Pastoral theme 2016
“Merciful like the Father”
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness”. (Pope Francis, “Misericordiae vultus”, §2)
With these words the Holy Father invites us to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will start with the opening of the Holy Door in Rome, in Cathedrals and Sanctuaries throughout the world from 8 December 2015 to 20 November 2016.
By decree of Bishop Brouwet, the Sanctuary of Lourdes will echo this invitation of Pope Francis. It is with great joy that he offers us these reflections on the subject of Mercy to help all pilgrims to experience this Jubilee Year in the presence of Our Lady of Lourdes, Mother of Mercy, and Bernadette, a witness to the mercy of God.
I – What is mercy?
In everyday language mercy is a sentiment that inspires a certain attitude and consequent actions. The dictionary gives us the following definition: “it is the sentiment by which the misery of someone else touches our heart”. It concerns, in effect, a heart that is responsive to any situation of misery experienced by our neighbour.
Compassion is a way of expressing mercy; it is to empathize with those who suffer, even if we cannot completely take the place of the one who is suffering.
However mercy is also accomplished with regard to one who is not suffering but causes pain to others. In this case, it is not a sentiment, but an act of our will, which consists in forgiving.
So when we speak of mercy we refer both to the feeling of compassion for one who is in pain, and also to a voluntary act of forgiveness and erasure of the wrong he has committed.
If God is merciful it follows that mercy is a gift.
Gift of the Father: because He gives us his only Son, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son… (Jn 3:16). God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved” ... (Jn 3:17).
Gift of the Son: because he gives Himself to us to show the Father’s mercy, “The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me ; I lay it down of my own free will, and as it is in my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it up again; and this is the command I have been given by my Father” (Jn 10:17).
Gift of the Holy Spirit: “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (Lk 4:18-19).
“With our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness. ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8, 16), John affirms for the first and only time in all of Holy Scripture. This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously. The relationships he forms with the people who approach him manifest something entirely unique and unrepeatable. The signs he works, especially in favour of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion.” (Pope Francis, “Misericordiae vultus”, § 8)
The Church, sacrament of the mercy of Christ.
“Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. The Church ‘has an endless desire to show mercy’. Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy. The temptation, on the one hand, to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable, step. But the Church needs to go beyond and strive for a higher and more important goal. On the other hand, sad to say, we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. In some cases the word seems to have dropped out of use. However, without a witness to mercy, life becomes fruitless and sterile, as if sequestered in a barren desert. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope”. (Pope Francis, “Misericordiae Vultus”, § 10)
“The language and the gestures of the Church must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident… wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy”. (Pope Francis, “Misericordiae Vultus”, § 12).
Mercy creates brotherhood: “the works of mercy”
“It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal works of mercy:
Feed the hungry.
Give drink to the thirsty.
Clothe the naked.
Welcome the stranger.
Heal the sick.
Visit the imprisoned.
Bury the dead.
And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy:
Counsel the doubtful.
Instruct the ignorant.
Comfort the afflicted.
Bear patiently those who do us ill.
Pray for the living and the dead”.
(Pope Francis, “Misericordiae Vultus”, § 15)
In the Gospel, the Beatitude of mercy: “Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them” (Mt 5:7) teaches us:
- that it is solidarity and efficacious loving commitment to brothers who are in need and in misery.
- and that it is forgiveness and reconciliation with regard to offenses received and committed.
The Lord teaches us that the practice of mercy is a universal way that creates bonds of brotherhood between men. This is the message of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37). At the end of the parable Jesus asks this question: “Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?”
This means that they were not all a brother to the injured man. They could have been, but in reality the only one was "the one who showed mercy to him". For Jesus, being a brother is not something "automatic", as an acquired right. We are not brothers as long as we do not act as such; we are invited to become so, through the practice of mercy.
The Gospel teaches us that we are not automatically brothers. Our experience of hatred, division, injustice and violence proves every day that it is quite the opposite. We are not brothers, but we are called to become so. In fact, Jesus invites us and gives us the strength to "become brothers." But it depends on a definitive choice on our part that engages our freedom, that of being charitable and merciful.
The Samaritan became a brother to the injured man. Not because of his religion, of his race, of his nationality, of his ideology, but quite simply because he had an attitude of mercy.
Thus my neighbour is not necessarily someone who shares my religion, my country, my family or my ideas. My neighbour is the one with whom I share my life because we need each other.
