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.
As I finished my 4th year of stage last year, my heart was left pondering about how I could prepare my heart to make my engagement the following year. I made an additional commitment to try and pray the rosary daily and as with every year, and I continued to be involved in works of evangelisation. Arriving home at the end of service for 2018, a year in which I was blessed to visit 3 times and also to make my engagement (lifelong commitment to HNDL) I had a similar but new set of questions. For part of the engagement ceremony you make a promise before the Lord, before the Church and your fellow Hospitaliers to be:
‘…attentive to the needs of all in need, in my home environment, as I do here in Lourdes.’
and as we receive our medal, a declaration of our commitment to serve, we are invited
‘to look at this medal regularly, so that you will be reminded of the demands places on us to be available to all our brothers and sisters, and particularly the sick, disabled or those in difficulty.’
And these promises, are not just for Lourdes. These are promises I have made before the Lord and demand a response from me in my daily life. How does the vocation of Hospitalier take root, grow and flourish in my daily life outside of Lourdes? Speaking for myself and a number of women I have worked alongside in the baths, who have busy and demanding day jobs, this can be a challenge in and of itself. One way I have tried to honour this promise is indirectly through my academic work. There have been pieces I have worked on linked to the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of life and whilst having no direct contact with those in need, the impact of this work has the potential to directly impact the lives of the sick, disabled and vulnerable through policy making and other channels. For me having sight of this bigger picture motivates me in this, at times, tedious and isolating work, but it is also pressing given the world in which we live prizes the perfect and the useful, and through means such as selective abortion or euthanasia, seeks to do a way with the most vulnerable in our society, the very ones who have pride of place in Lourdes.
In a more practical way though, two events have presented themselves the last month which have challenged me to be more hospitable in my local community as I settle back into daily life outside of Lourdes:
Blessed is She Brunch
Before heading to Lourdes this month, I hosted a Blessed is She Brunch in Nottingham for Catholic women of all ages, vocations and states of life. Rather selfishly I put the event on in hope of finding likeminded catholic women to network with and opened my apartment, thinking 4-5 women would turn up. Well in the end 27 woman plus 3 babies arrived on the day and the energy was buzzing as we gathered to eat, share life and share faith. For a Hospitalier, actual hospitality is so not my gift but I can organise things and the beauty of this event was everyone brings along some food. We had food in abundance, flowers, candles, nametags and a number of other little details which made the event a beautiful place where women could relax and share what is on their heart. The sharing was rich, I personally received so much and it was a gift to be with other Catholic women who were striving to grow as followers of Jesus, to live the gospel in their daily lives and who had the same desire to meet other like minded Catholics! All of this on my doorstep. I was overwhelmed with the entire event, it was such a joy to host, with us simply welcoming each other in a spirit of hospitality- and this reciprocal hospitality blessed each of us in ways we didn’t know we needed. The simple act of being welcomed, being accepted, being listened to, being heard, being ministered too by one another in community is deeply rewarding, fulfilling and even healing.
Then this last week, I went onto the streets of Nottingham with a friend, 3 seminarians and a priest to simply give testimony and meet people to share the Gospel. Over about 3 hours we handed out 500 rosaries to passers by and this simple gesture ‘Would you like a rosary?’ opened up many beautiful conversations and encounters with people on the streets which enabled us to pray with people, preach the truth of God’s love and their identity as His beloved children to them and just to assure them of the closeness of the Lord in their life, no matter how far they felt from Him or the Church. I have to confess, it has been about 2/3 years since I have done any sort of street evangelisation like this and I was very nervous about stepping out to speak with people. The first encounter changed that, as I listened to a person pour out the great difficulties they were experiencing in their life and we had the opportunity to pray that the Lord would send His peace into this person’s heart and life. I had a sense of being back in the baths doing the ‘chemise’ on the top step of the water, holding the pilgrim as she offers her intentions to Our Lady and sharing with her in that moment all her pain, sorrow and all that was on her heart. This was a different location, there was no water to bathe in but the same call. To step out in faith, to stand alongside people and hear their stories and then to bathe them in the light, love and peace of the Gospel via our words to them and more importantly through the prayers we prayed with them. I stalled a little stepping out to meet the next person, but then a hard truth hit me: look at the great need of the person you just meet, why wear that HNDL medal if you can talk the talk in Lourdes but can’t walk the walk at home with people who clearly need to hear the gospel message? So I prayed to Our Lady to claim the grace of that promise I made to HNDL back in May and for the courage to step out. We met many people in 3 hours- people hurting, broken, desiring conversion, requests for baptisms, tied up in all sorts of physical or emotional bondage, prisoner to past hurts or actual former prisoners now trying to put their lives back together post-release, healing on the streets of Nottingham and miracles before our eyes. The number of coincidences was freaky but we knew the Lord was blessing our mission and that He wanted the people we had encountered to experience his love. And as I said in my previous post on Eucharistic Hospitality, we are just heralds and facilitators of an encounter with Jesus Christ for the people we meet in Lourdes and also on the streets of Nottingham.
Reflecting on my career and both of those events: reaching out to women inside the church and then reaching out to those on the streets- it underlined the desire we each have to be recognised and to be welcomed and from this place of hospitality our hearts our opened to the possibility of greater things- the truth of the Gospel and the adventure of following Jesus together. In what ways do you live your hospitalier vocation at home? Is it through your career, how you use your spare time, in your family or the communities you are involved in? How do you create spaces of welcome in your daily life and community?