VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The lesson many learn when they visit the Marian shrine in Lourdes, which is a school of faith, hope and charity, is that true love implies suffering, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope said this today at the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall when he gave summarized his trip last weekend to Paris and Lourdes. His Sept. 12-15 trip took place in the context of the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.
The Holy Father remarked that it was a “happy coincidence” that his visit to Lourdes coincided with the liturgical memorial of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. He explained that Mary’s first gesture upon appearing to Bernadette in the Grotto of Massabielle was to make the Sign of the Cross.
The entire message of Lourdes, the Pontiff said, can be found in that first gesture of Our Lady: “[She] gave a first initiation on the essence of Christianity: The Sign of the Cross is the height of our faith, and doing it with an attentive heart we enter into the full mystery of our salvation.”
“In Lourdes, in the school of Mary, first and perfect disciple of Christ, pilgrims learn to regard the crosses of their lives in the light of the glorious cross of Christ,” he said. “God has so loved us that he gave himself up for us: This is the message of the Cross, ‘mystery of death and of glory.'”
“The cross reminds us that there is no true love without suffering, there is no gift of life without pain,” Benedict XVI continued. “Many learn this truth in Lourdes, which is a school of faith and hope, because it is also a school of charity and of service to brothers.”
In Lourdes the Pope visited all the stages of the Jubilee Way: the parish church where Bernadette was baptized, the abandoned prison known as the “Cachot” where the Soubirous family lived, the grotto of the apparitions and hospital oratory where Bernadette made her first Communion.
The Pontiff celebrated two Masses in Lourdes. Some 190,000 pilgrims attended the Sunday Mass in the prairie that marked the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions. Some 70,000 people participated in Monday’s Mass for the sick at Rosary Square, during which he said he “meditated on the tears Mary shed under the cross, and on her smile that illuminates Easter morning.”
“Lourdes is truly a place of light, prayer, hope and conversion, founded on the rock of the love of God, which had its culminating revelation in the glorious cross of Christ,” the Holy Father said.
Benedict XVI described the Eucharistic procession he presided over on Saturday night as “very moving.” He said the silence of the thousands of people that accompanied him was “not an empty silence, but one full of prayer and awareness of the Lord’s presence, who loved us to the point of being lifted up on the cross for us.”
“In Lourdes,” the Holy Father reflected, “the Holy Virgin invites all to regard earth as a place of pilgrimage toward our final homeland, which is heaven. In reality, we are all pilgrims, we need Mary to guide us; and in Lourdes, her smile invites us to go forward with great confidence in the awareness that God is good, God is love.”
Politics and culture
The Pope reflected as well on his visit to Paris on Friday and Saturday, during which he addressed political, cultural and religious leaders, as well as a gathering of youth in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
He commented on the address he delivered upon arriving to the French capital to political leaders at the Élysée Palace: “It is interesting that, precisely in this context, the need matured of a healthy distinction between the political and religious spheres, according to Jesus’ famous saying: ‘Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’
“If the effigy of Caesar was imprinted on Roman coins, then imprinted on the heart of man must be the mark of the Creator, only Lord of our life.
“Genuine secularism, therefore, is not to do without the spiritual dimension, but to acknowledge that precisely the latter is, radically, the guarantor of our liberty and of the autonomy of earthly realities, thanks to the dictates of creative Wisdom that the human conscience is able to receive and fulfill.”
Commenting on his address to the world of culture, the Pontiff said his address at the Collège des Bernardins began with “a reflection on monasticism, whose objective was to seek God, ‘quaerere Deum.'”
“In an age of profound crisis of the ancient civilization,” Benedict XVI continued, “the monks, guided by the light of faith, chose the ‘via maestra’: the way of listening to the word of God. They were, therefore, the great cultivators of sacred Scripture, and monasteries became schools of wisdom and schools of ‘dominici servitii, ‘of the service of the Lord,’ as St. Benedict called them.”
The Pope said the search for God led the monks to learning and knowledge “that made the formation of culture possible.” He added that even today the search for God continues to be the “foundation of all true culture.”
He said he urged priests, deacons, men and women religious and seminarians “who had come from all parts of France, to give priority to the religious listening of the divine word, looking at the Virgin Mary as sublime model.”
And later, in an address to the youth gathered in front of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, the Pontiff said he gave the young people “two treasures of the Christian faith: the Holy Spirit and the cross.”
“The Spirit opens human intelligence to horizons that surpass it and makes it understand the beauty and truth of God’s love revealed, in fact, on the cross,” the Holy Father explained. “A love of which no one will be able to separate us, and that is experienced by giving one’s life as Christ did.”
On Saturday, after visiting the Institut de France, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass at the Esplanade des Invalides. “Echoing the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, I invited the faithful of Paris and the whole of France to seek the living God, who has shown us his true face in Jesus present in the Eucharist, encouraging us to love our brothers as He has loved us.”