Pope Benedict XVI Speaks on God's
Love Passing Through Mary's Heart to Us
Mary's smile, Christ's
presence break the pain of isolation
On Monday, 15 September , the Holy Father took
his leave of the personnel at St. Joseph's Hermitage and was
driven to the Chapel of the Hospital of Lourdes, the fourth and
last stage of the Jubilee Way. The Pope visited the ancient
chapel of the present-day hospital and prayed briefly before the
Blessed Sacrament prior to reading the prayer of the fourth
stage of the pilgrimage.
The Holy Father then went by car to the
Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary where he presided at Holy
Mass with the sick in front of the Basilica. The following is a
translation of the Pope's Homily, which was given in French.
Dear Brothers in the episcopate and the
Dear Friends who are sick, dear Carers and Helpers,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Yesterday we celebrated the Cross of Christ, the
instrument of our salvation, which reveals the mercy of our God
in all its fullness. The Cross is truly the place where God’s
compassion for our world is perfectly manifested.
Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady
of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for
As Saint Bernard declares, the Mother of Christ
entered into the Passion of her Son through her compassion (cf.
Homily for Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption). At
the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her
mother’s heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the
torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as
Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried
over the tortured body of her Son.
Her self-restraint, however, prevents us from
plumbing the depths of her grief; the full extent of her
suffering is merely suggested by the traditional symbol of the
seven swords. As in the case of her Son Jesus, one might say
that she too was led to perfection through this suffering (cf.
Heb 2:10), so as to make her capable of receiving the new
spiritual mission that her Son entrusts to her immediately
before “giving up his spirit” (cf. Jn 19:30): that of
becoming the mother of Christ in his members.
In that hour, through the figure of the beloved
disciple, Jesus presents each of his disciples to his Mother
when he says to her: Behold your Son (cf. Jn 19:26-27).
Today Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of
the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have
been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even
as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The
intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout
history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in
the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the
Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary
loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those
who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to
suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her
children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.
The psalmist, seeing from afar this maternal
bond which unites the Mother of Christ with the people of faith,
prophesies regarding the Virgin Mary that “the richest of the
people … will seek your smile” (Ps 44:13). In this way,
prompted by the inspired word of Scripture, Christians have
always sought the smile of Our Lady, this smile which medieval
artists were able to represent with such marvellous skill and to
show to advantage.
This smile of Mary is for all; but it is
directed quite particularly to those who suffer, so that they
can find comfort and solace therein. To seek Mary’s smile is not
an act of devotional or outmoded sentimentality, but rather the
proper expression of the living and profoundly human
relationship which binds us to her whom Christ gave us as our
Mary's joy, ours too
To wish to contemplate this smile of the Virgin,
does not mean letting oneself be led by an uncontrolled
imagination. Scripture itself discloses it to us through the
lips of Mary when she sings the Magnificat: “My soul glorifies
the Lord, my spirit exults in God my Saviour” (Lk
When the Virgin Mary gives thanks to the Lord,
she calls us to witness. Mary shares, as if by anticipation,
with us, her future children, the joy that dwells in her heart,
so that it can become ours. Every time we recite the Magnificat,
we become witnesses of her smile.
Here in Lourdes, in the course of the apparition
of Wednesday 3 March 1858, Bernadette contemplated this smile of
Mary in a most particular way. It was the first response that
the Beautiful Lady gave to the young visionary who wanted to
know who she was. Before introducing herself, some days later,
as “the Immaculate Conception”, Mary first taught Bernadette to
know her smile, this being the most appropriate point of entry
into the revelation of her mystery.
In the smile of the most eminent of all
creatures, looking down on us, is reflected our dignity as
children of God, that dignity which never abandons the sick
person. This smile, a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is
the source of an invincible hope. Unfortunately we know only too
well: the endurance of suffering can upset life’s most stable
equilibrium; it can shake the firmest foundations of confidence,
and sometimes even leads people to despair of the meaning and
value of life.
There are struggles that we cannot sustain
alone, without the help of divine grace. When speech can no
longer find the right words, the need arises for a loving
presence: we seek then the closeness not only of those who share
the same blood or are linked to us by friendship, but also the
closeness of those who are intimately bound to us by faith. Who
could be more intimate to us than Christ and his holy Mother,
the Immaculate One? More than any others, they are capable of
understanding us and grasping how hard we have to fight against
evil and suffering.
The Letter to the Hebrews says of Christ that he
“is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses; for in every
respect he has been tempted as we are” (cf. Heb 4:15). I
would like to say, humbly, to those who suffer and to those who
struggle and are tempted to turn their backs on life: turn
towards Mary! Within the smile of the Virgin lies mysteriously
hidden the strength to fight against sickness and for life. With
her, equally, is found the grace to accept without fear or
bitterness to leave this world at the hour chosen by God.
How true was the insight of that great French
spiritual writer, Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, who in L’ âme
de tout apostolat, proposed to the devout Christian to gaze
frequently “into the eyes of the Virgin Mary”!
