5th Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2022
Mass in the Presence of the Relics of St. Bernadette Soubirous
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
Lourdes in Baltimore
If you have ever been to Lourdes, then you know what a special place it is. It is a place of prayer, healing, and peace: a place where you can sense, almost palpably, the presence of the Blessed Mother; a place where miracles do take place, both spiritual and physical; a place where you experience ‘that peace the world cannot give’. Many times, I have joined the Order of Malta in accompanying the sick, our beloved malades, to Lourdes. I have held their hands and prayed with them as they prepared to enter the baths, and I have rejoiced with them as they emerged full of joy, touched as they were by the tender love of Mary and the healing touch of Christ. Whether or not a physical healings always take place, spiritual healings abound.
For the last few years, COVID has impeded these pilgrimages to Lourdes, but isn’t it a wonderful, beautiful grace that today Lourdes has come to Baltimore! How blessed we are in the visit of the relics of St. Bernadette Soubirous! Her relics invite us to share in her encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary, to open our hearts to Mary’s maternal love, to Mary, who leads us to her Risen Son. For it was to Bernadette, at the age of fourteen, that the Blessed Mother appeared, and after many apparitions identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. Bernadette took Mary’s message to heart, and despite many challenges, became the living instrument through whom Mary’s message spread to all the world – beginning in an obscure village in the Pyrenees mountains. As we venerate her relics, let us glorify God, ‘for what he has hidden from the learned and the clever, he has indeed revealed to the merest children’ (cf. Mt. 11:25). For all the complications and complexities of our lives, let us ask St. Bernadette first of all to intercede for us that we may have the simplicity of a child in our openness to God and to his love.
“Love one another as I have loved you”
Then, let us ask St. Bernadette’s intercession that we too might take the Blessed Virgin Mary’s message to heart, when she said, “I am the Immaculate Conception!” What does this mean except that there was nothing in the Virgin Mary to obstruct the love of God from flowing into her heart, and from flowing through her onto a world overshadowed by sin and death? Listening to today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus say to his disciples at the Last Supper, “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” As always, Mary personifies the teaching of her divine Son. No one understood better than did Mary that God’s love preceded her love of him. No heart was ever more receptive to God’s love than was her heart. In her beautiful Canticle of Praise, the Magnificat, she sang, “The Lord has done great things for me, and holy is his name!”
This message that God chose us before we chose him, and that God loved us before we loved him, – was warmly received in the heart of young Bernadette Soubirous. She related that Mary began her first appearance with the Sign of the Cross. Commenting on this first apparition, Pope Benedict XVI observed, “The sign of the cross is a kind of synthesis of the faith, for it tells us how much God loves us, it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sin. the power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us.” St. Bernadette did indeed take this message to heart. She experienced God’s love for her in Mary and in that love, gave herself wholly to God. While attending the school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, she heard and accepted the call of Christ to consecrate her life completely to him. And so, like the Immaculate Virgin Mother who appeared to her, Bernadette faithfully lived the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Though her health was frail, she helped her fellow sisters, who were sick and infirm, and later worked in the sacristy where she made beautiful embroideries and vestments. Shunning the limelight, she lived a quiet and holy life that radiated God’s love for her.
St. Bernadette now invites us to believe in the love that God has for us, the love that the Risen Lord offers each one of us personally, the love we experience when we seek the loving intercession of Mary. To believe in God’s love for us, to believe that God knows us, loves us, and cares about us: This is the fundamental decision of our lives! This is what opens our hearts to encounter Christ in Word and Sacrament. This is what gives us confidence to repent of our sins and to seek his mercy. This is what gives us trust to lay before his feet all our needs and infirmities. This is the source of the love we offer others; the love that finds expression in virtue; the love that marks us out as disciples of the Lord, and as sons and daughters of Mary!
Messengers of Love
Throughout the season of Easter, we have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We have read how the Holy Spirit filled the hearts of the Apostles with boldness, and thus they travelled far and wide spreading the Good News of God’s love, instructing the people, making disciples, and establishing local churches. Their message was one of love – God’s love for us revealed in his Son Jesus: the Risen Lord ‘who loved us and gave his life for us’, ‘while we were yet sinners’. They brought this message to city after city, amid great hardship and suffering, and they were dauntless in their zeal and love for souls. In so doing, they set the pattern for the Church’s mission of evangelization, that mission in which you and I – and all the baptized – are called to share.
In her innocence, her receptivity to Our Lady’s message, and in her consecrated life, Bernadette helped to bring untold numbers of people to Christ and to the Church. Without leaving the locale of her birth or the motherhouse of her religious order, Bernadette became an evangelizer, on par with the disciples in the first reading. Her life demonstrates that if we set aside our concerns, worries, and self-importance, if we seek the newfound innocence available to us in the Sacrament of Penance, thus opening our hearts widely to Christ and to his Mother – we too can bring many back to the faith, we too can be evangelizers . . . if only, like St. Bernadette, we give ourselves over to the Lord as did Mary, if only, like St. Bernadette, our hearts would be clear channels of God’s love for us!
A Message of Hope and Healing
The reading from Revelation speaks of “a new heavens and a new earth” in which the strife and suffering of this world will give way to the peace of God’s Kingdom. Bernadette urges us to look ahead to that happy day, and in the meantime, to lay before the feet of the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God anything and everything that troubles us, the burdens we bear in our hearts, illnesses from which we or our loved ones suffer, intractable problems, patterns of sin that are difficult to break, unfolding tragedies great and small. Yes, let us entrust all of these things and more to Blessed Mother, just as if we were in Lourdes, as if we were having Mass in the Grotto where Mary appeared.
Like Bernadette, we cannot delay opening our hearts to God’s love for us and for others, until things settle down, until our problems are solved, until we feel better. Now is the time for you and me to entrust ourselves to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. Now is the moment to seek the intercession of St. Bernadette— that, believing in the love God has for us and rejoicing in the Lord’s Resurrection, we too might be messengers of his love to a world that needs it so badly. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!