When you look in the mirror what do you see? Is the face that looks back at you one that you recognise? I don’t know about you but when I look in the mirror a great deal of things look back at me. Dotted around the frame of my mirror are a number of cards, photographs and trinkets. There are holy cards, a postcard sent from my nephews on one of their family holidays, business cards and one very special bookmark. On this bookmark are the photographs of my maternal grandparents. My four grandparents were truly wonderful people and each of them, in their own wee way, taught me important lessons for life. More importantly than that they extended their love to me and each of their grandchildren in miraculous ways that only grandparents can. One of the greatest gifts they gave to me was an invitation to be a part of a remarkable journey to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes whose feast day we celebrate today, February 11th.
Now normally, I don’t write because I hope lots of people will read what I have written. I write because I write and I love to write because I love to write. However, today I hope a great many people will read the words which follow and will take them to heart.
Tonight after I got home from work I began to watch a movie which I had always planned to watch but had never got around to. The movie is 50/50 and is the story of a young man (not much younger than I) who finds out that he has an advanced form of cancer which has taken hold of his spine. The story tells of how he deals with his treatments and the question of whether he will live or die is constantly hanging in the air throughout the film like some sort of sickening sword of Damacles. For anyone who has not seen the film I shall not spoil the ending but rather implore that you watch this film which celebrates the raw beauty of life. The real miracle of this story is found in the people who surround the man Adam. We are given the lives of his best friend who in his own way has Adam’s best interests at heart, the life of his mother and father who are coping with struggles of their own, the young doctor who must walk alongside Adam and his girlfriend. Each of the characters in the film exemplify the lives of many people in the world today who are living with the many struggles cancer and other illnesses present. As I watched the film I began asking myself, where do I see myself in this film? Who do I identify with the most? The answer startled me. The answer was Adam.
I am fortunate in that I am not living with any illness, thank God. In fact I am remarkably healthy and am incredibly blessed in that I have never had to make an extended stay in hospital. I don’t even think I’ve ever broken a bone. However the reason why I identified with Adam was because it is not until near the end of the film that Adam recognises the importance of the people who surround him and how the illness he is living with is also impacting on their lives. Every one of the characters in this film are just trying their best to endure this awful sickness. Suddenly Adam shakes free of the boundaries and constraints he has placed on himself previously. Things don’t necessarily have to be a certain way…we are each of us free to make the best – or worst – of whatever situations we find ourselves in throughout our life. It’s a 50/50 choice essentially. In my own life I have made such choices.
One of these was my response to the invitation made to travel to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. This response was made thirteen years ago. Lourdes is a remarkable place. Every year when I make the pilgrimage it never fails to amaze me the many people who make the pilgrimage who are living with an affliction of the body or the mind. Every one who makes this pilgrimage does so with their own intentions and aspirations. While there have been – and continue to be – many documented stories of miracles taking place in this wonderfully holy place the real message of Lourdes is not (to my mind) merely the ending of physical sickness. Rather the message of Lourdes is penance and the reflecting of the glory of God. While in Lourdes the sick and infirm will be afforded the highest honour and the inherent dignity of every person will be recognised.
I continue to make this journey every year as a member of the Brancardiers within the diocese of Down and Connor (to find out more detail about what this entails please read my blog post attached here: https://dominicoreilly25.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/to-mercy-through-pain/ )and every year I cannot help but feel I have received more than I have given to those I have met on the pilgrimage. It is very strange. Perhaps this is why I identify with Adam in the above film…because I do not see the impact my life has on the lives of others. Here’s the important thing though: just because I am not ill does not mean I do need the message of Lourdes any less than any one else. Lourdes is for all. I suffer in my own ways on a daily basis. One of the ways I suffer is through a general unknowing of where I belong in the world. Yet every year when I return to Lourdes and sit at the Grotto of Massabielle I feel that still small voice in my heart remind me: whatever else happens, you are welcome here. You are needed here. Maybe that should be enough for me.
Truly Lourdes is a place in which miracles are born. I say born because what I find so miraculous is that when we on this diocesan team return home the importance of that week in Lourdes journeys with us and our work as Brancardiers, Handmaidens, Doctors, Nurses, Choir, Clergy, Youth Team and more continues as we walk alongside all those we meet on a daily basis. Each of us has our own job to do and our own role to fulfil and sometimes it doesn’t plan out the way we had hoped or the way we necessarily want…but we still have that 50/50 choice. We can at least make the best – or the worst – of our given experience. You can too. You can be the reason why someone smiles today. Please be that reason. You may not ever know just how important you were to that person at that particular time but they do. Be the miracle.
Each of us may get the 50/50 choice in life but we only get one chance at life. It is here and it is now. You – whoever you are and wherever you are – have the chance to make it a good one. It is actually remarkably easy but you are yourself a wonderful creation. Just be yourself.