I had the most interesting experience in Lourdes! No, unfortunately I experienced no physical healing; but upon reflection I am truly amazed. You see...I was with about 150 Italian pilgrims, so the entire pilgrimage was in Italian...of which I barely understand a word or two. All the directions, all the prayers, all the Masses...everything was in Italian. Yes, I was with another English-speaking priest and we did find one couple from New York on the pilgrimage with us, too, but other than that...everything was in a language I really didn't understand. To top it all off, we were in France so we were surrounded by French speakers, signs in French, etc. Again, I barely know a word or two of French! So, in effect, I spent three days hearing a lot of talking and reading a lot of signs but not able to understand a word of it. I said, more than once on the pilgrimage, "Huh?"
Well, as it turns out, it was an amazing experience. Words did not get in the way of the experience! In fact, I slowly discovered that not understanding a word of what was usually being said made me really sensitive to the actual experience of what was going on...to enter into the experiences more deeply, one might say. For example, I had the great honor of concelebrating Holy Mass at the Grotto in Lourdes. The main celebrant was an Italian bishop. The entire Mass was in Italian...the readings, the prayers, the bishop's homily...everything. Yet, right behind me was the spring of water that the Blessed Mother had caused to spring from the rocks. I could hear it flowing throughout the whole Mass. I found myself reflecting on the "life-giving" water that flowed from our Lord's most Sacred Heart as He hung upon the cross...the very same action we were "re-experiencing" in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I'm pretty certain that had I been trying to "listen" to all the words, I would never have "listened" so deeply to the experience. It was pretty amazing!
This same thing happened time and again. As we participated in the Eucharistic Procession at the Shrine...again everything was in Italian. Since I couldn't concentrate on the meaning of the words, I could better appreciate the experience. I could better "enter into" the Real Presence of our Lord and the looks on peoples' faces as they gazed upon the monstrance was worth more than a thousand words! Again, during the candlelight Rosary Procession that same evening, I understood very few of the words (the prayers were offered in what must have been 20 or 30 languages...oh how I felt at home when I heard "Zdravas Maria"!!!) but could better appreciate what we were doing.
As most of you know, I have a love for the traditional Latin Mass. How often I hear, "But, Father, we don't understand Latin." Don't get me wrong, words and their meaning are very important...BUT, I think more and more that they really tend to get in the way almost more than they help. Consider how most of our deepest and most meaningful experiences in life find no words that can adequately describe them. It's not the words that matter, it's the experience. I think of this often when I think of the Apostles and our Lord. How little they really understood of what He said (how often we don't really understand!). But, their experience of the Lord is what sent them into the world to proclaim the Good News! I certainly would never advocate that everything we do should be accompanied by words we don't understand...but there are times when our words do not work too well. More and more, I'm feeling that this is so true of Holy Mass where we stand at the foot of the Cross and "experience" our Lord's ineffable Love for us.
Lourdes was truly an amazing experience...for many reasons. But, surely a big part of it was what I "experienced," not what I understood...for ultimately, who can really understand the depth and breadth of such Love? Maybe we need to be much less concerned about the meaning of the words and much more concerned with the meaning of the WORD, our Lord Jesus Christ.