To approach the injured man, the Good Samaritan had to make an effort to go beyond himself, his race, his religion and his prejudices. “…Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans” (Jn 4:9). He had to set aside his world and his personal interests. He abandoned his projects; he gave his time and money. As far as the other people in the parable are concerned, the Priest and the Levite, they did not wish to abandon their projects considering them more important than the invitation to become a brother to the injured man.
To be a brother to someone therefore entails leaving behind “one’s world” to enter the “world of the other”: to share his culture, his mindset, his needs and his poverty.
To become a brother of another is like an exodus, a reconciliation. The “works of mercy” are an opportunity given to us during the pilgrimage of our life, to be “merciful like the Father”, that is to say, just and charitable to be in communion with one another.
Mercy goes further than justice: forgiveness
Mercy as forgiveness of offenses is the other face of brotherly love. If mercy as a commitment builds brotherhood, mutual forgiveness rebuilds and consolidates fraternity. It prevents the division and rancour, produced by offenses, from paralyzing the community.
What is Christian reconciliation? Reconciliation is the return of friendship and brotherhood among people, families, social groups or countries, called to be brothers and who broke this brotherhood or friendship. Reconciliation is greater than "conciliation" (which is more or less a temporary compromise between parties): it is the restoration of the destroyed brotherhood. This is why reconciliation takes the form of a "return", a reconstruction, a homecoming: “I will leave this place and go to my father… (LK 15:18) “… so he left the place and went back to his father…” (Lk 15:20). In this parable the prodigal son tries to return to his father’s house.
The celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation is the place where conversion and reconciliation with God and others become a true event in our lives. There, in reality and sacramentally, we regret the faults committed and welcome God's presence, who is waiting to receive our conversion, and give us his grace of love and mercy.
In the celebration of this sacrament, the life-giving encounter with Christ takes the form of forgiveness and mercy. It is true that we are called to repent and seek forgiveness outside the sacrament of reconciliation. However this repentance is like a preparation for the great sacramental encounter with the One who is the source of all mercy: Christ. At the same time, our repentance and our conversion are confirmed by the grace of the sacrament, and thus acquire an ecclesial dimension for the good of the entire Body of Christ and of the whole Church.
In conclusion, our genuine participation in the sacrament of reconciliation introduces us to an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit that identifies us with the death of Christ, and makes us die to our sins, to their roots, to the underlying evil tendencies within us, that only the Spirit can uproot.
The celebration of this sacrament is always a new beginning, a strengthening of our spirit to go beyond our weaknesses and temptations: it is an experience that enables us to encounter the merciful face of Christ.
II - Lourdes, the pilgrimage of Mercy
The Door of Mercy
“The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a ‘viator’ (walker), a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us” (Pope Francis, “Misericordiae vultus”, § 14).
In this Jubilee year, our pilgrimage, personal or collective, will be the opportunity to cross the threshold of the Door of Mercy which will be situated at Saint Michael’s gate. This door will be directly facing the Breton Calvary where we can contemplate the crucified Christ, who died for us and is the Door of Mercy. At the same time we shall contemplate the Virgin Mary, mother of the Crucified, at the foot of the Cross.
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said, ‘this is your mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home” (Jn 19:25-27).
“This is your son…” this word spoken by Jesus is not a simple recommendation that Jesus makes to his mother; it is a manner of highlighting a new way of being begotten in the motherhood of Mary.“The disciple he loved…” is the one whom Jesus loves with a privileged love, a love that is the principal ingredient in their relationship: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). It is a love that makes the other a “disciple”, a “friend”, it is the love that renders perfect: “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love” (Jn 15:10). And the fruit of this love is perfect love: “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete” (Jn 15:11).
The expression “the disciple he loved” is less an indication of a preferential love for a particular disciple than an explanation to situate the disciple as such in the sphere of love and mercy. The term therefore has a symbolic value and refers to all believers. It is the believer who is entrusted to Mary and who receives her as Mother. It is the pilgrim who is entrusted to Mary.
It is in this context that we must understand "from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home” (Jn 19:25-27). This "home" does not denote only his house but also refers to specific qualities possessed as a disciple: the link of faith connecting him to Christ, and expressed in the practice of the commandment of love. It is in this spiritual dimension that the disciple receives Mary as mother. It is in this spiritual dimension that Bernadette and pilgrims of all time welcome the presence of Mary as mother.
