Homily Preached at the Grotto In Lourdes
3 June 2019
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
The year 1844, that is the year that Saint Bernadette was born in, was a time of great poverty in Ireland as the country hurtled headlong towards the great Famine. It was also a time of great poverty here in Lourdes with Bernadette’s parents, Francois and Louise, struggling to rear their family. Bernadette’s father was a miller, but was unemployed much of the time and the family lived in dire conditions in a disused prison. Little wonder then that Bernadette was fostered out, going to live with her aunt in Bartrés where she was given the job of tending sheep. So, in the eyes of the world, Bernadette was a poor, obscure and ragged fourteen year old girl when the Virgin Mary appeared to her several times over a five month period between the months of February and July in the year 1858.
The gospel reading for today’s Mass which is taken from St Luke’s gospel chapter six, states simply and clearly: Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours and in case we missed the message it then goes on to say Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. This stark message of Jesus, that it is the poor, the despised, the nobodies of this world, who are favoured by God, may help explain why the Virgin Mary appeared to the impoverished Bernadette at this sacred place and why ever since then those who are poor and broken, those who are sick in body, mind or spirit have come here and found solace, healing and peace.
We live in a world where wealth, status and power seem all important. Many people spend their days in a desperate bid to make money, in order to buy things and to be able to demonstrate their wealth by the clothes they wear, the car they drive and the house they live in. The Scriptures warn against living our lives in this short sighted and foolish manner. There are so many warnings in the Scriptures against greed and avarice and the love of material things. The book of Proverbs says: How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver and Psalm 90 says: Lord make us know the shortness of life so that we may gain wisdom of heart. Yet, despite the warnings in the Scriptures and despite the everyday reminders about the shortness of life many people still live their lives in a foolish and short sighted way, wanting more than they need, striving to own everything – even though we come into this world with nothing and we leave it with nothing.
T S Eliot, in his great epic poem called Choruses From the Rock, writes about people who have rejected the church and rejected God and then he goes on to describe how They walk in the street proudnecked, like thoroughbreds ready for races. And even though this poem was written more than one hundred years ago it could have been written about our own time. One of the great risks is that those who are well off, those who have more than they need, will become arrogant and proudnecked, convinced that they can live their lives without others and without God. And of course the truth is they cannot.
St Luke, in his sermon on the plain says Happy are the poor for the Kingdom of God is theirs and St Matthew has a slightly different take on it. In his sermon on the mount he says Happy are the poor in spirit. Theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
The poor in spirit are people who are dispirited, people whose spirit has taken a hammering, people whose spirits are low. Our modern world, which is fast, busy and stressful, takes its toll on us. We are being bombarded with news and information all day everyday – and much of the news is bad news, news that makes us fearful. Little wonder then that many are weighed down by anxieties and fear, worry and depression. We need to hand over all our worries, anxieties and fears to the Lord. We need to let God be God in our lives. And if we do that God will take care of us. The Psalm reassures us: The Lord is close to the broken-hearted. Those whose spirit is crushed he will save.
The Poor in Spirit are those who live their lives humbly and recognise their complete and utter dependence on the God who created them and who keeps them in being. The poor in Spirit are those who recognise their own brokenness, their own sinfulness and their need for God’s love and forgiveness. The poor in Spirit are those who recognise their need for the healing that only God can give. And it is in this spirit that you and I come to this sacred place one hundred and forty years after the death of St Bernadette. We come to this holy place aware of our sinfulness, aware of our brokenness, aware of our need for God’s healing love.
We pray here, asking the Virgin Mary, St Bernadette and all the saints to intercede with the Father on our behalf. We pray in a spirit of humility, thanking God for all the blessings we have got and asking God to watch over us in the future as He has in the past. We pray for our families, friends and loved ones who have asked us to pray for them. And we pray for all assisted pilgrims who are here with us. We pray that their time here in Lourdes will bring them solace, healing and peace.
And we thank God for and ask God’s blessing on all the staff and helpers here who care for others so wonderfully well. We compliment all the young volunteers from the dioceses of Cloyne and Kilmore who are here helping those who are less healthy than they are. We hope that your time in Lourdes will help you to realise that in caring for others you discover what is best in yourself, and that in caring for others you receive back more than you give. For it is in giving that you receive. We pray for all the volunteer helpers and carers who are here and for people everywhere throughout the world who care for others and live unselfish lives – we pray that they will all be rewarded for their goodness
We finish with prayer:
St Bernadette: Pray for us
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.