Fr. Bernard Garratt from Warwickshire, England – May 18, 2011
My name is Fr. Bernard. I come from the diocese of Birmingham. That is not Birmingham, Alabama. That is Birmingham in England. My parish is in Warwickshire. As you enter into Warwickshire, you see a sign that says “Welcome to Shakespeare Country.” So if ever you are in England, come to Shakespeare Country.
I asked Father how long the sermon had to be this morning, and he gave me an indication. I will never forget having an African Bishop to preach one day, and he said that he was going to begin by quoting to you an old African proverb. “Those who think by the inch, that speak by the yard, should be kicked by the foot.” (laughter) So I am going to bear that in mind.
I want to begin by telling you a story, a story of the three balloons: Mr. Balloon, Mrs. Balloon and their teenage son, Bobby Balloon. One day they all went out together. Bobby got bored and he was in a mischievous mood. So he stuck a pin in his father and deflated him. He thought that was a good way, so he stuck a pin in his mother and deflated her too. Then seeing the pair of them in such a state, he felt sorry for what he had done, so he stuck a pin in himself as well. When they got home, young Bobby got a real telling off by his dad. “Bobby,” he said, “You should be ashamed of yourself. Your behavior today was an absolute disgrace. You let me down. You let your mother down. And you let yourself down.” (laughter) But you know in a way, each one of us here today is a little bit like Bobby Balloon. Why? Because when we sin, and all of do sin, we let our Heavenly Father down. We let our Blessed Mother down. And of course, we let ourselves down too. That is why we come here to this holy place. Together we all come on a journey, whether it be from Birmingham, Alabama or Birmingham England. Mary has called us home. We come home to where Jesus and Mary are. Mary is standing with the Risen Christ. He is standing with God the Father, pouring out in the Holy Spirit, His love on all of us. Here in Medjugorje, we just stand for awhile and we receive that love. There is a story about a very famous Protestant preacher. He died and went to Heaven. And the Lord Jesus welcomed him. And He said, “It is great to have you here. There is someone here that I want you to meet. May I introduce you to my Mother.” We are all here today because we have met His Mother. We have come to know and love His Mother. In many ways it is She who has introduced us to Her Son.
Let me tell you my own little miracle. I first came to Medjugorje several years ago. Like that Protestant preacher, I came as a non-Catholic. I was for 37 years a minister in the Anglican Church. But I am certain that our Blessed Mother was with me all the while. She wanted more from me. It was here in Medjugorje, some years ago, that She called me closer to Her Son. I felt Her say to me, “Bernard, come closer.” She gave me the grace to become a Catholic priest. Almost while the oil of consecration was still dripping from my hands, I had to come back and say thank you. I have been back every year since. Mary said of this place, “I am happy to be here.” All of us can echo that comment, “we are happy to be here.” But we are more than happy, we are blessed. We are cleansed. We are lifted up in prayer and in peace. Each one of us has a chance of a new beginning in our discipleship of Mary’s Son. We need that renewal so much because our Blessed Mother tells us that we have a wonderful work to do. Not just for ourselves, but for the world, She told us that “I have come because I wish to be with you to convert and reconcile the whole world.”
Here in Medjugorje, we know Her as Gospa, Queen of Peace, but that is just one of Mary’s many titles. I was struck recently when reading some sermons and addresses by our Holy Father Pope Benedict, to see how many of those different titles he uses. He calls Her the Heavenly Mother of priests, the Mother of every vocation. So many priests have found their vocations or had them renewed in this place. I keep hearing from fellow priests whose priesthood has taken on a whole new lease on life after their time here at Medjugorje. He calls Her the Mother of Mercy, Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Trust, the Refuge of Sinners. Mary, says Pope Benedict, is our permanent comfort, and Her joyful love shows us God’s own love for us. Here in Medjugorje, many thousands of pilgrims have answered Her call to the sacrament of pardon. In that great sacrament of peace, Her Son’s priests and his instruments of God’s merciful love for every sinner, and not a single one of us can do without that love, without that forgiveness. Do you know something, by going to Confession, you are ministering to your priests, just as they minister to you. In all these ways, Mary shows us the way to open our hearts and our minds to the power of the Spirit to come and fill our lives. The punctured balloon of our lives can be healed and refilled. Because where Mary is, the breath of the Holy Spirit is there. There is new beginning, and renewal. And where Mary is, there is real self-offering, true Christian Discipleship. So let me end with just a little quote from my patron saint, my namesake, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. He wrote this nine hundred years ago, but it is as true today as when he wrote it.
“Call upon Mary. In danger, distress or doubts, think of Mary. May Her name never be far from your lips or from your heart. If you follow Her, you will not stray. If you pray to Her, you will not despair. If you think of Her, you will not error. If She holds you, you will not fall. If She protects you, you need not fear. And if She guides you, you will not tire. If She is gracious to you, you will surely reach your destination.”
And that destination is, of course, Her Son. And He is Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. And in this Easter season, we can all say Alleluia.