A Homily at Lourdes
Homily of the Prior Provincial, F. Burke, O.Carm., for the Annual Irish Carmelite Pilgrimage to Lourdes, 2005.
From the very beginning Lourdes has been a place of healing. Here in this holy place we can see the ministry of Jesus continued each day. In the Gospel of St. Mark, almost every time you meet Jesus he is healing, going to heal or has just performed a healing. The healing ministry of Jesus is well summed up in his words – I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, enters into situations of human need. He brings healing into our lives. At Lourdes we can be aware of much healing – even cures. We make a distinction, however, between healing and curing. We may say a person is cured when the actual illness disappears, for example, if a broken limb is righted or a cancer suddenly disappears. There are many remarkable cures at Lourdes, many more cures than those accepted by the Medical Bureau.
However, much more numerous than cures are the many healings that take place here. People come to Lourdes not only with physical problems but emotionally and spiritually crippled also. There are many ways in which people are held back from loving, from helping others and from being at peace with themselves and with others. The healings at Lourdes touch all areas of human need and misery.
There are so many kinds of physical illness – some destroy the whole person, others only damage the body. Even if people cannot be cured they can still be healed. They can still find peace and serenity in illness. They are able to leave aside resentment against God, against others, against life itself. Attitudes can be changed here and real inner healing take place. Indeed, it is sometimes the relatives accompanying the sick person who are most in need of healing. Many of us carry emotional scars and problems which eat away at us. In addition to sickness, we can bear resentment, self-hatred, unforgiveness, addictions. These are not life giving. We need to pray for the healing to cope with these scars, to face them with courage and honesty and in a way that is life giving for ourselves and for others. Let us remember that no one escapes hurt on the journey through life. The cross is always with us.
Here in Lourdes we find many people bearing very heavy crosses. Some live each day with the pain and confinement of illness. They live with the daily struggle against despair. They live each day with the heartache of broken relationships and the searing pain of betrayal. Sometimes the cross in a person’s life is very visible and sometimes it is not visible but no less real. In Lourdes, we are invited to examine our crosses, to try and lay down false crosses, crosses we should have put down years ago. There is healing in following the crucified Christ. Jesus gave his life for us. Suffering and death was the price paid to announce God’s love for us and for all humanity. For us as Christians it is only through Christ and in Christ that the mystery of suffering and death unfolds.
There will be plenty of quiet moments in Lourdes to reflect, quiet moments to share with Mary our painful memories and to walk away from those meetings, those encounters, healed and set free. Let us not be afraid to acknowledge our vulnerability to Jesus, to Mary, to one another. Let us not forget our own great capacity to accompany, to support and to heal one another. There will be an opportunity too to leave our sins behind in Lourdes.
Lourdes is a very special place – a place where we can find healing for body, mind and spirit, healing at every level of our being. Mary invites us to such healing. The first step is to surrender ourselves to her Son, Jesus. Today we say yes to God’s plan so that his healing grace may be active and fruitful in us. We remember the promise of Jesus: I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.