Thursday, February 11, 2010

Our Lady of Lourdes

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus. A little more than three years later, on February 11, 1858, a young lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. This began a series of visions. During the apparition on March 25, the lady identified herself with the words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette was a sickly child of poor parents. Their practice of the Catholic faith was scarcely more than lukewarm. Bernadette could pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Creed. She also knew the prayer of the Miraculous Medal: “O Mary conceived without sin.” During interrogations Bernadette gave an account of what she saw. It was “something white in the shape of a girl.” She used the word aquero, a dialect term meaning “this thing.” It was “a pretty young girl with a rosary over her arm.” Her white robe was encircled by a blue girdle. She wore a white veil. There was a yellow rose on each foot. A rosary was in her hand. Bernadette was also impressed by the fact that the lady did not use the informal form of address (tu), but the polite form (vous). The humble virgin appeared to a humble girl and treated her with dignity. Through that humble girl, Mary revitalized and continues to revitalize the faith of millions of people. People began to flock to Lourdes from other parts of France and from all over the world. In 1862 Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions and authorized the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes for the diocese. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes became worldwide in 1907.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (7: 24-30)

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. First let the children eat all they want, he told her, for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs. Yes, Lord, she replied, but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs. Then he told her, For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter. She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Persistent prayer
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Our Gospel passage today is taken from the seventh chapter of Mark, and we may take it as providing a typical picture of much of our Lord’s public ministry. The first twenty-three verses are taken up with teaching — a teaching directed at the scribes and Pharisees, and then explained in private to his disciples. Then the remaining fourteen verses are taken up with our Lord’s healings. Teaching — especially teaching — and healing consumed our Lord’s public ministry. We read that everywhere he went they brought to him people burdened with diseases and demonic possession. In our Gospel passage today (Mark: 7:24-30) our Lord departs — presumably to have some rest with his disciples whom he also wished to form more intensively — and arrives in the district of Tyre. There, in some obscure settlement in the area, he took a meagre dwelling where he wished to be absolutely incognito. But it was not to be. Did one or more of his disciples make an unguarded remark which raised the attention of some locals? We do not know, but immediately there came out on to the street a pagan Syrophenician woman (that is, from the area of Tyre and Sidon). She was determined to find the famous visitor and gain from him the healing of her possessed daughter, who was back in the house. She was not to be stopped, or hushed, or in any way discouraged. She knew what she wanted and this was the one chance she had. She was not going to let Jesus pass her by. Our Lord had been in circumstances similar to this before — he had gone apart with his disciples and had been met at his destination by the crowds who had brought to him their sick. He responded immediately with a heart filled with compassion. What he asked for was faith, and we remember the high praise he accorded the faith of the centurion who had asked him to come and heal his servant. It is inconceivable that his reserved reply to the cries and clamouring of the pagan woman was the result of disinterest or impatience. Rather, he was drawing out and testing her faith.

There is so much to be prayed for! The Syrophenician woman is surely a symbol of the pain, the suffering, the oppression and the hopes of the world, profoundly broken as it is by sin. So many are, for various reasons, clamouring to be relieved of their distress. Yet the world moves on inexorably, and like a vast sea it seems to envelop without a trace anything that falls to it. For so many, the pain of life is great and beyond the effective assistance of friends and passers-by. The only one who can possibly help is God — who, the Christian knows, is Jesus Christ. He is God-with-us. We must turn to God in our need, but do we believe that this is of any use? The foundation of so much of religion is human need — we need the help of God to hold on to life and to flourish. The springs of religion are the frustrations of life, for which we ask God’s help. St Alphonsus Ligouri says somewhere in his many spiritual writings that if a person will not pray he cannot be saved. He is referring especially to the prayer of petition, and he says that this, the prayer of petition, is the most important prayer. It is precisely for failing to ask God for benefits, especially spiritual benefits, that very many people go wanting. In the plan of God, the more we ask for, and the more reverently and humbly we ask for it, the better. Our Lord said that if we ask we shall receive and if we seek we shall find. He also said that we should pray always and never lose heart. But we may well find that there is a delay, with no immediate response. What then, do we do? Our temptation will be to give up on God. A common complaint is that prayer not only involves delay, but that it results in nothing. We seem to be ignored and even rebuffed. Ah! how like the case of the Syrophenician woman! In the face of this experience and these thoughts, do we show our faith in God's love and power by our persistence, or do we just drop God? To drop God would be a serious lapse. If someone is sick or an important work is ahead, and we have the feeling that it would be to the honour of God were we to pray for that intention, then let us pray for it and pray persistently.

Granted that there is a God and that Jesus Christ is his divine Son; granted that he loves us tenderly; granted that Christ our God and Saviour remains with us in the Church, persistence in prayer gives him honour and glory. If it is not God’s will that our specific intention be granted, assuredly there is a gracious reason for this, and we may confidently expect that a better answer will be given than the one for which we prayed. Let us take to heart the example of the Syrophenician woman and how she pleased our Lord by her persistent prayer. Prayer, persistent and faith-filled prayer, is the most powerful thing in the world.

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