Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
Catacombs of St. Sebastian
Knights of Columbus Board
Feb. 11, 2020
Deserts and Caves
God often fulfills his purposes in out-of-the-way places. For example, it was in the desert that God entered into a covenant with his people, and in the desert that he prepared John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Jesus.
But it is not only in the desert that God accomplishes his purposes. Sometimes he does so in caves – both natural and man-made. At the dawn of history, human beings, dwelling in caves, felt the stirrings of the divine and sought God in their own way. Among the prophets, Elijah famously entered a cave and lodged there for a night only to hear the voice of the Lord calling him to his mission. The Letter to the Hebrews says of the great leaders of Israel, “The world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts, and on mountains, and in caves and crevices in the earth” (Heb. 11:38). Indeed, the stable in which Jesus was born – some would say – was a cave a cave where the first stirrings of humanity toward God found their answer; yet the world was not worthy of him, he, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
In times of intense persecution, many Christians resorted to caves and crevices, caves where they celebrated the Eucharist and deposited the relics of the martyrs. And indeed the world, epitomized by Nero and Valerian and Decius and Diocletian— the world was not worthy of these courageous disciples and witnesses of Christ…. …Our pilgrimage has brought us to one such place, St. Sebastian Outside the Walls. During the persecution of Valerian which began around the year 250, the relics of the martyrs were entombed here; it is said that the relics of St. Sebastian were brought here around the year 350. And so, this became a place of intense devotion where the relics of martyrs were venerated and the Eucharist was celebrated in safety. How privileged we are to worship where once those early Christians worshipped. From them we take on strength and courage to follow Christ in our day
Our Lady of Lourdes
Dear friends, God’s purposes continue to be accomplished in out-of-the-way places, “in caves and crevices” in the earth. For today’s feast day transports us to Lourdes, to the foothills of the Pyrenees, to a cave in the side of a mountain, where, in 1858, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous and in the course of 18 conversations revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception. The cave became a grotto and the water bubbling up from the earth became a stream. Ever thereafter the waters of Lourdes have brought healings of body and soul to countless pilgrims who go there seeking Our Lady’s powerful intercession.
Whether here in Rome, amid fierce persecution, or in Lourdes, amid the upheavals in Europe, God not only chose to accomplish his purposes “in caves and crevices”, but did so through those whom the world accounted as nothing, so that ‘no human being might boast before him’ (1 Cor. 1:29). That God would speak and act through humble and lowly ones should encourage us. This means that God wants to speak and act in us and through us also.
Here in the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, God granted to those early Christians the palm of victory in Christ, that is to say, a share in his Son’s death by which the world and its forces are defeated. In the Grotto of Lourdes, God has also grants the palm of victory to so many people who bathe in its waters. Many are cured, others gain new peace, and still others undergo profound conversion. Like many of you, I have been privileged to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes. There are few things more moving that to accompany the malades to the waters, those who are afflicted with all manner of serious illnesses. I sense in them a child-like faith, a feeling of peace and joy, a peace and joy that comes full bloom when they emerge from the baths. Whether or not a physical healing takes place, Mary is there to bring about spiritual miracles in abundance, as many recover their faith and trust in God and as the love of God is fanned into flame in their hearts.
This day God has led us and called us, if ever so briefly, to a place apart, physically to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, and spiritually to the Grotto at Lourdes. For what shall we ask? Let us ask for three things:
First, that the Lord would daily “invade” yet another hidden and inward space, namely, the “cave” that is our heart, our conscience, and that his truth of his word and the goodness of his love would find a home there. Only in this way will God accomplish his purposes in us, namely, our sanctification.
Second, may I suggest that here at St. Sebastian we seek for the courage we need to be the Lord’s witnesses amid the opposition of the world around us, including, as Pope Francis puts it, the world’s “polite persecutions” and the bloody persecutions of Christians in many parts of the world.
Third, may I suggest that we seek from Our Lady of Lourdes healing of mind and body for ourselves and our loved ones and the many people who have asked our prayers, not forgetting those who are undergoing intense suffering, devastating illnesses, and those who do not have access to adequate health care.
Now, as we continue celebrating the Eucharist, let us rejoice in the victory of our Christ and the intercession of Mary his Mother. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!