I’m sure we can all remember our first pilgrimage to Walsingham. For me, being an Anglican at the time, it was my first encounter with Marian devotion and it had an enormous impact on me. Few people will come away from Walsingham untouched by the experience, and if you go and visit at the right time when it’s nice and quiet, you can come away with the impression that the place has indeed been touched by God. As a shrine it doesn’t rank anywhere near Lourdes or Fatima, but it has been sanctified by the prayers of countless pilgrims who have travelled to Walsingham since the 12th century to ask Our Lady’s intercession.
When we go on pilgrimage, we each go with our own particular needs and intentions. We know and we believe that when God draws near to us in our need, He makes all things new, He makes things fresh again. In Jesus Christ, the Word of God became flesh, and as the fruit of Mary’s womb he constantly brings us new life.
When we think of Our Lady we remember all she has meant in the life of the Church for 2000 years. We remember the countless billions who have prayed to her, asking her to be close to the fruit of her womb, Jesus. But we live today, and we pray in the Hail Mary, ‘Pray for us now’. Now is the present moment in the pilgrimage of our lives when we must carry on, we must persevere, and we must continue the journey to the Kingdom of God. It is now that we need Our Lady’s prayers.
When we go on pilgrimage to Walsingham we pray for our country, because for over 800 years Walsingham has been the Shrine for the Christian people of England. We pray for our country, that it may become fresh and fruitful in the knowledge of God and of His Kingdom. We pray too for the church in our country; we pray for our bishops, priests, religious and people, that we may all develop a deeper faith in, and a deeper love of Jesus, a deeper following of His ways and His teaching. We ask God for grace that we may build up again the Church of Jesus Christ in his own image, not our own. We pray to Our Lady now as we continue our pilgrimage of life. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now.
But of course at a certain moment, all our lives must end in death and so we say, ‘pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death’. Even at the hour of our death we are open to new life at its most intense, for we are invited to that new fertility, that new freshness, which is God’s endless newness and life.
And so on this feast of Our Lady of Walsingham we pray for our nation, we pray for our church, for our community and for our Order, for our parish, for our relatives, friends and benefactors, and we pray for those at the hour of their death. May Our Lady’s prayers always assist us as we draw ever closer to God’s Kingdom.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.