Yes, to seek the smile of the Virgin Mary is not
a pious infantilism, it is the aspiration, as Psalm 44 says, of
those who are “the richest of the people” (verse 13). “The
richest”, that is to say, in the order of faith, those who have
attained the highest degree of spiritual maturity and know
precisely how to acknowledge their weakness and their poverty
Spiritually mature know their weakness,
In the very simple manifestation of tenderness
that we call a smile, we grasp that our sole wealth is the love
God bears us, which passes through the heart of her who became
our Mother. To seek this smile, is first of all to have grasped
the gratuitousness of love; it is also to be able to elicit this
smile through our efforts to live according to the word of her
Beloved Son, just as a child seeks to elicit its mother’s smile
by doing what pleases her. And we know what pleases Mary, thanks
to the words she spoke to the servants at Cana: “Do whatever he
tells you” (cf. Jn 2:5).
Mary’s smile is a spring of living water. “He
who believes in me”, says Jesus, “out of his heart shall flow
rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38). Mary is the one who
believed and, from her womb, rivers of living water have flowed
forth to irrigate human history.
The spring that Mary pointed out to Bernadette
here in Lourdes is the humble sign of this spiritual reality.
From her believing heart, from her maternal heart, flows living
water which purifies and heals. By immersing themselves in the
baths at Lourdes, so many people have discovered and experienced
the gentle maternal love of the Virgin Mary, becoming attached
to her in order to bind themselves more closely to the Lord!
In the liturgical sequence of this feast of Our
Lady of Sorrows, Mary is honoured with the title of Fons
amoris, “fount of love”. From Mary’s heart, there springs up
a gratuitous love which calls forth a response of filial love,
called to ever greater refinement.
Like every mother, and better than every mother,
Mary is the teacher of love. That is why so many sick people
come here to Lourdes, to quench their thirst at the “spring
of love” and to let themselves be led to the sole source of
salvation, her son Jesus the Saviour.
Christ imparts his salvation by means of the
sacraments, and especially in the case of those suffering from
sickness or disability, by means of the grace of the sacrament
of the sick.
For each individual, suffering is always
something alien. It can never be tamed. That is why it is hard
to bear, and harder still —
as certain great witnesses of Christ’s holiness have done
— to welcome it as a
significant element in our vocation, or to accept, as Bernadette
expressed it, to “suffer everything in silence in order to
Welcome Christ's healing presence
To be able to say that, it is necessary to have
travelled a long way already in union with Jesus. Here and now,
though, it is possible to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, as
manifested through the grace of the sacrament of the sick.
Bernadette herself, in the course of a life that was often
marked by sickness, received this sacrament four times.
The grace of this sacrament consists in
welcoming Christ the healer into ourselves. However, Christ is
not a healer in the manner of the world. In order to heal us, he
does not remain outside the suffering that is experienced; he
eases it by coming to dwell within the one stricken by illness,
to bear it and live it with him.
Christ’s presence comes to break the isolation
which pain induces. Man no longer bears his burden alone: as a
suffering member of Christ, he is conformed to Christ in his
self-offering to the Father, and he participates, in him, in the
coming to birth of the new creation.
Without the Lord’s help, the yoke of sickness
and suffering weighs down on us cruelly. By receiving the
sacrament of the sick, we seek to carry no other yoke that that
of Christ, strengthened through his promise to us that his yoke
will be easy to carry and his burden light (cf. Mt
11:30). I invite those who are to receive the sacrament of the
sick during this Mass to enter into a hope of this kind.
The Second Vatican Council presented Mary as the
figure in whom the entire mystery of the Church is typified (cf.
Lumen Gentium, 63-65). Her personal journey outlines the
profile of the Church, which is called to be just as attentive
to those who suffer as she herself was.
I extend an affectionate greeting to those
working in the areas of public health and nursing, as well as
those who, in different ways, in hospitals and other
institutions, are contributing to the care of the sick with
competence and generosity.
Equally, I should like to say to all the
hospitaliers, the brancardiers and the carers who
come from every diocese in France and from further afield, and
who throughout the year attend the sick who come on pilgrimage
to Lourdes, how much their service is appreciated. They are the
arms of the servant Church.
Finally, I wish to encourage those who, in the
name of their faith, receive and visit the sick, especially in
hospital infirmaries, in parishes or, as here, at shrines. May
you always sense in this important and delicate mission the
effective and fraternal support of your communities!
In this regard, I particularly greet and thank
my brothers in the Episcopate, the French Bishops, Bishops and
priests from afar, and all who serve the sick and suffering
throughout the world. Thank you for your ministry close to our
The service of charity that you offer is a
Marian service. Mary entrusts her smile to you, so that you
yourselves may become, in faithfulness to her son, springs of
living water. Whatever you do, you do in the name of the Church,
of which Mary is the purest image. May you carry her smile to
To conclude, I wish to join in the prayer of the
pilgrims and the sick, and to pray with you a passage from the
prayer to Mary that has been proposed for this Jubilee
“Because you are the smile of God, the
reflection of the light of Christ, the dwelling place of the
Because you chose Bernadette in her lowliness,
because you are the morning star, the gate of heaven and the
first creature to experience the resurrection,
Our Lady of Lourdes”, with our brothers and
sisters whose hearts and bodies are in pain, we pray to you!