Gestures of Faith in Each Other: The Outstretched Hand of Invite

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Picture Credit: Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes Flickr Account


Chris made his Engagement in May 2017 serving in St Joseph’s. Both by Carmelite thought and the impact of HCPT pilgrimages have developed his faith. Away from Lourdes he a keen runner with a background in the public sector and welfare mentoring
I would like to, if you are agreeable, extend a hand of friendship and share with you and develop a reflection I offered to my Equip on day one of a recent Stage. Our team was growing daily and our tasks in St Joseph’s were as varied and unique as the pilgrims to whom  we offered ourselves in service. This can be a disorienting experience especially with the unknown language barrier of our  service which draws on multiple cultures nationalities,  life paths and faith journeys.

But, I urge you to retain the open door mentality which saw you accept the invite and accept that this is not just a short-term invite nor is it a linear or transactional invite. I prefer to view this as an immersive invite an unconditional invite with few caveats other than to follow her lead in walking alongside pilgrims and sharing of ourselves.

Whilst my reflection tended towards the tasks of St Joseph’s Service it would be remiss to view this as a unique of exclusive faith. It is one that I can see growing in each Stagiere and Hospitalier and within each service.

The layout of the key spaces in the domain signifies the importance and warmth of embrace, with the basilica ramps and Accuiel Notre Dame designed with the Mother’s arms in mind, the shoots of growth seen, particularly in spring, represent the growth we will find if we embrace our role as pilgrim servants.  Indeed the key precept of a Stagiere or Hospitalier is to act out the welcome of the invite afforded by the Gospel and facilitation the restoration promised by the resurrection. Nothing within that remit requires certainty beyond the understanding that we do not act alone.

One of aspects of service that resonates with me more now than previously was the greeting and warm signified by the simplicity of a handshake. An extended arm beckoning us into belonging. Drawing is into an embrace. In the earlier days of my service this was alien, it’s no longer a day-to-day act for many and to some serves only as a greeting. In faith it serves as an act of peace, in at Joseph’s it acts as a fraternal blessing. Whilst the welcome offered may be hindered by some language barriers, it’s an extended hand that truly reveals that there is a warmth in our hearts for each other.

We shake hands, with our team of Stagieres and Hospitaliers at the start and culmination of service. In doing so we enter into a relationship with  each other, one of trust and mutuality. None of us know exactly what each service will bring but accepting the welcome and placing ourselves into the arms of another.

This, for me, evokes the strength of our faith and calling – not in any sense of certainty but in the willingness to step in to the mystery of the what awaits sure only in the understanding that we walk as pilgrims together. Some arrive believing that they are not called to serve, that we have to arrive fully formed. The open outstretched hand, the gesture of assurance and safety removes any notion to them and us – the message that Mary appeared to deliver was the removal of barriers and that we build each other up. The invite into the ‘other world’ of which she spoke involved each one of us to deepen our own trust to further this vision of Kingdom.

Mary in maintaining an open space for encounter did not fill the air with completeness but with hope that relied on the willingness of engagement, to apply faith and to make it available. This did not rely solely on language but on gesture and willingness.  Some of the encounters may have unsettled Bernadette at first but slowly through these meetings a relationship and closeness to grew – a deepening on faith, if you will.

If we fail to enter fully into relationship, however short those moments may be, then we stumble within our vocation. The importance of the outstretched arm the sharing of an arm also ensures that each of us recognises the safety and guidance of their fellow pilgrim, to lift us when we stumble.

So, I have rambled for long enough, I hope to develop my faith and revisit these themes alongside you as time advances. For now, though, if you are approaching your Stage; please be open to the fact you were called invited to serve, understand that your gifts are already known and please outstretch your arm each time you enter into the Mystery of faith through service.

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