Septuagesima Sunday, February 12, 2017

Evening, 11 February 2017 / Septuagesima Sunday / Church of St John

And all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:4).

The lingering days after Epiphany have expired; the Christmas Cycle is complete—we have, on the other hand, come to Septuagesima Sunday: the trailhead up the mountain of Lent is before us. Our forty-day fast has not yet begun, but rightfully does St Paul exhort us : cúrrite, ut comprehendátis. Run that you might take hold of the prize.

But all athletes need refreshment. We creatures are bound by our own weakness and are not sufficient unto ourselves.—In philosophy, we call that contingency. We are subject to temptation and illness and harm and all manner of arduous trial. But Christ the Master would never bid us run the race, if there were no chance of victory.       

Each year, some 6 million people travel to the small city in the extreme southern part of France. Of those millions, some 350,000 descend into one of the seventeen marble basins filled with flowing water. They do this, seeking to be healed and cleansed in both mind and body. This water is diverted from a little grotto where, on this date, 11th of February 1858, the Immaculate Mother of God appeared for the first time to the young Bernadette Soubirous. Seventeen more meetings would occur; and that place, as many of you know, is Lourdes.

If the way is arduous, we are not without refreshment: “All drink the same supernatural drink,” St Paul tells us. It is not as if our Lady came to St Bernadette—or to the Fatima children—in order to modify the teachings of Christ. That could never be. Rather, she came so as to call us back to those very teachings. She came that springs of water might remind us of the divine refreshment that is continually ours through the grace of Christ. Not content with words alone—beautiful words though they are—she would leave us with a sign, a cool and perpetually flowing sacramental.

Our Lord once reproached the scholars of the law, saying: “‘Woe to you . . . for you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.’”[1] Strangely enough, the Church’s enemies—both within and without—will often repeat these same words, accusing the Church and her ministers of rigidity and pharisaism; saying that the way of life we keep is too much for human beings, too burdensome; that it is ill suited to our modern times; that it is about depriving people of power; that it takes away our liberty and oppresses us. But that is to miss the point entirely, tragically. Would any devout soul honestly say, ultimately, that the Gospel were a burden; an unreasonable weight; an impediment? Does water burden a man dying of thirst in the desert?      

We Catholics are realists; we take signs seriously. When a duly ordained priest takes real bread and real wine, and pronounces the Christ-given words over them, they become real flesh. When that same priest sits in the confessional and receives the real sins of the kneeling penitent, those same sins may be truly absolved. When real men and women face real temptations, the help that comes to them from God is real: we call it grace, and torrents of it are continually pouring from the pierced Heart of Christ. As it were, it courses through the waters of Lourdes and to any of the faithful who are devoted to the Immaculate Virgin who appeared there. Remember the words of St Paul: “And all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”   

Please forgive my being personal for a moment. This priest has never been to Lourdes; and at the moment, he feels no need to. The signs are enough: all that I need—this poor, poor faith—is to imagine the water of Lourdes and to hear the words of St Paul and I am made to realize that it is all real.—Not because I acknowledge it, but because Christ has made it so; and his Mother is here to remind us. The water she left at the grotto of Lourdes is enough to remind us. And therein lies all our refreshment.     

[1] Lk 11:46; RSV.

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