I want to be up front with you from the beginning. I think you prefer that. I am asking you to consider this invitation. Please do not just discard it as another invitation. At least think about it. If you don’t mind me saying so, maybe even give it a little prayer time. There is a lot at stake here. I am asking you to accompany me for a few days, well actually five days to be precise. Now I realise this is already a tall order. I agree, that to spend five days in anybody’s company is not a small ask. Indeed I am sure I am not at the top of your list when it comes to whom you would most like to spend a few days with. I understand. However I promise I will be on my best behaviour, well at least most of the time. Who knows I might surprise you. Anyway don’t give up on me, or this idea, just yet. Before you make up your mind, at least let me tell you the company we are going to be in, and in particular some of the stuff we will be engaged in. In general terms, let me say this, the company is really exceptional and the overall task we are undertaking, though admittedly it has a few parts to it, is up there with perhaps the most important job you might be asked to undertake.
The main problem is I cannot go on my own, and so I am turning to you and asking for your help. Most specifically your companionship. Let me say a little bit both about the company we are going to be in and what exactly we will be involved in. The company is actually hard to quantify and whilst it is feminine this could be very misleading. Essentially I am speaking about both suffering and beauty. I am speaking about, on the one hand, one who as a child was greatly mocked and ridiculed and then later, as an adult, was much misunderstood, and indeed sidelined. All the while she battled illness, often gasping for breath, and much of the time feeling drained. She was worn out, and indeed, gone from us by her mid thirties. I have discovered the she is overshadowed, neglected and greatly undervalued. She is extraordinarily beautiful, and I don’t mean skin deep beauty, but an inner radiance that shone from her, the closer you get to her. The other company I have alluded to really defies words. Here is a physical story, but the truth is its way beyond that, and truthfully it brings us to the supernatural. Here too, there is suffering and beauty, but also the mystical. Let me leave this discussion, of the company, for a moment, suffice it to say that time spent in their presence, is time well spent and in fact is life changing. I will come back to this shortly. For the moment I am eager and excited to share with you, something of what you would be helping me with, over the five days. At this point, I just want to sketch brief headings, then, once you are on board, so to speak, I can expand on them a little.
First of all, there is the global or universal dimension. I am thinking here of displaced persons, refugees taking to the open seas, those women and children and indeed some men who are being trafficked: all the places in our world that are torn apart by war and famine. If you are going to join me, for these five days, we will have to bring all this with us. Then there is the national agenda. A quick glance at this country of ours shows just how urgently it is in need of help: homelessness, increased violence, rising incidences of addiction, and suicide. This is accompanied by attacks on the family and on the sacredness of life itself. From a family perspective there is advancing age, sickness, estrangement, financial struggles, loneliness and much more besides….and that’s just my family. What about yours? Now I am sure you are beginning to see, why I need you to come and help me, for the five days in September. We will have to gather all this up and bring it with us. Of course we must not forget the personal. Included here is the physical aches and pains we have: our Hopes and Dreams; our Disappointments and Failures; our Woundedness. Guilt. Shame. Regret. And that’s only me!! What about you? Now you have stopped asking why I need you for five days. I sure hope you can come. I will never manage all this without you. Then there are all the people who would like us to do something for them when we are away. This is serious business. They would not ask us unless they really need us. We should take their requests seriously. When they ask, it is always important to them. Sometimes, it is on the level of life and death. The final group that we might think of is the crowd that is presently holed up in Purgatory. I am sure we know some of them. Maybe even members of our families. When we are away, I am still hoping you will come with me, we can do some important work for them. Some of them might be relying on us.
So my friends, will you come with me? Please stick it in your diary. Put it in today. ‘ Fr Joe needs me’! From Saturday 17th to Thursday 22nd September for a very important task with international and supernatural dimensions: with life and death issues. Will you join me as I walk the path of Bernadette. Come and see her poverty, her struggle, her gasping for air, for life. Come and gaze with me on her beauty, her smile. Let Bernadette bring us to Mary the Mother of God in a new way. In a way only she can. Let us, you and I, deepen our relationship with Mary the Mother of Jesus. My friends come on this special journey, this beautiful pilgrimage. Let us carry a suffering world, our country and our church in our hearts to the grotto, where the lady appeared, and spoke to Bernadette. Come and celebrate Eucharist in the special places, for ourselves, for our loved ones, living and dead. My friends please come with me to Lourdes.