Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Finding Love - Inside Lourdes

On Monday, just before the evening's torchlight procession, I escaped on a solitary mission to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel on the far side of the domain. I felt as though I was going against the status quo a little because the Dominicans had kindly organized exposition at the hotel, but I wanted privacy. It was selfish, but in a way I wanted a chapel all to myself!

The domain was crowded. I had to weave my way through thousands of tightly packed pilgrims to get to my destination. Walking across the bridge over the Gave the noise was intense as people from all around the world announced their presence, shouting and singing through loud speakers. There were people everywhere laughing, singing, talking, arguing, praying. I hurried on, driven by a mission to be alone and have some space.

The far side of the grotto, the meadow, is often quieter than the rest of the domain. Walking through the door of the chapel was a moment of transformation. There was stillness and quiet. I could still hear the cries of greeting outside, and the choruses of Ave Maria as the procession got underway. Inside though was cocoon of quiet. There was only one other pilgrim, and he was gently snoring with his head on the bench in front.

I had come with an agenda. I wanted to properly prepare my confession for Wednesday. I knew there would be gravity to this reflection, but I was determined. I had not been to confession in ages. To be honest it makes me nervous and, although I admit that the words of absolution are the most powerful I have ever heard, I still manage to avoid them most of the year around. Coming to the Eucharist with a preset agenda is always a very bad idea. 

Every time I looked towards the altar I was knocked back with a sensation of love. This annoyed me. It was frustrating and not what I had planned. I tried to think about the numerous ways I thought I had offended God in my attitude and ways, but I could not concentrate. In the end I had to give up and pray about love instead.

I thought about how lucky I am never to have felt unloved. It was clear to me that I was surrounded by people who struggled day by day to believe that they were loveable. Love for me has always been unconditional, given and received. No matter what I did in life my family would look out for me. Even on the pilgrimage there were people I would rely on to love me no matter what I did, even it was the most stupid thing in the world. This was not a reflection about wishy washy soft love. It was love that seeks the happiness of others before it looks to the needs of self; love demanding of the greatest sacrifices. I would give everything to the people I love, and I would hold everything back. Knowing that you are loved gives you freedom to make all sorts of mistakes. There is always the option of starting again. I am happy for the people I love to lose their temper with me, and I am happy to lose my temper with them because I am confident that neither party intends any lasting damage. Love doesn't hold grudges.

All this musing brought me to think about judgement, and the sadness which I sometimes recognize in others. People are afraid of the judgement of God - I have known people to have more faith in that than in his love. This can be an isolating experience. I am not sure I have ever been afraid of God's judgement. This is not because I am perfect, I am in fact, quite the opposite. But God cannot be wrong, and therefore judgment can be nothing but liberating. It makes me sad to think of people who worry so much that God is angry that they cannot see love. God is never angry outside of love. The judgement of God is not the reason I rarely make it to confession. I just do not like embarrassing situations and have a lot of pride. 

I am not sure this all makes sense and I am certain that there is no conclusion here. But, that is what I thought. And, when I had thought it I went home feeling loved and lucky.

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