On the Message of Lourdes

Author: Pope Benedict XVI


On the Message of Lourdes

"There Is No True Love Without Suffering"


Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience held in the Paul VI Hall, during which he evaluated his Sept. 12-15 apostolic trip to Paris and Lourdes.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today's meeting gives me the opportunity to review again the moments of the pastoral visit that I made in recent days to France; a visit that culminated with the pilgrimage to Lourdes on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Virgin's apparitions to St. Bernadette. While giving fervent thanks to the Lord, who granted me such a providential possibility, I again express my sincere gratitude to the archbishop of Paris, to the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, to the respective collaborators and to all those who in different ways cooperated in the success of my pilgrimage. I also cordially thank the president of the republic and the other authorities who welcomed me so courteously.
The visit began in Paris, where, ideally, I met with all the French people, thus honoring a beloved nation in which the Church, since the 2nd century, has played a fundamental civilizing role. It is interesting that, precisely in this context, the need matured of a healthy distinction between the political and religious spheres, according to Jesus' famous saying: "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17).

If the effigy of Caesar was imprinted on Roman coins, then imprinted on the heart of man must be the mark of the Creator, only Lord of our life. Genuine secularism, therefore, is not to do without the spiritual dimension, but to acknowledge that precisely the latter is, radically, the guarantor of our liberty and of the autonomy of earthly realities, thanks to the dictates of creative Wisdom that the human conscience is able to receive and fulfill.
Framed in this perspective is the extensive reflection on the topic "The Origins of Western Theology and the Roots of European Culture," which I developed in the meeting with the world of culture, in a place chosen for its symbolic value. It was held at the Collège des Bernardins, which deceased Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger wished to re-establish as a center of cultural dialogue, a 12th century building built by the Cistercians, where young people have studied. The monastic theology that gave origin to our Western culture is present there.

The starting point of my address was a reflection on monasticism, whose objective was to seek God, "quaerere Deum." In an age of profound crisis of the ancient civilization, the monks, guided by the light of faith, chose the "via maestra": the way of listening to the word of God. They were, therefore, the great cultivators of sacred Scripture, and monasteries became schools of wisdom and schools of "dominici servitii," "of the service of the Lord," as St. Benedict called them.

The search for God led the monks, by its nature, to a culture of the word. "Quaerere Deum," to seek God, they searched in the furrow of the word and they were to know, in ever greater depth, this word. It was necessary to penetrate the secret of language, to understand its structure. In seeking God, who has revealed himself in sacred Scripture, of great importance were the profane sciences, in order to go deeper into the secret of languages. As a consequence, that "eruditio" was developed in monasteries that made possible the formation of culture. Precisely because of this, "quaerere Deum" — to seek God, to be on the way to God — continues to be today as yesterday the "via maestra" and foundation of all true culture.
Architecture is also an artistic expression of the search for God, and undoubtedly the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris is an example of universal value. Inside this magnificent church, where I had the joy to preside over the celebration of vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I exhorted the priests, deacons, men and women religious and seminarians who had come from all parts of France, to give priority to the religious listening of the divine word, looking at the Virgin Mary as sublime model.

Later, in the portico of Notre Dame, I greeted numerous and enthusiastic young people. To them, who were about to begin a long vigil of prayer, I gave two treasures of the Christian faith: the Holy Spirit and the cross. The Spirit opens human intelligence to horizons that surpass it and makes it understand the beauty and truth of God's love revealed, in fact, on the cross. A love of which no one will be able to separate us, and that is experienced by giving one's life as Christ did. After a brief stopover at the Institut de France, headquarters of the five national academies, my being a member of one of them, enabled me to see with great joy my colleagues.

Afterward, my visit culminated with the Eucharistic celebration at the Esplanade des Invalides. Echoing the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, I invited the faithful of Paris and the whole of France to seek the living God, who has shown us his true face in Jesus present in the Eucharist, encouraging us to love our brothers as He has loved us.
Then I went to Lourdes, where I was able to join thousands of faithful on the Jubilee Way, which includes the places of St. Bernadette's life: the parish church with the baptismal font where she was baptized; the "cachot" where she lived in great poverty as a girl; the Massabielle Grotto, where the Virgin appeared to her 18 times. In the afternoon I took part in the traditional torchlight procession, which is a wonderful manifestation of faith in God and of devotion to his and our Mother. Lourdes is truly a place of light, prayer, hope and conversion, founded on the rock of the love of God, which had its culminating revelation in the glorious cross of Christ.
By a happy coincidence, last Sunday the liturgy celebrated the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, sign of hope par excellence, because it is the highest testimony of love. In Lourdes, in the school of Mary, first and perfect disciple of Christ, pilgrims learn to regard the crosses of their lives in the light of the glorious cross of Christ. Appearing to Bernadette, in the Grotto of Massabielle, Mary's first gesture was, in fact, the Sign of the Cross, though her hand was trembling.

And so the Virgin gave a first initiation on the essence of Christianity: The Sign of the Cross is the height of our faith, and doing it with an attentive heart we enter into the full mystery of our salvation. The whole message of Lourdes is contained in this gesture of the Virgin! God has so loved us that he gave himself up for us: This is the message of the Cross, "mystery of death and of glory."

The cross reminds us that there is no true love without suffering, there is no gift of life without pain. Many learn this truth in Lourdes, which is a school of faith and hope, because it is also a school of charity and of service to brothers. It is in this context of faith and prayer where the important meeting with the French episcopate took place: It was a moment of intense spiritual communion, in which together we entrusted to the Virgin our common hopes and pastoral concerns.
The next stage was the Eucharistic procession with thousands of faithful, among whom, as usual, were many sick people. Before the most Blessed Sacrament, our spiritual communion with Mary was made even more intense and profound because God gives us eyes and hearts capable of contemplating his Divine Son in the Holy Eucharist. Very moving was the silence of these thousands of people before the Lord, not an empty silence, but one full of prayer and awareness of the Lord's presence, who loved us to the point of being lifted up on the cross for us.

Monday, Sept. 15, liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, was dedicated especially to the sick. After a brief visit to the hospital oratory, where Bernadette received her first Communion, I presided over the celebration of Holy Mass in the portico of the Basilica of the rosary, during which I administered the sacrament of anointing of the sick. With the sick and with those taking care of them, I meditated on the tears Mary shed under the cross, and on her smile that illuminates Easter morning.
Dear brothers and sisters, together we thank the Lord for this apostolic journey enriched by so many spiritual gifts. We praise him especially because Mary, by appearing to St. Bernadette, has opened to the world a privileged place to find divine love that heals and saves. In Lourdes, the Holy Virgin invites all to regard earth as a place of pilgrimage toward our final homeland, which is heaven. In reality, we are all pilgrims, we need Mary to guide us; and in Lourdes, her smile invites us to go forward with great confidence in the awareness that God is good, God is love.

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