Mary, Mother of Mercy, is always present in the believer’s life serving the alliance between her Son and his disciples. This alliance has a name: Mercy.
On 11 February 1858 Bernadette received the grace of “making the Sign of the Cross well”: “I wanted to make the sign of the Cross, my hand fell back as if it were paralysed; until the Lady did it, and from that moment on I could also do it”. To “make the sign of the cross well” she only needed to watch the Lady and do as she did. Several witnesses will tell us that by this simple gesture, making the Sign of the Cross well, she seemed, indeed, to enter into another dimension. This other dimension is that which the Lord offers us in the Gospel: to pass from sin to grace, from selfishness to sharing, from division to communion, from isolation to encounter, from sadness to joy, from hatred to forgiveness, etc.
In crossing the threshold of the Door of Mercy we are invited, with Mary and Bernadette, to make the Sign of the Cross to show our intention of entering into the dimension of the grace of mercy for ourselves and all those whom we encounter.
The Grotto of Lourdes is the place where Bernadette Soubirous met the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, 18 times between 11 February 1858 and 16 July 1858.
This encounter was in preparation for a third encounter, that with Christ. Indeed, throughout the apparitions, the Virgin always presents herself to Bernadette as the one who will assist her to discover gradually, through her catechesis and wonderful teaching, the presence of the spring in the depths of the cave. The spring that Bernadette discovered at the ninth apparition is the symbol of the whole message that Mary entrusted to her. This spring symbolizes the person of Christ. When the Lady told Bernadette "Go drink at the spring and wash yourself there" it is an invitation that She now gives to Bernadette to enter into the mystery of the life of her Son. It is not enough to discover the source (Christ); we must also drink from the spring and wash in it. This means being nourished by the Word of God and being transformed by His sacramental presence in the sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
The Grotto is also a place of silence and prayer, necessary for a dialogue with the Lord.
The Grotto is also a place of birth, a beginning, a starting point, of something new; the Grotto is a meeting place where man and woman are beautiful in the eyes of God, gracious in the eyes of others.
At the Grotto of Lourdes are born loves and friendships of a lifetime, and many are those who hear the call and receive the grace to consecrate their lives to the Lord and their brothers and sisters.
Before the Grotto we discover the maternal presence of Mary and we experience the maternal face of the Church. It is for this reason that the Grotto is a place of welcome, of listening, of understanding, of opening up to others, of preference to the other over oneself expressed in the gift of self and of service to the other.
The Grotto is the reflection of a new humanity, a new creation.
The Grotto is the beauty of the Immaculate Conception, the wonderful meeting between the Blessed Virgin and Bernadette; the grace which flowed from this has marked the place forever.
The Grotto is the place which welcomes our humanity just as it is, with its joys and sorrows, its wounds, its frustrations, its failures and triumphs. At the same time it is a place where we experience the sudden emergence of God in the person of Mary. As the Apostle Paul says: “However great the number of sins committed, Grace was even greater” (Rm 5:20)
The Grotto is thus a place of all mercies.
The Baths and the Fountains
At the Grotto of Lourdes Mary introduced Bernadette to the Gospel. Mary’s catechesis is adapted to Bernadette’s human condition marked by sin. At the same time it takes into account the reality of her life, her poverty, her ignorance, her illness, her indigence.
During the penitential apparitions (8th – 11th), at the request of the Lady, Bernadette will perform three acts: to walk on her knees and kiss the ground of the Grotto, to eat some plants, and to smear her face with the mud of the Grotto.
These gestures are biblical gestures, eminently penitential, which take us back to the important moments in the Passion of the Son of God.
To walk on her knees and kiss the ground of the Grotto: This gesture represents the humbling of the Son of God through the Incarnation: “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus: his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his
equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross” (Ph 2: 5-8).
To eat the plants growing inside the Grotto: The bitter herbs of the Book of Exodus tell us of the sacrificed lamb with which the Hebrews will call on God’s mercy: “On the tenth day of this month, each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household... when the whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Ex 12:3-8). The bitter herbs in the Bible signify sin, all that harms man. And here we have Bernadette who, like the Lamb of God, eats these herbs to show us that man is freed from sin through the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God.
The mud which disfigures Bernadette’s face represents the “suffering servant of God” of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks ((Is 52:14).
