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Bishop Leo O'Reilly's Homily
at the Grotto, Lourdes
Diocesan Pilgrimage, 28 May 2012
When Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Subirous on this very spot on 11th February1858, the little uneducated girl doesn’t seem to have realised at first who it was. But she was captivated by the beauty of the Lady. And her very first reaction was to drop to her knees, take out her beads and begin to say the rosary.
The theme of our pilgrimage this year is, “With Bernadette praying the Rosary.” The theme is first of all an invitation to pray the Rosary, the great prayer which has served the Church well for over a thousand years. As a prayer it is not as popular as it was in the past. Many people nowadays find it long and repetitious, not to say boring.
As I grow older I appreciate the Rosary more and more. We said as a family it around the fire at home when I was a child. At times we giggled and at times we dozed. At times we overshot the 10 Hail Marys and my father would haul us back to the Glory be to the Father. But we said it every night and we learned the habit of prayer. We learned a prayer that we could use anywhere, any time. We needed no book, no church, and even if we had no beads, we could count on our fingers. If we were gathered around a sick bed or at a wake or a funeral, we could pray a decade or a whole Rosary together and everyone could join in.
I remember going to visit a hospital several years ago to visit a young man who was very seriously injured by in an accident. He was a married man, the father of three small children. He had been in intensive care for days, and when I got there I found his wife in the waiting room on her own. I was very touched to see that she had her beads in her hands saying the Rosary. This awful accident was without doubt a terrible test of her faith, but the Rosary was helping her to cope with this crisis. It was nourishing her faith and strengthening it. And it was also helping her husband in the only way she could help him. And thank God her husband eventually made a great recovery and was restored to his family once again.
The great apostle of the Rosary in America was an Irish priest from Mayo, Fr. Patrick Peyton. He it was who said, the family that prays together stays together. Families are under a lot of strain nowadays as cutbacks go deeper and mortgage payments get harder to meet. Everybody is in a hurry and we all want to do our own thing. The day when the family sat around the table for meals every day is nearly gone. But we have to resist that trend. Families need to spend time together. They need to talk together. They need to pray together. Prayer is the oxygen that nourishes our faith. If we don’t pray faith dies. Praying the Rosary or even a decade of it every day nourishes faith and family at the same time.
Our theme invites us to pray the Rosary with Bernadette.
We are asked to try to imitate her devotion, her humility, her faith, her patience and perseverance as we pray. Praying the Rosary with Bernadette will teach us that we don’t have to be conscious of every word we say as we repeat the Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glorias. Those prayers become the background to the melody of the mysteries that we meditate on as we pray. We follow the story of Jesus on the different days of the week, pausing at the significant moments of his birth, his life, death and resurrection. The words we use become a kind of mantra that enables us to ponder the mystery we are meditating, whether it’s the birth of Jesus or his transfiguration, his agony in the Garden or his ascension into heaven. So the real focus of the Rosary prayer is on Christ himself.
We are fortunate in having an even richer Rosary than Bernadette had. We have the Mysteries of Light which were introduced by the late Pope John Paul II. In these we contemplate the most important moments of Jesus’ public ministry, his baptism, the wedding at Cana, the preaching of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration and the Institution of the Eucharist.
As we prepare to celebrate the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin next month that fifth Mystery of Light assumes a new importance. The theme of the Congress is: “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with One Another.” The theme of the Congress reminds us not only that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, but the reason why he is present. He gives himself to us to bring us into union with himself, and by uniting us with himself he unites us with one another. We become part of the great Communion of Saints, the glorified Body of Christ, which includes the Church on earth, the souls in purgatory and the saints in heaven. Sacramental Communion is given to us in order to build up the Communion of Saints.
And that brings out the full meaning of our theme here in Lourdes: With Bernadette, praying the Rosary. It’s not just that we are with her in imitating her devotion. It’s not just that we are with her in our imagination, kneeling alongside her here at the Grotto. No, there is a real union with Bernadette and with all the saints when we pray the Rosary, or any other prayer, and above all when we celebrate the Eucharist, because when we pray we are all united in the Communion of Saints.