Fr King finds mercy in a merciless world
Fr Nicholas King SJ has recently returned from Lourdes where he was the retreat director and Chaplain for the Sick for the Diocese of Clifton’s Pilgrimage. Fr Nick was born and brought up in Bath, which is in the diocese, and has earned a reputation over the years for his translations of scripture, as well as his preaching. The Jesuits administered the Church of St Mary on the Quay in Bristol, at the heart of the Diocese of Clifton, between 1857 and 1996.
More than 70 pilgrims took part in the diocese’s Lourdes Pilgrimage this year, with many travelling by coach and the Jumbulance, whilst others flew. Fr Nick preached at services and liturgies throughout the week, often reflecting on the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“The pastoral theme in Lourdes this year takes up the theme of Mercy, following the inspiring lead of Pope Francis,” he explains. “Normally when authority, including church authority, declares a year of this, or a week of that, or a day of the other, we take absolutely no notice; but this one has worked, for some reason. This is possibly because we live in a thoroughly merciless world (just look at what the newspapers are saying today about politicians or footballers) and we long for that divine quality of compassion. So I think that the Pope is onto something here; and once you start to look for mercy in the Bible, you find it is absolutely everywhere. So God is of the same view.”
The people God singles out for love
The Gathering Mass was held at St Bernadette’s Church and in the first of his homilies, Fr Nick addressed the Assisted Pilgrims whose helpers were anointed after the Mass. He described the sick pilgrims as “the most important people here in Lourdes”, many of whom had travelled thousands of miles to be there. “You, I have to say, are the ones who this world regards as a waste of space. It’s you who are captives, who are broken-hearted, who mourn … This week, we are making you, the Assisted Pilgrims, the focus of our attention, because that is what God wants.”
Fr Nick went on to remind the pilgrims that Lourdes is in the mountains – not dissimilar to the area in which Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. “You have climbed a mountain of one sort or another in order to be here,” he said, explaining that those described by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel include the meek, the poor in spirit, the persecuted and the merciful. “These are the people – like you, our Assisted Pilgrims – whom God singles out for love; the people who are at the bottom of the pile, like those refugees and immigrants that Pope Francis is asking us to open our hearts and our homes to.”
The Door of Mercy
As he concluded his first homily, Fr Nick described Lourdes as a place where everything is turned upside down: “We get a glimpse into the extraordinary mystery of God,” he said, “and of the people who really matter to God. God – in the words of this year’s slogan – is merciful like the Father.”
On the second day of their pilgrimage, all the pilgrims were led by the bishops, including Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, and the clergy into the Grotto, where Fr Nick preached again, before the group headed for the Door of Mercy, just inside St Michael’s Gate. He also delivered homilies at the International Mass in the St Pius X Basilica, at the Liturgy with the anointing of the sick which took place in St Bernadette’s Church and at the Thanksgiving Mass.
All of the homilies given by Fr Nicholas King SJ during the Diocese of Clifton’s Lourdes Pilgrimage 2016 are available on Soundcloud. The website also includes conversations with many of the pilgrims, as well as further homilies, photos and highlights from the visit to Lourdes.