Today we returned to Eastbourne after a week in Lourdes. Neil was a chaplain with HCPT Group 154 and we tagged along. At the start of the week one of the adults on the pilgrimage said how, on her first trip, the chaplain had told her she would go home and want to tell everyone about how wonderful it was, but not be able to find the words to explain it. So, foolishly, I have decided to describe some of the thoughts I have had during our pilgrimage.

One of the first things to strike me was how God gives us what we need in order to find him. I had come to Lourdes with an awareness of God’s generosity, something that had begun somewhere around the last week of Lent. Part of the Aschenbrenner quote came to mind again: “Because his heart has been with an infinity of love for us, the risen Jesus is flooded with joy because his love can be received again.” God’s over-whelming desire is for us to know his love and out of this desire he works with us wherever we are.

For Bernadette, this meant this lively girl was given incredible visions. She also had a family that supported her, a parish priest who listened and a temperament that could deal with all she had to put up with in the years following her encounter in the grotto.

For pilgrims it means being able to go on a journey to holy places. Why have these places at all? Isn’t God now to be worshipped everywhere? He is indeed but again God gives us what he knows we need in order to find him. St Ignatius tells us that God can be found in all things but sometimes we lose God in the every day. There is something about travelling a long distance (and in our case in slightly uncomfortable couchettes) to such a holy place that allows us to re-discover the truth of ‘God in all things’. A new place, surrounded by other pilgrims reminds us of so many things. Even for St Ignatius leaving his home at Loyola and travelling first to Manresa and then all over Europe was significant. Leaving Loyola was a spiritual journey as well as a geographical one.

God knows that sometimes we need a change of scenery to discover new things about ourselves and about him. Lourdes was this kind of experience for me. God used the places itself, the story of Bernadette and my fellow pilgrims to teach me new things.

The pilgrimage was not taken in isolation, spiritually speaking. I went at Easter, after a Lent in which I had become aware of God’s generosity in the giving of himself in the Incarnation, in the Passion and Resurrection. In the Easter vigil the joy of Easter began to bubble up. This was the context of our arrival in Lourdes and our first visit to the grotto. In this place, I became aware of how this generosity is played out in the lives of millions and millions of believers, day after day, through the centuries. God’s love over flows and will not be contained. And he gives us whatever we need to draw closer to him. Holy places, symbols and actions, stories of the saints, the companionship of others; all these things deepen our awareness of God’s love for us and of his never ending generosity.

Oh, do you know what? Chloe was right. I can’t express it in words.