On the right-hand side of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Lourdes is the mosaic depiction of Mark 2:1-12. I believe this mosaic and the Gospel story underline the significance and important reality of Lourdes. For me, this place is the foreshadow of what heaven looks like as we live the Gospel calling right here and now on earth. At Lourdes, everyone is united by the love of our Blessed Mother but also reminded to live the Gospel message of caring for one another. What is more special is that in Lourdes, the handicap and special-needs brethren are first-class VIPs, having the greatest priority and place of honor. In Lourdes, everyone becomes more attentive and aware of other people’s needs as they gather together as children of our Heavenly Father, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, called to be one through the power and working of the Holy Spirit. That is why I often call it a piece of heaven on earth.
St. Bernadette, whom the Blessed Virgin Mary used to carry forth her message, was an uneducated young girl. Unlike her counterpart who were more educated in Paris and other big cities, Bernadette came from a poor family and humble setting. Yet, the work of grace and what Lourdes becomes today came from her littleness and God‘s grace through the Blessed Mother. Many times in the Sacred Scriptures and in real life, the Almighty and the Blessed Virgin Mary often like to use socially forgotten, abandoned, or insignificant people to glorify the truth. Divine works of grace are often entrusted to those who overlooked by the world! Therefore, this holy place and the message of Lourdes remind us of the true God-given dignity in each and every person and to respect him or her, not with what he or she has in possession, power, or wealth, but with what was given from the Almighty from the beginning. This reality sets the tone for pilgrims who come to Lourdes, recognizing that the Lord and the Blessed Mother speak to those who are humble of heart. Therefore, for us to truly listen to God, we have to be humble and learn to listen to Him, His saints, and messengers instead of our own will or liking of how things are supposed to be.
Every time I go to Lourdes, I always try to make it a top priority to attend the daily candlelight procession in the evening. For some reasons, it always brings me to tears! I cannot explain why, but I know they are not tears of sorrow or despair, but ones of joy and being loved. As a priest, it moves me to see the beautiful universality of the Church, when people of different languages and cultures coming together to worship and pray as brothers and sisters in the faith. When the refrain part of the “Ave Maria” is being sung, all candles are lifted high and everyone sings the beautiful hymn together. How wonderful it is! This is how I imagine heaven would be, when we are able to come together, not worrying about our own needs or likings, not divided by nationalities or languages, not stoning each other with political differences, but all choose to come to praise what God has done in their lives and in the lives of His saints. Perhaps this is why Lourdes is special for me because it is filled with God‘s presence and His caring love for us through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is, therefore, important that we do not forget who we truly are and what we are called to be! We are powerful not because of our earthly possessions or powers but how we choose to die to ourselves, look, care, and give the gifts of love to one another. Without a doubt, to care and to love one another as God has loved us is our first and foremost, the most important and crucial, mission and purpose as children of the Almighty.
When I was there the last time, I walked behind a very old couple. Both of them were hunchbacks. He perhaps was a little bit reluctant to come. Yet, she held his fingers and pulled him along. He walked with her, just a little bit behind her, looking and checking things out. She held two candles to be lit, one for each of them. As he walked along the pilgrimage route, he became more relaxed and attentive to the surroundings because of her initial gentle, persevering push. This particular episode moved me deeply! The couple taught me two small but important lessons. First, of course, is the lesson of old, genuine love. They care for one another in a very unpretentious, common, but loving way with small gestures of affection. They care for one another, not just in human terms, but worrying about one another’s spiritual welfare as well.
A lot of times, we need people around us to give us small, gentle, and loving pushes on our journey of faith. Often times, we need to know that we are not alone and that we have people who walk alongside us, praying, supporting, and motivating us spiritually. Look back at our own lives and we will see the many times that we were lifted up by others in the faith; or times when we never thought how we could overcome such trials, yet we did because of God‘s grace and other people’s prayers! This is why He gives us the Church. We were never meant to be alone. We belong to one another and are called to help each other in our spiritual journey toward heaven. Even when we feel lonely, we are never alone because we are always lifted up by the communion of saints who pray and care for us holistically, making sure that we are guided back and will not be lost eternally. It is, therefore, important to recognize this precious relationship and communion of love.
As we recognize our need for one another, it is important to know to give thanks and pray for those who have lifted us up spiritually, too. If they have prayed for us, it is important to return the favor and pray for them and become people who pray for others as well. As you have seen from the featured image of the story of Mark 2:1-12, it is important for us to be the friends who carry and bring those who are struggling, sick, lost, or cannot find God on their own to Him. We can do this by speaking the truth with charity, patiently discerning what to say and when to say what is necessary, and to lift them up in prayer if they are not ready. Throughout the Church’s history, we have read numerous stories of saints who brought people back to the faith through their lives of faith, but most important of all, their perseverance and persistence in prayer. Too many times, we only see prayer as the last alternative when all things failed or as something we do reluctantly. We pray with doubts, questions, and even despair because we oftentimes do not even believe in the power of prayer and what it can actually do! Perhaps those thoughts entered and pervaded our minds because we want things our ways, under our conditions and timing. Yet, we are reminded that we are called to begin and end all things through prayer, and are invited to be persistent throughout.
Sometimes without knowing, but through constant loving prayers and genuine testimonies of faith, we become one of those friends who lowered the sick, led the lost, empowered the hopeless, given love to the despair so that they can come to the Lord and get healing. We do all things, hope in all things, and choose to love in all matters because God is with us and He has chosen to love. If God can overturn the evil of the Cross and what people had done to Him and to one another throughout history into good, He can transform and change those who we pray for and lift up in prayer in His infinite wisdom and divine providence. While it is easy to talk about love, compassion, and mercy, it is important and crucial that we put them into practice by how we care for one another humanly and spiritually speaking. We are not alone! We are never alone. We are always lifted up by the communion of saints and are called to do the same to those who are around us and in our lives.
Please take some time today to give thanks to those whom God has put into our lives, those who have made an impact, those who lifted us up (knowingly and unknowingly). Second, please take some time to lift someone up today by choosing to be friends and companions in the faith, lifting others up, and leading them home to the Lord by how we choose to personally care for them. Let us, in our prayers and daily actions, choose to care and give ourselves to one another out of love.