The pastoral theme and message of our pilgrimage this year are the very words that Mary spoke to Bernadette when she appeared to her on the sixteenth apparition on Thursday 25 March 1858; ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’
The beautiful lady that had appeared to Bernadette finally revealed her name and who she was. As Bernadette herself later said, ‘She lifted her eyes to heaven, joined herhands in prayers, that were held out and open towards the ground and said to me: ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’ Bernadette left the grotto and, running all the way repeated continuously the words she did not understand. These words troubled the parish priest. Young Bernadette did not realise that this name was given to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Four years earlier, Pope Pius IX had declared this a dogma of the Catholic Faith.
When Mary called herself ‘The Immaculate Conception,’ it was not meant as some clever intellectual statement. No, it was meant as a unique opportunity for each of us to encounter and experience Mary as the Mother of Jesus. Mary Immaculate is the woman who is totally open to the action of God in her. She offered no resistance to the transforming power of God’s Spirit working in and through her. Mary’s mission is to share with the world, without any hesitation, the love God has for everyone. We can echo Mary's great prayer, ‘the Lord has done great things for me, holy is his name.’ Whether going to Lourdes or not, we too share in the joy Bernadette experienced; Mary was her Mother, she is the Mother of Church and is our Mother too. The Immaculate Conception is a matter of the heart and prayer; not the head and logic.
In the gospel we recall the Annunciation, Mary is called by name by God for a very special and specific mission; Mary neither looked for nor asked for this great honour and responsibility. God called Mary freely out of love. Mary responded in faith and hope of her own will and said yes to what God asked of her. This echoes the beautiful prayer from the Prophet Isaiah;
Do not be afraid, for I have saved you; I call you by your name you are mine…. You are precious in my eyes; you are honoured and I love you.’ (Is. 43.1,4).
Mary did not say yes just once to God. She said yes everyday of her life; from the moment of the Annunciation to her vigil at the cross. Mary’s daily life was a constant yes to what God asked of her. We too are asked to respond faithfully to God in the small and seemingly unimportant events and experiences of our own daily lives.
The pastoral theme and message of Lourdes this year, “I am the Immaculate Conception” will allow us once again to experience and appreciate it’s meaning of beauty and richness. Through it, we can rediscover God’s plans and love for each us personally.
– Michael Moore OMI