MAY 9, 2012 | The Long Island Catholic VOL. 51, NO. 6 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
Devotion to Mary is at the heart of our Catholic faith. From the Gospels and from the experience of the early Church, we have received and passed on a tradition that is deeply embedded in who we are as disciples of Christ and members of His Body, the Church. Mary, the Mother of God, is of the essence of the Church and without her, we would be like children adrift, without a spiritual mother.
Of the many titles of Mary and the many ways in which she has manifested herself in the life of the Church, her apparitions in the nineteenth century to little Bernadette of Soubirous in France are among the most vibrant and beneficial in the Church of the past almost 200 years. This past weekend I had once again an experience that reinforces that.
Every year the Order of Malta, a worldwide organization of Catholics dedicated to defense of the faith and care for the sick and poor, bring the sick from every country where they are represented to Lourdes for a weekend of prayer and reflection and intercession to Mary who appeared there in the mid-nineteenth century to Bernadette. They do so out of fidelity to their oath to care for the poor and the sick. They do that not for any personal gain or for any other reason except their devotion and commitment to bring to Mary those who are suffering from physical ailments and are in need of experiencing the maternal love of the Mother of God who is the comforter of the sick and the guardian of our faith. And they do this with a joy and an enthusiasm that brings them many personal spiritual benefits that far outweigh any sacrifices, real as they are, which they might have to face.
In the United States there are three “associations” of this Order of Malta which can trace its origins back to the Hospitillars who cared for the sick as far back as the Crusades of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. But on this weekend of May, our three American Associations are part of a worldwide gathering of the Order of Malta in Lourdes when thousands of the sick, called malades, are brought to Mary’s grotto where they are the center of all the efforts of all the pilgrims’ prayers and works for the sick.
This year there were 54 malades from the American Association alone. Each day we had moments of prayer and reflection, of pilgrimage and processions, and, above all, of Mass and devotions that brought us all closer to Mary and, through her, closer to Jesus. Many are the official miracles at Lourdes that are part of public record. Many thousand more are the miracles that are not recorded but which occur whenever men and women of faith come to Mary Immaculate at Lourdes and place themselves before her as her very own children in need of her prayer, her intercession, her loving care.
It would not be appropriate for me to speak too concretely of the malades in our group. Suffice to say there were young children and adults coming from all kinds of backgrounds. At Lourdes, they become quite rightly the center of our attention and the most important persons in this place of prayer, solitude and intercession in the powerful presence of Mary, the comforter of the sick and the hope of all the disciples of her Son. The malades and their caregivers, most often the immediate members of their families, husbands, wives, parents, are always the most important persons at Lourdes. The rest of us rightly are simply those who assist the malades as they come to meet Mary, experience her love, go into the baths, join in procession, share the Eucharist and experience the presence of Mary who identified herself to St. Bernadette with those precious words, I am the Immaculate Conception.
Three public moments stand out for me as emblematic of the weekend. First was the Mass at the Grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette. There all the U.S. pilgrims were one at Mass celebrated by the former Archbishop of San Francisco, Cardinal William Levada. The second was the procession with the Blessed Sacrament, with the adoration and blessing within the underground basilica of St. Pius X when an old friend of mine, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, moved around the Basilica to bless the malades and all the pilgrims with the Eucharistic Lord in the monstrance. The third was the Sunday Eucharist. Cardinal Paolo Sardi, the Patron of the Order of Malta, celebrated Mass and offered a brief homily on the vine and the branches that brought us all more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s ongoing gifts that make us one in His Church and in the love of the Father who tends us in His own vineyard. With a love that is unending.
There were so many moments of grace during this weekend. For me a cause of deep gratitude to God was to experience the active and committed care for the malades on the part of so many members of the Order of Malta from our own Diocese of Rockville Centre. Their generosity and loving care of the sick are a testament to their own commitment but also a witness of the love of God expressed through love of neighbor that so much characterizes all the lay faithful of our diocese.
In the month of Mary join me in praying for all the sick of our diocese. Join me in commending them to the loving care of Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes. Join me in thanking God for all the knights and dames of the Order of Malta, especially those of our diocese who are leaders in spirit and in truth for the good of the Church and the care of the poor and the sick who are the specially beloved of our God and Savior.