On Sunday 19 February, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli gave the following homily at the Order of Malta’s Lourdes Day Mass, which returned to St Patrick’s Cathedral after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
The particular image I have of pilgrimages to Lourdes comes from my time living in Scotland. Each summer specially fitted buses—with beds and accessibility equipment—would travel from Edinburgh, through England, and across to France, filled with a mix of sick and disabled people and young assistants. This is a common practice throughout Britain during summertime, and is quite widely promoted and supported among local faith communities. The Lourdes pilgrimage with the sick and disabled is a wonderful thing to behold.
The vast majority of people who have made the journey to Our Lady’s shrine, and who have—in faith—bathed in the waters there, would be unknown beyond their circle of family and friends. Likewise, the vast majority of graced moments of healing that have taken place there are unknown to others.
Yet, we know of Lourdes as indeed a place where God’s presence is especially felt. While individual names may not be known to us, we know that those people—God’s little ones who struggle—are remembered and renewed. They are our unnamed friends and fellow companions on the pilgrim way.
These are the people the Prophet Isaiah was speaking of in our reading today:
My people will be famous throughout the nations,
their descendants throughout the peoples.
All who see them will admit
that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed.
‘All who see them will admit …’ Of course, this poses the question, Who does see them, God’s ones, especially the poor and the sick? This is the question from God to us all: to be able to see and be attentive to where God most particularly resides and makes his presence felt.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, knew this kind of seeing. She saw the looming embarrassment that would befall the happy couple on their wedding day and asked her Son to do something about it. This unnamed couple became especially known to Jesus at that moment—not known in passing, but known personally.
God knows each of his children personally, and wishes to make them know to one another. Healing, mercy, compassion, companionship—these signs of God’s presence are always personal. This is the presence of God which the members of the Order of Malta are called to recognise in the person immediately before them. And like Mary, the members of the Order of Malta are called to go looking for their need, and to do something about it.
As your daily prayer puts it:
Be it mine to practise charity towards my neighbours,
especially the poor and sick …
… who are our true Lords and Ladies, our friends in Christ.
Banner image: courtesy of the Order of Malta Australia.