July 1, 2018

As I write, it is early morning in Paris. Sunrise stole gently across the city a little while ago, surprising us all with the gift of a beautiful new day. For those unaware, I am traveling with a group of pilgrims from the parish, who have just spent a wonderful few days at the wonderful shrine of Lourdes. While there we enjoyed some powerful spiritual experiences amidst the wonderful opportunities of prayer. While we arrived jetlagged and travel-worn from Los Angeles on our first night, by morning we were all eager to visit the shrine and to begin our pilgrimage in earnest.

Our first experience upon walking from our hotel to the shrine was to get a quick overview of the layout, before we made our way to the Chapel of St. Anne in the upper Basilica. There we gathered for our first celebration of the Eucharist as a group of pilgrims. We brought with us the book of prayer intentions gathered during the month of May in our own parish church in Northridge, and uppermost in my mind was the intentions of all our parishioners. The mass was offered for you, for your families and for your intentions. It was a wonderful way to begin our visit, and it was followed by a guided orientation from Sr. Anne (originally from Goa, but now assisting pilgrims in Lourdes), who brought us through the shrine, and on through the streets of the city, giving us a sense of the history of the apparitions and the life of St. Bernadette Soubirous.

One of my highlights from the day was participating in the Eucharistic Procession which wound its way through the shrine, culminating in benediction in the large underground basilica. Our little group of pilgrims joined in procession with pilgrims from all over the world, praying and singing as we processed. There were invalids and volunteers, families and religious men and women, lovers holding hands and individuals in fervent prayer. There were young and old, seekers and pious faithful, saints and sinners, all wending their way accompanying the Lord Jesus in the Eucharistic Presence. When we eventually made our way into the underground basilica, we filed into the pews and knelt in prayer, thousands of faithful in reverent worship.

The scene was one that reminded me of the woman coming to Jesus in today’s gospel, seeking, yearning for healing after years of distress in her life. She approached him with hope, and reached out for him in desperate faith, to be greeted by the miracle of restored wholeness. As all those pilgrims filed out of the basilica following our prayer experience, I was distinctly aware of the unfolding grace of God in the lives of his people. Once more, God graced us and blessed us, and I was deeply moved to be present and participating in the experience. Later that same evening, we joined in the candlelight procession, filing through the precincts of the shrine once more and praying the rosary together with a myriad of languages. Prayers interspersed with song and hymn made the difference of language seem to evaporate as everyone, each in their own language, prayed together, sang together, and were caught up in love for our blessed mother and in the grace of God poured into our lives.

Very early the following morning we made our way to the Grotto of Lourdes where we were privileged to celebrate the Holy Eucharist together. It truly was a privilege in that most holy place. We met others who had traveled in pilgrimage from other parishes in the US and beyond, also named for Our Lady of Lourdes. Once again, our book of prayer intentions was placed on the altar, this time at the foot of the grotto, and the good people of Northridge were remembered in prayer at the altar.

As those who have had the opportunity to visit it know, Lourdes is a profound place, in which the brokenness of life is not a cause for concern or embarrassment. Rather brokenness is celebrated and lifted up in order that we can acknowledge the wonderful gift of life that is common to all people in our shared humanity. The compassion of God is palpable in this place, and we were touched by its manifest presence during our visit. It truly was a singular grace, for the restoration of our own wholeness, and for the wholeness of all who reach out for it. And the good news is that we don’t have to travel halfway around the world to experience it. We simply need to reach out for the Lord Jesus, and touch him wherever we are.



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