Bishop Davies preaches in the presence of the relics of St Bernadette of Lourdes

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In our time of national mourning, we have witnessed the reverence and love with which the mortal remains of our departed Queen Elizabeth have been received on their last journey across our land. Her Majesty’s mortal remains are a tangible connection with our late Monarch, recalling the memory of her dedicated life and inviting prayer among the many who have stood along the roadways or passed before them. These scenes might help us appreciate how the Church, from the beginning treated the bodies of the Saints with great reverence, as those who had lived united with Christ who left for us the memory of their witness and are now forever united with Christ in Heaven. And while we pray for our beloved Queen, as we pray for each other in the hour of death, the Church has always invited us to ask the Saints to pray for us. And so it is, with the pilgrimage of the relics of Saint Bernadette across our country, they provide us with a tangible connection with the heroic life of this young woman; and as we venerate them with reverence, we are invited to ask her prayers in Heaven as we continue our journey on earth.

“I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children”. Jesus tells us that it has pleased the Father to give clearest sight to the little ones of this earth, to mere children. Saint Bernadette of Lourdes is such a witness and she understood precisely why she was called to bring a message to our time, because as she wrote: “you deign to make use of the most fragile thing in the world’s eyes.”, Like the prophet before her, she could declare: “I do not know how to speak; I am a child”. Bernadette was poor to the point of destitution; uneducated and so frail by the time she entered her teens, that she was marked down for an early death. On the morning of 11th February 1858, she was collecting sticks and bones on the desolate land left to the poor, beside the river Gave and there she encountered Mary, the Mother of God who invited her simply to join her in the silence of prayer. In the light of the Gospel, we even might say it would be more surprising if such a little one did not find herself in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Yet, the events Bernadette described with characteristic sincerity and directness are called by the Church, ‘private revelations.’ Private insofar as a message, a vision, an insight is given to one person even if they serve a wider purpose. Such revelations are found throughout the Church’s history. They never add anything to the Gospel or the faith; and we are never bound to believe these events, though the Church after exhaustive examination, has recognised a small number as being reliably of supernatural origin, including the apparitions at Lourdes. Events recognised as being in accord with the faith and serving to remind us of what we might be in danger of losing sight of and so assisting us to live the Gospel.

The events at Lourdes stand in such complete harmony with the Divine Revelation completed in Christ. The apparitions even began with something that sounded like the rushing wind on the day of Pentecost; they revealed the active charity of the Mother of Jesus revealed in the pages of the Gospel, the young woman who went with haste to the hill country of Judea in Elizabeth’s hour of need. Bernadette received the invitation to join the same Blessed Mother in continuous prayer as the first disciples had done between the Ascension and Pentecost; was invited to treasure in her heart the Mystery of Christ in joy, sorrow and glory in the Gospel prayer of the Rosary; finally being led to the supreme gift of the Eucharist in which Christ reveals the love which goes to the end for us.

In the presence of the relics of Saint Bernadette, relics which are a tangible link with the life of a Saint, we are led to recognise by her witness:

How the little ones of this earth are valued in the sight of Heaven. This is the first and most striking aspect of the events of Lourdes, that a frail young person in the obscurity of her short life was so smiled upon and favoured in the eyes of Heaven. Bernadette records that Mary looked at her as if she was ‘someone,’ smiled and even bowed to this poor child. She spoke with graciousness inviting Bernadette to do her the good favour of returning to join her in prayer, even before she knew who this beautiful lady was. We are challenged as to how we look on the frailest and weakest from the unborn to the sick and to the aged. Those Pope Francis speaks of today as the discarded. Lourdes shows the world that human society will only be truly healthy when we value every person and are ready to place the frailest at the centre of our own concerns.

And with Bernadette we are led to recognise the greatness of our calling, the call with her to become nothing less than a saint, the perfection of love, complete and everlasting happiness. And are not merely called, we must recognise the means we are given in prayer, penance and supremely in the Holy Eucharist.

Bernadette did not become a saint by seeing Our Lady, rather by engaging in the same struggle for holiness that we now share. And in walking this same path, we have the assurance that we will know the company of Mary and all the saints as the Second Vatican Council taught a century later, the Blessed Virgin Mary accompanies we “who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties until (we) are led to our blessed home”.[ix]

And finally, like the 14-year-old Bernadette, perhaps the most unexpected messenger sent to address modernity, we too have each been entrusted with our mission in the world by the grace of Baptism, as that same Council of the Church taught. And we must be concerned for our own contemporaries who become lost in the destitution and sickness of sin and be able to bring to them the same message of hope.

Let us pray then, that this pilgrimage of Saint Bernadette’s relics will recall us to the value and dignity of those most neglected in our society; recognise the greatness of our Christian calling and the unique mission entrusted to each of one us in the brief time we spend on earth. Bernadette died at the age of 35, having bravely fulfilled her mission on earth. May she pray for us that in all our struggles, we may likewise fulfil our mission and reach the same goal of Heaven.

Blessed Bernadette, pray for us!