grace at Lourdes

Feb 11, 2015

After my ordination to the priesthood my first appointment was as assistant priest to the parish of Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. I remember some parishioners returning from a three month journey to Europe and one night over a larger group dinner I asked them to tell us about a highlight of their trip. The first to answer was Milne and he told us that without a doubt his highlight was his visit to the French pilgrimage town of Lourdes.

Twenty years later I was the chaplain for a pilgrimage from Our Lady of Victories parish, Sockburn, Christchurch, to Italy and France. When we reached Lourdes I understood why the place was so significant for Milne, as  for the millions of pilgrims who visit this sanctuary of healing every year. While the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to the young woman Bernadette Soubirous 150 years ago was an extraordinary event of grace, now the grace of the Spirit of God continues to move powerfully in an environment of openness to divine action in human weakness and struggle.

An unexpected highlight was an early morning Mass at the grotto: I expected to concelebrate the Mass when I arrived with a group of parishioners, but the half dozen priests in the sacristy were hesitant to be the main celebrant so I stepped forward. This moment remains one of the many highlights of grace in the 35 years since I entered the seminary on this feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 1980.

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