These gestures performed by Bernadette, at the repeated request of the Lady, aim at enabling us to discover another reality. Walking on one’s knees and kissing the ground are humbling gestures, which are also loving gestures towards the floor of the Grotto. The other two, eating the plant and taking mud, express the need to clear this ground. It is necessary to go through this purification to enable the hidden and true treasure to appear: the spring. One must love man, child of God, who is a sinner, to free him from sin, so that he may discover, in his heart, the source of love and charity, since man was created in the image and likeness of God: “Go to the spring, drink of it and wash yourself there”, Mary will tell Bernadette on 25 February during the ninth Apparition.
In contemplating the disfigured Son of Man, crowned with thorns and covered with blood, we contemplate the tragic history of mankind. At the same time, the love of God for humanity is manifested in the Son of Man: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water” (Jn 19:34).
In making the gesture of drinking and washing, we express our need for the purification of our thoughts and words so that we may communicate with our brothers, not at a superficial level, but at the level of the source of charity which is dormant in us. As in the case of the Samaritan woman, our conversion is possible according to the words of Christ: “The water I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).
In going to the Baths and performing the gesture of the water, as pilgrims we signify our need to be purified through the grace of God, and at the same time express our desire to enable the charity that is buried deep within our hearts to flow freely in order to communicate it to others. In conclusion, we are invited to quench each other’s thirst, that is to say, to give each other the best of ourselves. I thirst for my brother’s mercy and my brother thirsts for the mercy in my heart. The Spouse should be able to drink and wash in the merciful heart of his spouse and vice versa. The family is called to communicate at the deepest level of mercy.
The Chapel of Reconciliation
On 11 February 1858, Bernadette, already suffering from asthma, malnutrition and hunger, goes to the damp and obscure grotto to look for some dry wood and bones. It is at this precise moment, after hearing something like “a gust of wind”, that she looks towards the Grotto and sees a Lady dressed in white, surrounded by light that reflects on her face, which then becomes the sign of light.
Mary reflects the light of Christ who is Himself the Light.
If this light is reflected on Bernadette’s face, it is because her heart is bathed in that light. At the same time, this light reveals the darkness within her heart. This is why the young girl seeks out the Abbé Pomian on the following Saturday, to tell him of her extraordinary experience and to confide in someone for the first time in her life. This encounter with the priest is highly significant since it implies that this same light which she saw in the Grotto is also to be found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Eucharist, the sacramental life, and life in the Church. “Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod… eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church” (Con.Vat.II Lumen Gentium, n°1).
Opposite the Accueil Notre-Dame, a meeting place between the sick and the hospitaliers, on the other bank of the Gave, lies the Chapel of Reconciliation. It occupies the former Asile Notre-Dame. This is a beautiful symbol: God wants the complete healing of man. There must be a clear distinction between illness and sin. Jesus is very clear on this point. Man suffers from being divided. He aspires to reconciliation: with himself, with others, with the world around him, and also with God, his Creator and Saviour.
The Chapel of Reconciliation is the most beautiful of all the chapels in the Sanctuary, not because of its material beauty but because of the beauty of that which takes place within: the penitent, who through his desire for conversion by asking for and receiving forgiveness, and the priest, the minister of mercy, reiterate together the Yes of the covenant of Mercy that God makes with the whole of humanity.
The “Accueils” of the Sick: Notre Dame, Saint Frai, and Salus
“The residences for the sick would only be collective structures similar to all the others if it were not for Hospitalities, tens of thousands of volunteers who each year donate their time and money to accompany or welcome sick or disabled people to Lourdes.
Lourdes is a place where it is possible for many people to live the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan stopped, even though he may have been in a hurry. He did not recoil before the wound of the man half dead. Similarly, the Hospitality members take time off from their businesses or hobbies and agree to look at those that our current lifestyle often relegates to isolated places.
The Samaritan was lucky to find an inn to which he could safely take the wounded man from the side of the road. He entrusted him to someone else, without losing interest in him since he will return and settle any additional costs. This is a good example for hospitality members: the sick person does not belong to them.
It would not be Lourdes if we had built beautiful residences, managed by qualified personnel, but without the presence of volunteers. It would be a pity for those being received but, equally, for the volunteers; for serving is a path of discovery, a journey of faith to the Servant. It is fortunate that so many young people like to fulfil this service
(Mgr Jacques Perrier “L'Evangile de Lourdes”).
Father Horacio Brito, Missionary of the Immaculate Conception of Lourdes, Chaplain
Prayer of the Jubilee
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him. Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief. Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy: let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and that your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.