In early May, Order of Malta associations from around the world gathered once again on pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes. We saw old friends among the Lourdes veterans, made new ones among the many first-timers, and marveled at how the thousands of knights and dames blended seamlessly to live the Prayer of the Order.
“Lord Jesus, Thou has seen fit to enlist me for Thy service . . .”
Mary summoned us. We felt the call and yearned to be there—that small village in the French Pyrenees where Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette 18 times in 1858. After a three-year pause while our world struggled with COVID-19, we once again were able to answer that call. As in prior years, we began our preparations by praying the Lourdes novena asking God for the grace to serve our beloved malades through Mary’s intercession. We received our team assignments and, as team leaders, we called each pilgrim and sent out schedules and information and protocols to set up each team member for success. At Baltimore-Washington International Airport we met our malades and companions, chaplains and doctors and other team members, matching faces with the voices from our calls and steering our excited pilgrims onto the plane.
“. . . faithful to the traditions of our Order”
As always, we opened the pilgrimage with the Rosary on the airplane. Upon arrival in Lourdes, we changed into our traditional service uniforms. The world around our malades and companions changed to a sea of black, red, and white. Our uniforms created an atmosphere of trust for our malades and an attitude of service for our confreres.
“Be it mine to practice charity toward my neighbors, especially the Poor and the Sick”
Love abounds in Lourdes. We are faithful to charity in ways we never consider at home. We serve everyone in Lourdes, reaching out to anyone we meet with a glancing smile, an outstretched hand or a listening ear. Most especially, we serve our malades and companions who bring their hopes and fears to lay at the feet of Our Lady. We pray with them, laugh with them, cry with them. Our service is the Gospel message in action.
“Give me the strength I need . . .”
Challenges abounded in Lourdes, perhaps this year more than most because of the “rust.” Although the days were long and the schedules sometimes rigorous, we called upon Mary our Mother for stamina. One of the miracles of Lourdes is the ability to accomplish for others in ways we ordinarily would not be able to do.
“. . . forgetful of myself . . .”
In Lourdes, professions, accomplishments, and other characteristics seemingly so important in our other lives disappeared as we forgot ourselves and united in service of our malades. The outside world faded away and only this most important task stayed acutely in focus. We felt the answered prayer of service to those who cannot return the favors. We shut out our needs so that we might become a significant part of serving the needs of others.
“. . . striving ever to promote God’s glory . . .”
Mary always leads us to her Son. In her presence, we did as she instructed – pray, do penance, process, wash. Prayer was everywhere in Lourdes—Mass each day, Stations of the Cross, confessions, anointings. Penance was everywhere, too. Tired bodies, sore feet, interesting food and, most important: service, service, service. We processed everywhere in long lines of voitures, but especially in the candlelit Rosary procession. And, finally, the baths. A bit different this year, but we washed with the Lourdes water in much the same way St. Bernadette did when Mary instructed her. We felt even closer to the miracle that is Lourdes.
“. . . promoting the world’s peace . . .”
We shared our week in Lourdes with thousands of knights and dames from around the world, all there to experience the same immersion in faith, hope, joy, love, and peace. We watched as hearts that were heavily burdened seemed lighter. As we served, we felt God’s presence in all around us. This is peace.
At the end, our uniforms packed away, the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary recited on the plane told our story. We were somehow “resurrected” from the mundane burdens of our daily lives. We “ascended” to new heights in our faith as the “Holy Spirit descended” upon us. Our Lady of Lourdes is “Queen of Heaven and Earth.” There is no greater joy than following her path to Jesus. And the memories are eternal.