Collette is a Hospitalière with Service St Jean Baptiste (Piscines), she first came to Lourdes as a child with the Catholic Association and made her engagement in May this year. She is currently a doctoral student with a particular interest in human rights, religious freedom and prolife feminism.
I arrived in Lourdes for stage this September two days after the first National Eucharistic Congress to be held in England and Wales in 100 years. I had been unable to attend the Congress due to other commitments but, thanks to the wonders of technology, I had been able to follow chunks of it throughout the weekend. As I boarded the plane to Lourdes I had many images from the Congress in my mind and spent a chunk of time during my stage thinking about the link between the Hospitaller and the Eucharist. A few moments and comments stand out from my Stage in May where I made my engagement and also my stage this month I would like to share:
Engagement Week and the Eucharistic Procession
I work in the baths and have never been able to walk in the Procession on a Thursday with the Hospitalité because we have either not finished our service in good time to go, or if we have then I have usually forgotten to bring a change of clothes for the procession. So, the first time I walked in it was during my Engagement week this May. It was a quite a week in itself, and one I want to save for another blog, but I wondered about the reason for the inclusion of the procession in the engagement week- maybe to parade new recruits to everyone, or perhaps the only way to get us all together for the traditional group photo given our varied service schedules for the week. Yet, as we knelt in silent adoration in the Underground Basilica with the lights dipped except those on the Eucharist, the obvious began to dawn on me. The culmination of our engagement week was quite simply falling on our knees in adoration before our Lord and King. There He was in all His Glory on that podium altar in the Pie X- the one towards whom all our service is directed and the one from whom all our service flows. This is what our commitment to Hospitalité is all about- HIM.
Before Him does our service begin, kneeling in anticipation and expectation of all He desires to do through us during this Stage.
Before Him do we seek to become students in His School of Love, as He teaches us to love as He loves in all the people we meet during our service: both hospitaller and pilgrim.
Before Him do we come to know Him so personally that we begin to see and love His beautiful face in the faces of the pilgrims we serve but most especially the sick, the disadvantaged or in any sort of distress.
Before Him do we learn to be obedient, to hear His voice especially through those in charge of HNDL and to be gracious and generous in doing all that is asked of us by them.
Before Him do we drink deeply from the source of all hospitality, to be strengthened and sustained in all we do during our Stage, particularly during those more difficult or trying moments of our service or as we find we begin to tire as the week progresses.
And before Him do we our service finish, directing all thanks and glory for a stage well done and even for those that were not as well done as we would have we give thanks that this work isn’t about us it is about Him and that is all that matters.
Hospitallers: At The Service of Encounter
Similar thoughts were in my mind as I dashed out of the baths in semi ‘tenue correcte’ for the procession last Thursday. Only this time the thing that caught my attention, was the fact that the very last group to leave directly before the Blessed Sacrament left the Podium Altar in procession to the Pie X was HNDL. Now some could say this was highlighting or celebrating the work HNDL do in Lourdes week in and week out, but whatever the real reason, I thought it actually reveals the essence of our vocation: that in Lourdes, whatever service we do, whatever task is asked of us, we are simply there to enable people to have that personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Walking before Him in procession is a reflection of our ultimate call in Lourdes- to be joyful witnesses to the risen Eucharistic Lord, to announce to the pilgrims the closeness of the Lord to them and to create the space for pilgrims to be able to come to this place and quite simply encounter Him. For me, this is particularly evident in my service at the baths. Last week a lovely Italian woman working with me said ‘our job is to be invisible’ and this was so evident in how she worked during our service together. I heard a real gospel echo of the words of St John the Baptist, patron of our service at the baths, ‘I must decrease so He can increase.’ Just as we go before the Lord in that procession, as sort of modern day John the Baptists, so to are we called to live that in our particular service: to announce His coming, to point people to Him and to let that encounter transform their hearts and minds. In all we do through our service we consciously or even unconsciously create this space for people to be able to encounter Him. They don’t have to worry about how they will get from the airport or train station to their accommodation, they don’t have to worry about what they will eat or where they will sleep if they are staying in one of the Accueils, they don’t need to worry about where to walk, stand, sit or kneel during one of the big liturgies or processions of the Sanctuary, they don’t have to worry about how they will get into the water with their disability if they are coming to the baths- because those worries or concerns are our job. We take care of all these little things and many things not listed here, so they do not need to worry and can focus on the one thing that truly matters: Jesus Christ. How I wish I was more conscious of this calling as I work in the baths and Lourdes, particularly in a service dedicated to the Saint who was the first person to adore the Lord when he leaped for joy in the womb of his mother St Elizabeth when she greeted the pregnant Mary at the Visitation and then went onto become His first herald as the Baptist pointing out ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ to those that came to him. I realised a little more sharply last week through that procession that I am called through Hospitalité to be a herald of the Eucharist, a creator of space for the Lord to do His thing in the hearts of pilgrims and of knowing when to get out the way when my little task is done so that He can do His work. The vocation of a Baptist, or if you will, the vocation of that broomstick St Berndatte spoke of!
Eucharistic Hospitality at Home
Finally, a few years back, a HNDL newsletter underscored the absolutely crucial importance of the Eucharist to our vocation as Hospitaller and I loved this quote from it:
‘…The first person we should be giving hospitality to is Christ himself: the eucharistic hospitality which is the source of all hospitality.’
This quote amazed me- the idea of Jesus being the first person we give hospitality too. How do we intentionally make Him welcome in our hearts and in our lives? What warmth do we show Him? Before we can ‘do’ in Lourdes, or indeed in any area of our life, we must first ‘be’. And that hospitality can take many forms both in Lourdes and at home: maybe an extra Mass in the week, perhaps arriving a little earlier to Mass to spend time before the tabernacle preparing our heart to receive Jesus, or staying later to give thanks for what we have received, or maybe we could commit to a regular time of adoration, popping into an open church during the day and spending a few moments before the tabernacle, or perhaps if we are too busy at times, we can remember the words of St Bernadette who said if you are too busy to visit to a church to adore Jesus at times, then ask your Guardian Angel to visit Jesus for you and give thanks for His presence there.
Those are my thoughts, but perhaps you have different ideas about the link between HNDL and the Eucharist? Or maybe you have had different experiences in Lourdes? Please do share them in the Comms box.