The Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes has seen eight planes taking off from Dublin Airport and bringing 2,000 Dublin pilgrims to Lourdes. The pilgrimage, which is led by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, includes 183 sick and elderly people, 45 nurses, 9 doctors, 130 secondary schools students from 21 different schools, 160 youth group members, 41 priests and 480 lay volunteers.
In his homily for the opening Mass at the Grotto of Our Lady in Lourdes on Thursday 8 September, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, “We gather here in Lourdes on this Feast of the Birthday of Mary and we gather to celebrate our 2016 Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage in the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. We celebrate mercy because we have received mercy. We celebrate mercy here in Lourdes because we hope to experience God’s mercy and loving kindness in a special way in these days.
“Pope Francis writes: “The name of God is mercy”. How often do we overlook and forget that truth? We have all too often decided for ourselves that God is a harsh judge and we have created within ourselves, in our communities and even in our Church a climate of judgementalism.
“When we overlook the mercy that God has shown to us, then we begin mercilessly to judge and to criticize and to categorize others. We begin to divide people up. We decide who is good and who is not. We become quick to judge even when we are unaware of the true situation. We easily misjudge because we categorize people as we want to. How many hearts and lives have been torn and even destroyed by others who judge rashly! We must make our Lourdes pilgrimage a pilgrimage of mercy, where we experience mercy and where we learn once again to bring mercy to others.”
Archbishop Martin continued, “Mary is the one who shows us that we are called to discover and do the will of God even when we do not understand it. We heard in the Gospel reading how Mary and Joseph face the human challenge of accepting the birth of Jesus, the saviour. That birth is entirely the fruit of the Holy Spirit but the child is entrusted to the care of Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph accept even though they do not fully understand what they are being called to as they give their son the name Jesus, God with us, the one who will save his people.
“What is it that gave Mary and Joseph this ability to accept the words of the angel when what they were being asked appeared impossible to human categories. It was because they had a faith in a God who acts beyond human categories, in order for us to know what it is to be truly and fully human. God revealed himself through being merciful. God had always been faithful and merciful to his people even when they were unfaithful.
“It is very easy for us today to think in the opposite sense. God acts beyond human categories, but we can act as if salvation and living a good life should be according to our categories. We fail to remember that it is God through his mercy alone that can turn everything to the good, as we heard in the first reading, if we love him and realise that we are called to live according to his way and to his purpose.
“Negativity and judgementalism do not change hearts. Indeed they only provoke negativity and hostility as a response by the other and only drag ourselves into being even more deeply trapped in our own negativity. Negativity and judgementalism leave people miserable in themselves and create distrust and disharmony in society. Mercy heals others and frees us ourselves and creates a caring society. Mary is our example of the one who understood how God’s mercy can change even the things which seem impossible and mysterious to human thought.”
Archbishop Martin went on to say, “We come to Lourdes in a spirit of hope. We all have the intentions we express and we all have our hidden intentions to pray for. Those who are sick come praying for health and hope and consolation. There is, however, sickness in each of us: each of us knows the troubles and anxieties we hold in our hearts; we know our failures; we know the hopes and ambitions that remain unfulfilled. We know that despite our best efforts we often end up doing things we know we do not want to do. We know our failures and our sinfulness.
“The name of God is mercy. Our God is not one who will never be satisfied with our efforts, who will always demand more. God knows our weakness and our sicknesses and he forgives even seventy times seven, as the scriptures tell us, and that means without number. He wishes us to be free and he wishes others to be free through their encountering his mercy through us.
“Sinfulness is not about breaking arbitrary rules; sinfulness is failure to love and failure to be merciful. Selfishness and harshness and judgementalism damage us and those around us and poison society. Judgementalism can become a truly vile and nauseating sickness. The judgmental can even try to hide behind the idea of being righteous, but they end up being merely self-righteous.
“God’s mercy embraces all. God’s mercy drives us to reach out and encounter those who have not experienced mercy, those on the margins of society who we and our society might prefer to be put out of our sights. We can even begin to think of the marginalised and the unfortunate and those who are different as a threat, as a danger, so we banish then even physically from our sights.”
“Lourdes is a place of mercy, where we learn mercy though seeing mercy and through being merciful. Lourdes can bring out the best in us”, Archbishop Martin said. ” Our helpers support our sick and learn from our sick. That is why they come back year after year and we are deeply grateful to them. In Lourdes our young people learn that happiness and fulfilment are not to be found in the superficial attractions of consumerist fashion. I
“In Lourdes we learn that happiness can well be found in those who have little to offer in worldly terms. Our priests encounter mercy in the humility of those who approach them in their ministry of mercy.
Pilgrims come back to Lourdes year after year not because of the comfort of the hotels or the nice weather. In Lourdes even in bad weather we discover a unique sunshine that is found in the face of those who are less fortunate than we are.
“Lourdes is a place of mercy which we encounter through prayer. Every aspect of our pilgrimage is prayer-filled. We pray for ourselves and those who have asked us to pray for them. We pray for our Church and we pray for our society. We pray for peace and we pray for a divided world. We pray that we will experience God’s mercy and comfort and peace in our hearts. We pray in praise and adoration; we pray in silence and contemplation.
“As we begin our pilgrimage let us turn to Mary and ask her to intercede for us so that in these we will experience mercy in abundance and will then go away from this pilgrimage freed and healed; faith-filled, hope-filled and driven by the charity of Jesus Christ to serve him and our neighbour. Our Lady of Lourdes: pray for us. Saint Bernadette: pray for us.”