This was today’s homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time but also for the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick.
A good number of people here in this church will have been to Lourdes. The six million pilgrims who go there annually is testament to heaven having touched earth there in 1858. Added to this is the amazing healing miracles that have happened on this hallowed ground. One of the certified miracles is of a man who had much of his stomach removed because of cancer. During his pilgrimage he had an experience of well-being and having been healed. Upon returning home he had another X-ray which showed that his stomach was miraculously whole again – a phenomena that cannot be explained naturally.
In this year of 1858 Our Lady visited St Bernadette 18 times and gave herself the title I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. This came 4 years after the universal Church proclaimed this as a dogma – namely that Mary was conceived without Original Sin, based on her future role as mother of the God-Man.
Even though Bernadette died in 1879 from TB at the age of 35, her body remained incorrupt and can be seen today in a glass case at Never, France. She looks as if she has just fallen asleep. I once heard a talk in which it was said that the cells in her body are like living cells even though they have no supply of oxygenated blood. I further heard that even her hair and finger nails grow. This is all a SIGN that if we live a holy life too, we will experience true incorruption – that we will survive death and live with God forever.
I’d now like to read Bernadette’s own account of what happened at the first apparition. (My own comments/commentary are in s.)
I had gone down one day with two other girls to the bank of the river Gave when suddenly I heard a kind of rustling sound. I turned my head toward the field by the side of the river but the trees seemed quite still and the noise was evidently not from them. Then I looked up and caught sight of the cave where I saw a Lady wearing a lovely white dress with a bright belt. On top of each of her feet was a pale yellow rose, the same colour as her Rosary beads. [In this brief description of the mysterious Lady, we are told that she has Rosary beads.]
At this I rubbed my eyes, thinking I was seeing things, and I put my hands into the fold of my dress where my Rosary was. [This tells us that Bernadette was already devoted to the Rosary. How many of us here today carry Rosary beads in our pockets?!] I wanted to make the sign of the cross but for the life of me I couldn’t manage it and my hand just fell down. [Bernadette is overcome by this awesome visitation.] Then the Lady made the sign of the cross herself and at the second attempt I managed to do the same, though my hands were trembling. Then I began to say the Rosary while the Lady let her beads slip through her fingers, without moving her lips. When I finished the Rosary she immediately vanished.
I wish to draw your attention to the fact that this first apparition consisted completely of Bernadette and Our Lady praying the Rosary, after which Our Lady promptly disappeared. This is a significant detail in itself.
A few weeks ago in relation to new-year’s resolutions I encouraged you all to spend at least 20 minutes with God daily in prayer. I’d like to renew this encouragement today. If you do nothing else for Lent this year, this will be a marvellous exercise in itself. If you commit to saying the Rosary with a morning and evening offering, you will have met your 20 minute objective.
If you can say the Rosary as a family, it is an additional blessing. You have all heard of the saying that a family that prays together, stays together. Which of our families are not in need of this special grace. If you claim to be very busy then you can say the Rosary in parts during the day like when you are walking the dog, at the end of lunch break, etc. The Rosary can also be said whilst we are in the car.
Giving God 20 minutes of prayer every day is a much more meaningful exercise than giving up chocolate biscuits for Lent. The real purpose of Lent is a renewal of our Faith, living more generously with God and neighbour, weeding out our sinful habits, etc.
So in summary: An excellent way to renew our relationship with God this Lent is to commit to 20 minutes of daily prayer and in particular to praying the Rosary.