My dear friends in Jesus Christ,
Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!‘Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage, as streams in dry land.’
My dear companion pilgrims, let us begin our Virtual Lourdes Pilgrimage with this powerful prayer taken from today’s psalm. It is the inspired Word of God. It has the ability to find us where we are and to give us hope of a better life. That hope lies at the heart of pilgrimage, hope that we can move from the places and conditions in which we presently find ourselves, not just to a better place, but to the best.Lockdown is a word we are used to hearing. It is a condition in which we find ourselves due to the current pandemic. We can use this word to help us begin this pilgrimage. Lockdown is a condition we are prepared to accept for a purpose. We accept it as a temporary necessity, imposed on us so that we may reach, in time, a better state of life for ourselves and for society. Lockdown is not a state we want to remain in for ever. We want it to pass. We long to be unlocked, unbound.We know that Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary, went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As He grew older, even whilst still a child, He found in His heart a strong desire to make one particular journey above all others. What was that journey? What was that supreme desire? The Gospels are very clear that His lasting desire was to return to the Father.The Gospels are also clear that it is a journey He does not wish to make alone. Again and again, in His words and His attitude to others, He invites each of us to ‘follow’. He comes to us so that we can go with Him. Our Catholic tradition of recognising the Real Presence of Jesus is not designed to keep us in the same place, settling down and staying at home. It is so that we can ‘follow’ Him on His way. Pack your bags, choose what is needed, leave what isn’t needed. He wants access to your hearts in order to ignite your hope, fire your imagination and enable you to set out on the way to the Father with Him.We start this journey by listening to Christ speaking in our hearts and speaking to our hearts, and we learn that the journey will have an end not in Lourdes, or Fatima, Rome or Jerusalem, but in heaven. As Saint Paul tells us:
For us, our homeland is in heaven.
We know that when the tent we live in on earth is folded up, there is a home built by God for us, an everlasting home, not made by human hands, in heaven.We are called to live joyfully in this passing world as we make our journey, because of where we are going, and because of who we are with. A secular culture can rob us of what Faith has given us. It locks us down into believing that this world is all there is. We are told that lockdown is necessary in order for us to protect life and save lives. Secular culture would have us believe that this world, this life is all there is; there is nothing to follow. As citizens of the world we are content to comply with the restrictions for the sake of caring for our neighbours. But as people of Faith we know of another life to be lived, the Life of Grace, given to us by the Creator, lost through sin, but restored to us by the loving Sacrifice our Saviour, and shared with us above all in the Mass.We are not making a secular pilgrimage, that would only get us as far as Lourdes. We are making a pilgrimage of Grace, with an eternal destination, beyond the reach of all harm. Mary made this pilgrimage and even now returns to look for her children, to see that they are part of the company, helping to rescue those who have fallen by the wayside. St.Bernadette also made this Pilgrimage.She shows us that we are all capable of the journey because we are led by Christ. He is not the ‘tour-guide’. He is the Good Shepherd who never leaves His flock untended. He is not indifferent to the struggles of the poor. He does not give up on those hurt by the world. He does not give up on those tempted to give up before they even set out. He will not leave the weak and tired. He is always coming back to us, tending our wounds, calming our fears, renewing our hopes of reaching that ultimate destination, the heart of the Father.I am deeply grateful to those who suggested we make this virtual pilgrimage this year, when we are physically unable to leave our homes. Although I cannot see you, I am confident that we form one company in Faith and Love, in Joy and generosity of spirit. We each carry our own sufferings and problems as well as those of others. (How often I hear one pilgrim say to another, ‘May I carry your bag?’) Lockdown has added to our troubles, affecting some more than others. Over these coming days, we will notice one another and reach out to one another, just as Jesus notices and reaches out to us. For some it may be your first experience of such a pilgrimage. I am conscious that many will not have the technology or the skill to take part online. Even so, you will be part of the pilgrimage because you want to break free of Lockdown, and because you are people of Faith.So, Jesus leads us on our pilgrimage. We recall His words to the mourners as He stood outside the tomb of His friend Lazarus, ‘unbind him. Let him go free.’ Through our prayers – especially the Mysteries of the Rosary – and through our acts of charity let us obey His command to unbind one another, so that we can each go free, free to follow Him to the Father.Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Saint Bernadette, pray for us,
Saint James, pray for us.
I extend to each of you and to each person for whom you pray my blessing.