A Christian is essentially a pilgrim. The Church is a pilgrim Church. The whole of our life is one long journey to God. Summing up his existence Christ said: “I came from the Father … and now I am going to the Father”. Now the risen Lord unites us to Himself and invites us to come with Him to the Father. Our whole life is our response to that invitation.
To make a pilgrimage is to set out on a journey which expresses outwardly our deeper, spiritual journey through life. A pilgrimage made in proper disposition gives us new strength and purpose to continue faithfully to the end the more serious pilgrimage of life itself.
There is no absolute necessity for us to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes in order to live faithful to God. But from Lourdes, Our Lady has sent out the invitation to us: Come here in procession, in prayer, in penance. She invites us to leave for a while our homes, our work, and the cares which normally absorb our time, to share, for a short time, in the spirit of prayer, penance and fraternal charity, to share more fully in the Eucharist and in the living faith of the Church. She wishes us to do this, not as an end in itself, but so that we may become more truly people of prayer, penance and charity, people charged with faith and living in true union with Christ, her Son.
Look at the crowds: men, women and children of different colours and races, of every social condition and profession, rich and poor, sick and healthy. In them we do not see simply other people. In those crowds gathered around the Grotto, walking in the procession of the Blessed Sacrament and the Torchlight procession, and especially participating in the celebration of the Eucharist we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Church, the people assembled by God.
Look at the sick: they are people like ourselves who have come to Lourdes, hoping to be cured no doubt, but who like us seek a deeper union with Christ. Not all will be cured of their recognisable ailments. But most realise they have received something: Christ has burst in on them with new vigour, giving them strength to love God and neighbour despite their suffering. No longer are they alone with their cross of sickness; Christ carries that cross with them, suffers with them, loves with them, even brings them to offer with him this passion which is a continuation of his own passion on Calvary. The sick are not purely passive members of this People of God; they have their very real place in the Church along with all the rest. They are, too, a reminder to all of us, of the inner healing we all need for sin and selfcentredness.
Look at the doctors, nurses, our helpers and our many young people who have freely given their time and services. They too are pilgrims with the same needs and hopes as the rest of us; they too seek a deeper union with Christ through prayer, the sacraments, penance and charity. When we return home we, too, may continue that same love and service of the sick and the lonely, and be ready to learn from them how to carry our cross each day.
Look again at the Grotto: that rock is solid, and permanent. Did not St. Paul tell us that Christ himself is our true rock, our firm support in time of trial, the source of strength and life for all of us? Pilgrims gather round the Grotto for prayer and instruction; they file through the Grotto to kiss the rock, recognising that this sign of respect and affection rises to our Lady herself and, through her, to Christ our Rock. Everything to do with Mary brings us to Him.
“Go drink at the spring, and wash there”, as our Lady commanded. But remember that she calls us to Lourdes especially that we should be refreshed spiritually, that we should be washed of our sins, that we may be purified and healed through repentance as we were through the waters of baptism.
See the countless candles that burn before the statue of our Lady, they are the bright expression of man’s homage to God for when we praise Mary we praise above all Him who made her. They are a sign of our prayer that our hearts might burn with love for Him, as did hers. They are also a sign of the faith which brings us to God through Jesus Christ who is the Light of the World, and a pledge that it is this Light and none other that we will follow in the pilgrimage of life.
Look carefully at the statue of our Lady with its inscription: “I am the Immaculate Conception”. The sculptor who made it went to great pains to be faithful to Bernadette—a description of her Lady, but when Bernadette saw the finished work she said it did not resemble her. How can one portray the glory of Mary, conceived without sin, assumed into heaven? Yet that statue, in the place of the apparitions, is a reminder to us that Mary, Queen of Heaven, is close to us; that Mary the Mother of God is our Mother. Because she is completely without sin Mary sees more clearly than we do the evil of sin; therefore she calls us together, her children, to do penance and to pray for sinners.
Because she is full of grace, Mary directs us to the very source of all grace, her own divine Son. She, who in total love and faith in God, said ‘Yes’ to all He asked, encourages us to give Him the ‘Yes’ of our life. She, who was ready always to help those in need, would lead us to show our love in a positive manner. She who is assumed into heaven urges us to continue our pilgrimage through life that we may be ready at its end, to join with her and all the saints in the glory of heaven. O Mary, Conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.