Over the next few weeks a number of friends of mine will be travelling to Lourdes here are a few thoughts on what the place and the people mean to me 34 years on from my 1st pilgrimage as a 14 year old in 1981.
When I think about Lourdes so many things like the cold water of the baths and people such as Fr. Leahy and Mrs. Smye and CLM all come to mind. After all the years of coming and going so much has changed and so many people have gone to God both young and old and all the ages in between. There have been So many happy and sad times together with those who began to mean a lot to me way back at the start in August 1981 and many of those people mean so much more to me now they all know who they are and hopefully they might even be reading this !!!. Lourdes is the one thing that I have in common with all of my friends. The experiences that I have had over the years have changed me So much for the better I hope that I am more thoughtful and a less annoying person than before other people will have to tell me whether that is true or not. Lourdes has many meanings for everyone who visits the place but for me it means love, joy happiness and yes even sadness but above all else it is about the presence of Mary our mother in my life.
It is about Mary bringing all of us to Jesus who in turn brings us to the Father and the father’s house. Lourdes is not about me as an individual instead Lourdes is about giving yourself away in service for others the pilgrims of all nationalities who need your help physical, medical, spiritual or for many including myself it is simply about just sitting listening to what is important to someone which often times is a load of rubbish or at least it seems that way to you but to them it is the most important thing in their lives at that moment. One friend recently stated that Lourdes was the annual dose of steroids for her faith she said this in an interview on the radio and that is a great description of the Lourdes experience it certainly is a boost for those whose faith is strong to keep on going and a kick up the 90’s for those whose faith is not so strong to a start walking along on the road of faith.
In our pilgrimage to Lourdes all of us come with the sick, the fragile, those who long for many different kinds of healing perhaps body, mind or spirit. We place them at the heart of our pilgrimage week as a visible sign of our faith in God’s love for the weak and those in our modern world who count for little or nothing at all when in truth they are of great value more valuable than Gold and Silver. Those of us, who are sick or weak or powerless, like Bernadette, teach the rest of the able bodied world something of great and vital importance. They teach us that God is with the weak and the powerless and through them he points us along the right road. We may, at least for part of our lives, enjoy comfort, good health, various kinds of success; they are not what life is about. Life is about the journey we make to God, not about what we think of as our achievements or our plans. Remember the old saying that man proposes and god disposes, this means god does what he sees is good for all of us both as individuals and community.
When I went overland to Lourdes for the 1st time August in 1981 I didn’t think that I would go back and yet here I am talking about the one thing that is so much of what I have become over the intervening years. There is a line of Patrick Kavanagh that says “Only they who fly home to God have flown at all” I certainly have flown high above the clouds and so many others have been in the flight with me and given me so much in relation to Lourdes and the life I have back as a result back home. I only hope that I have been able to give them something back. So much good has come into my life as a result of Lourdes and all the experiences that I have had there and I will always be grateful for the people and the place that mean so much to me.