To be read at all Masses on Sunday 11th September 2022
My dear brothers and sisters,
The relics of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes have begun a pilgrimage across our country; in the week ahead, they will come to our own Diocese. The relics of the Saints have long been venerated as a tangible connection with those men and women who lived united with Christ on earth and are now united with Him for ever in Heaven. From earliest centuries, the tombs of the martyrs became places of prayer and the celebration of Mass. The practice of placing relics in the altars of our churches comes from this time. The relics of the Saints formed part of the first evangelisation of our country, awakening in our ancestors a longing for holiness. The Saints have always been the great evangelisers, those men and women who have made the Gospel visible and showed the true face of the Church. In the flourishing of Catholic England, the relics of these holy men and women recalled the living bond between Heaven and earth in what the Creed calls ‘the communion of saints.’ For the communion of saints is the Church.i A memorable image in the Letter to the Hebrews reminds that the saints of every time and place surround us with their witness, urging us to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so easily,” and to “run with endurance the race that is set before us. Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith …”ii
This week the witness of Saint Bernadette will become such an encouragement for us. Though we may know the story of Lourdes, this pilgrimage will be an opportunity to get to know the witness of Saint Bernadette better and to ask the help of her prayers in all our struggles. The Scriptures today declare that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”.iii In parables, Our Lord describes how a lost sheep is found, a precious coin recovered, and a lost son wonderfully restored and forgiven in his father’s embrace.iv We are reminded of how our own lives consist in this same struggle to allow ourselves to be found by God’s grace and mercy. In this we are not alone. Rather as we hear Moses pleading before the Lord “Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob your servants”v we also stand in the company of the servants of God whose witness endures. We now ask the prayers of so many who have gone before us and have already reached the goal of Heaven.
The Second Vatican Council reminded us that “when we celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we are most closely united to the worship of the heavenly Church; when in fellowship and communion we honour and remember the glorious Mary ever virgin, Saint Joseph, the holy apostles and martyrs and all the saints”.vi We do not walk alone on the path to Heaven, rather in our struggle for holiness we find ourselves in the company of all the saints. This struggle must continue to the last moment of our lives: a struggle for holiness, which is true happiness, to live and die united with Christ and to attain the perfection of love and the fulness of life which is Heaven. The saints are those who have reached this goal before us, and do not abandon us now. As Saint Bernard declared in his preaching, “the saints lovingly call us … the host of the redeemed look for us …”vii
This week we will have a special opportunity to walk with a young Saint of remarkable directness and simplicity, Saint Bernadette. The Saint of Lourdes comes to remind us of our need of greater prayer, renewed penance and conversion and to make a first place in our lives for the Holy Eucharist. Saint Bernadette comes to tell us once more that it is sin which truly ails humanity, as she was called to pray with urgency for the conversion of poor sinners that they might find life and happiness.
This is the message of the Lourdes which led to an immense stream of prayer and charity rising from the grotto where Bernadette prayed in the gentle company of the Mother of God. This same message of prayer and healing now comes to us in the pilgrimage of her relics through our towns and cities. How often have pilgrims from this Shrewsbury Diocese made the long journey to Lourdes? And now the Saint of Lourdes comes to us! At this challenging moment in history, may we be encouraged by Saint Bernadette’s witness and ask in our struggle the help of her prayers.
Bishop of Shrewsbury
Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 946
ii Heb. 12: 1,2
iii I Tim. 1: 15
iv Cf. Lk. 15: 1-32
v Ex. 32: 13
vi Lumen Gentium no. 50
vii The Office of Readings, Solemnity of All Saints