘If you can,’  and I thought, I can do that; I can at at least try!  I am going up there to do the Stations and then I am going in the baths.’ I could not believe walking uphill to the first station, and fifth — and I wasn’t even out of breath and no pain. And then the baths! My back got amazingly better, my feet less numb and the MGH doctor said I was doing great and I was done!  But then, I started noticing how terrific I was feeling mentally and emotionally.  Nothing was bothering me; nobody was bothering me!  That happened in Lourdes, too. I am shocked and very grateful to our Mother who has always been able to answer prayers for me, almost always! She’s incredible!” Lourdes is a place of healing, where Mary takes our prayers to her Son, who continues to heal, as he once did, in order to confirm his teaching and set us up for an even greater healing in faith.
  • Fourth, in Lourdes Mary unleashed a great theophany of charity, where God’s love so moves people that they begin to have that love overflow to others. It’s so moving to see hundreds of Good Samaritans who come here to help with the malades, the sick, rolling them in wheelchairs to the baths, in the processions, at Mass, to their residences, and so much more. It’s moving to see so many other volunteers who care for pilgrims, who try to embrace them with the love with which God wants. The summit of the Christian life is unselfish Christ-like love of others, and the Blessed Mother came to Lourdes to help us be transformed by God’s love in such a way that we seek to share that love with others. She’s come to inspire us to help all those who are physically ill, spiritually sick, emotionally wounded or otherwise in need. We do that first by our prayers, but the real fruit of prayer is this type of charity. She came to remind us of this in Lourdes.
  • There’s one last thing Mary teaches us all in Lourdes, something that Pope Benedict reminded us of when he made his pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2008 for the 150th anniversary of the apparitions. Insofar as today is the first anniversary of his humble and heroic renunciation of the papacy, it’s extra specially worthwhile for us to enter into the fruits of his enormously deep contemplation.  Pope Benedict noted that when St. Bernadette first asked Our Lady to tell her her name, our Lady didn’t respond in words. She responded with a serene smile. That was her first response and a fitting introduction to her whole mission. “In the smile of the most eminent of all creatures, looking down on us,” Pope Benedict said, “is reflected our dignity as children of God, that dignity that never abandons the sick person. This smile, a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope.” Mary came to Lourdes to smile at us a smile not only of her maternal love but a reflection of the way God smiles on us with tenderness. She reminds us of our dignity, of how much God loves us, and how that love leading to that smile is the constitutive reality of our existence and worth. Mary  ultimately wants to help us along the path that will leads us to smile just as serenely, in this life and in the next. Let us see her smiling on us now as we prepare to receive her Son and ask her to help us bring that smile out to a world that so much needs to see the Gospel enfleshed on our faces! That is the smile of someone who loves God with his whole heart and knows that God loves us first. That is the smile of one who knows that God has come to dwell not just among us, but within us. Our Lady of Lourdes! Pray for us!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 8:22-23, 27-30

Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD
in the presence of the whole community of Israel,
and stretching forth his hands toward heaven,
he said, “LORD, God of Israel,
there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below;
you keep your covenant of mercy with your servants
who are faithful to you with their whole heart.“Can it indeed be that God dwells on earth?
If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you,
how much less this temple which I have built!
Look kindly on the prayer and petition of your servant, O LORD, my God,
and listen to the cry of supplication which I, your servant,
utter before you this day.
May your eyes watch night and day over this temple,
the place where you have decreed you shall be honored;
may you heed the prayer which I, your servant, offer in this place.
Listen to the petitions of your servant and of your people Israel
which they offer in this place.
Listen from your heavenly dwelling and grant pardon.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 84:3, 4, 5 AND 10, 11

R. (2) How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest
in which she puts her young—
Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God!
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
Blessed they who dwell in your house!
continually they praise you.
O God, behold our shield,
and look upon the face of your anointed.
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
I had rather one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I had rather lie at the threshold of the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!

Gospel
MK 7:1-13

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem
gathered around Jesus,
they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals
with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.
(For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews,
do not eat without carefully washing their hands,
keeping the tradition of the elders.
And on coming from the marketplace
they do not eat without purifying themselves.
And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed,
the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.)
So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”
He responded,
“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites,
as it is written:This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
In vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
He went on to say,
“How well you have set aside the commandment of God
in order to uphold your tradition!
For Moses said,
Honor your father and your mother,
and Whoever curses father or mother shall die.
Yet you say,
‘If someone says to father or mother,
“Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’
(meaning, dedicated to God),
you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.
You nullify the word of God
in favor of your tradition that you have handed on.
And you do many such things.”