Diocese of Clogher
Lourdes Pilgrimage 2011
Opening Mass 9.00am.
7 July 2011
My brother priests & dear friends,
Welcome to Lourdes. You may have heard of a Christian writer called C.S. Lewis. He wrote a marvellous series called the Narnia Chronicles. In one story a young girl called Jill has by magic been whisked away from her boarding school in England. She is very thirsty in this scene and begins to search for water. Hearing a stream she starts to approach but sees an enormous lion blocking her path directly between herself and the stream – it’s Aslan, the Christ figure. Listen :
It lay with its head raised and its two forepaws out in front of it. She knew at once that it had seen her, for its eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then moved away – as if it knew her quite well and didn’t think much of her. “If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.”
Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours and the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.
“If you are thirsty, you may drink.” For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty come and drink,” and she realised that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder and stronger, a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before; but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty? said the lion. “I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill. “Then drink,” said the lion. “May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill. The lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realised that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic. “Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill “I make no promise” said the lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step closer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the lion. It didn’t say it as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry, it just said it. “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the lion. “Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer, “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted.
Welcome to Lourdes. What an appropriate parable. We have all come here with our own brand of thirst. We can sense, we can feel, we can hear the stream. But each of us has our own lion blocking the way. We fear God, the Lion of Judah. We may even be frightened of his love and like Jill ask him to go away. We may fear the demands we imagine his love makes on our hearts and minds, demands that have swallowed up so many people from St. Paul to St. Francis of Assisi to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
But there is no other way, no other stream. Sooner or later we must give in. We must take the risk of drinking from the way, the truth and the life. Like Jill, we may be both fascinated by and frightened of God’s love. Yet, by coming here we flirt with it and we are exposed to it. We may feel like the ancient desert father, Abbot Macarius. When he announced his decision to go to the desert to wrestle with God his disciples asked “And you hope to win?” He answered, “No, I hope to lose.”
We are in the threatening presence of a lion God hungering for our love. We come knowing that each time we do, we move closer to the danger. Here, we have the protection of Mary our Mother. She will soften the threat and when needed will speak on our behalf. We could not have a more influential intermediary. She has already been to the stream and, if we allow her, she will pour the water for us and serve it. Welcome to Lourdes, where God’s grace is offered to us bountifully; where Mary’s influence is strong and ever present and where in a special way she brings the water of life to the sick and the troubled. May Jesus and our mother Mary help us conquer our fear and find our way to the water.
+Liam S. MacDaid
7 July 2011