To Lourdes with the SMOM

Tomorrow I take off for Lourdes, the shrine in Southern France where...well, if you don’t know that story you’re probably reading the wrong blog. Anyway, let me share one thing before I leave. My hosts for the trip are the Order of Malta, officially called the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, popularly known as the Knights of Malta (though there are many Dames of Malta, too). Their religious charism has long included a special care for the sick, and assisting pilgrims in Lourdes is an important aspect of their history. Anyway, here’s what I want to say. Too often in contemporary Catholicism we leave working with the sick, the poor, the refugees, anyone in need, to the "social justice" types. The delineation seems to be this: The more affluent among us write the checks (which is good) to enable the social-justice types do the one-on-one work with the sick, the poor, and the marginalized (also good). But in Lourdes, with the Knights and Dames, something wonderfully different happens every year: the more well-off, including physicians, lawyers, businesspeople, foundation heads, and so on--do direct service with the sick, and with their companions. The Knights and Dames push carts carrying the sick (called malades over there, in a totally non-pejorative way); bring them cups of water; accompany them to the healing baths there, help them with their coats, their caps, their bags; and attend to all their needs. It is, as the psalmist says, it is "a wonder to our eyes." And while it is fun to spend time overseas, and consoling to pray celebrate Mass in the Grotto and in St. Bernadette’s house, to meet Catholics and Christians from all over the world, and even to pick up a few souvenirs for friends and family at home (Lourdes is the ur-souvenir spot), it’s a real workout! Breakfast at 7 and then for the rest of the day, Masses, processions, blessings, trips, confessions, and so on. "They don’t call you a ’military order’ for nothing!" said one of my Jesuit friends to a Knight. So please pray for all of us this next week as we go to this holy place, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of Mary’s appearances to St. Bernadette, along with the malades and their companions, as we pray for whatever healing God wishes to give. And I will say a prayer for all the readers of this blog and our magazine, too. James Martin, SJ
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