Homily of Archbishop Michael at Lourdes


There is a story told of John Newton who was son of an English Sea Captain. He was ten when his mother died and he went to sea with his father. At the age of seventeen he rebelled against his father, left the ship and began hooping it up in a wild life. Eventually took a job on a cargo ship carrying slaves from Africa to America. He became the ship’s captain.

He never gave much thought to whether the slave trade was a moral one, right or wrong, to him it was a way of making money. Then something suddenly happened,

One night a violent storm blew up on the sea. The waves were the size of mountains and they tossed Newton’s ship around like a toy. Everyone was filled with panic. Then Newton did something he hadn’t done since leaving his father’s ship. He prayed “God, if you would only save me, I promise to be your slave forever”. God heard his prayer and he was saved. When Newtown reached land he kept his promise and quitted the slave trade. Later he studied for ministry and was ordained a Pastor of a small church in England. It was there he won fame as a preacher and a composer of hymns.

One of the most moving hymns Newton wrote is the one who praises God for his conversion. These words are familiar.

“Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now I’m found – was blind but now I see….
Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; this grace that brought me safe this far, and this will lead me home”.

When John Newton left his father’s ship, his father was understandably hurt. You can imagine the way he would have prayed that God would keep his son safe. You can identify what happened with the father and with John, the son. The tragic scene, or one like it, repeats itself again and again in home after home. It is not a new phenomenal in modern times. It is as old as the story of the Prodigal Son in Chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel.

But even if sons and daughters don’t leave home physically, they often leave home spiritually. They part company with their parents, with God or with religion and this spiritually parting is even more painful than leaving home physically. Even when this happens parents shouldn’t consider themselves, or their son or daughter as failures. It is unfortunate, but it often takes a storm to discover not just those who love us but also the God who loves us.

Perhaps this is your first pilgrimage to Lourdes or maybe you have come many times over the years. In one way or other each of us has been coping with what one might call the storms of life. It may be the challenge of raising a family in a culture which is very much anti-family. Endeavouring to communicate and instil Christian family values in our children. This as you know as well as I do, is an enormous challenge as our young people are subjected to various influences, some good but some very questionable on social media and other areas. As you come here to Our Lady’s Shrine I know that you carry with you in your heart various concerns, intentions and worries. You worry about the future, about how faith relates to what is happening around us. Many people feel down-hearted, possibly even depressed at some of the things taking place in our country. While the media will focus on these things and highlight them, there is nevertheless so much good happening in our society but it doesn’t get the attention which the celebrity culture commands. Coming to Our Lady’s Shrine in a sense is coming away from the stormy seas of life and entering a quite harbour. Here, without the noise and the din of the contemporary culture we have an opportunity to relax and pray to Our Lady and pour out our cares and concerns, our disappointments and our joys. As a mother, she is already aware of these through her maternal instinct. After all who was the first to notice at Cana that “they have no wine”. I feel confident that she is bringing our message to her Son and maybe saying “they have no joy, they are upset, worried and concerned. They are doing their best but at times wonder where to turn”.

As you look around here at Lourdes you see thousands of pilgrims of all colours, shapes and sizes, from different countries speaking different languages. They are all drawn to Mary and no one knows the intentions they carry in their hearts or what inspired them to come on pilgrimage here. Yet, you can be sure that we have so much in common as we come in search of help, understanding and hope.

We pray that our pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine will enable us to put things in perspective, realising that no matter how rough the storms of life may get, no matter how much we may be tossed about in that storm, we will experience the ‘amazing grace’ that the Lord is with us and in control of the situation.

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