My Lourdes Journey by Rt Revd Dom Alistair Bate OSBA
So, why one may ask did it take 27 years to return to Lourdes. Firstly, my spiritual journey took several circuitous turns away from the Catholic tradition for quite a few years and secondly when I did return to (Old) Catholicism over a decade ago both Walsingham and Rue du Bac, for various reasons, became my first ports of call. It took a move to the continent to live with Mons Bruno, a keen driver, for Lourdes once again to become more accessible. Little could I have imagined 27 years ago that my second visit to Lourdes would be as a happily partnered, “new monastic” Benedictine and Old Catholic bishop!
I find that one of the lovely things about France is the ecumenical atmosphere that now perfades amongst Christians, no doubt due to the pioneering ecumenical work of men like Abbé Paul Couturier and Frerè Roger of Taizé. It really meant alot to Monsignor Bruno and I to be given permission as Old Catholics to celebrate Mass in the Basilica and to those who questioned us we were certainly open about who and what we are. On the other hand it was also very good just to relax as pilgrims amongst other pilgrims and bless sacramentals for the faithful when requested, just like any other priests.
Although we in the Independent Sacramental Movement, network quite well in several languages, our main contacts tend to be those with whom we share a common language and unfortunately as a result we can sometimes miss out on the rich cultural ethos of global Catholicism. Just as with Rome and Jerusalem, Lourdes is a melting pot where one has the opportunity to meet and worship with people of many races and nations. Here, the title of “World Mother” often used by Liberal Catholics when referring to Our Lady makes much sense, as gathered at the Grotto we are all simply her children. I was particularly touched on this pilgrimage to share friendly smiles and greetings with many diverse people, a reminder to me of the words of St Bernadette about the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. She said it was very nice, but her Lady was younger and was always smiling. In Lourdes a spirit of childlike innocence, friendliness and openness to all appears to be given.
Nowhere is the equality of Our Lady’s children more apparent than at the baths, where with candidates stripped to the bare essentials what one might call a "lay priesthood" preside at the ceremony of immersion in the healing waters. The piscine experience defies description but suffice to say it was the highlight of my pilgrimage and the words “cleansing", “purifying”, “invigorating”, and even “re-vivifying” all spring to mind. Whatever the intention of ones pilgrimage, for oneself or others, Mary is indeed full of grace for those with hearts open to receive.
The childlike simplicity, trust and self-surrender of St Bernadette is an example for all pilgrims to Lourdes. Those who approach with cynicism towards the “commercialism” or skepticism towards the apparitions will receive little, but those who are hungry for God will surely be filled with good things, as the Magnificat foretells, “He has filled the hungry with good things but the rich he has sent away empty.”
The primary grace of Lourdes is the strengthening of the faith of each pilgrim. Some are cured of physical and mental ailments, but everyone receives healing, as Our Lady shares in the healing ministry of her Son and echoes his words, “Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Mark 10:52)