Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

The grotto at Lourdes
Today, the 70th day since Ali died, is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. 

Lourdes has a unique place in my relationship with Ali.  In the summer of 1989 I took "two weeks out" of my life to travel to Ali's home in Dorset and then to drive through France with her to Lourdes.  It was a life changing trip for me as those "two weeks" extended to more than 24 years with Ali.  Our final journey of significance was also to Lourdes in June 2013, just months before Ali died.

Pope John Paul II established today's feast as the World Day of the Sick.  For today's 22nd World Day of the Sick Pope Francis has written:
Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother....bore in her heart, throughout the pilgrimage of her life, the words of the elderly Simeon who foretold that a sword would pierce her soul, and with persevering strength she stood at the foot of the cross of Jesus.  She knows the way, and for this reason she is the Mother of all of the sick and suffering. To her we can turn with confidence and filial devotion, certain that she will help us, support us and not abandon us.  She is the Mother of the crucified and risen Christ: she stands beside our crosses and she accompanies us on the journey towards the resurrection and the fullness of life.
More than at any other place, Ali learned the purpose and inestimable value of suffering at Lourdes, where she drew close to the Mother of God in an exceptional way. Ali discovered that suffering was not the worst thing, or even a bad thing, to experience.  She knew that it was not even to be borne in a stoical way as something to be merely endured.  On the contrary she discovered that suffering was a gift that could be transformed by one's loving acceptance of it, uniting oneself to the suffering of Jesus and Mary.  Ali became able to say not only that suffering was a "privilege" but that it was - in her words - "the greatest privilege possible in the world."

Ali was extraordinary in various ways, and most of all in her understanding of suffering.  She knew it was right - and indeed an obligation - to be compassionate towards suffering people and to do all that one properly can to relieve their suffering.  She did not believe either that suffering should be deliberately inflicted or that one should refrain from compassionately assisting those who were suffering. And yet she could describe suffering as "the greatest privilege possible" - and she said it and meant it not as an abstract or theoretical idea,  but from the perspective of someone who suffered more intensely than most people.

In being an eloquent witness in defence of human life, Ali knew that those who held the opposing view were seeking to avoid suffering or (similarly) seeking happiness in an inappropriate way.  At the heart of the major bioethical questions in which she was engaged - and ultimately at the heart of all ethical questions - lies the important question of one's view about suffering.

The message of Lourdes is not something to be accepted merely as a doctrine or a theory.  It is something to be lived. Ali trusted Jesus and Mary. She recognised their suffering and she united her own suffering to theirs. In so doing she displayed a wisdom and a holiness that most of us fall well short of.

With Ali on her last pilgrimage to Lourdes in June 2013

A range of tributes to Ali

Ali at home in the garden in July 1999
A number of individuals and organisations from around the world made tributes to Ali, commenting on the work she did principally to defend human life, and also on her notable personal virtues.

From New Zealand, Michelle Kaufman wrote:
The world has been blessed to have such a dedicated, inspiring woman walk amongst us.  Her life, I am sure, will continue to inspire, continue to encourage and continue to be a voice for the most vulnerable in our society today  the weak, the disabled, the unborn and those whose lives are deemed “unworthy of living”.
The Welsh blogger Rhoslyn Thomas described Ali as "an amazing woman" who "defended the weakest of the weak and made it her life's work to do so."

She continued:
Alison was so kind and she regularly helped me when I was struggling with some essay that I was writing about abortion or anything with my studies. I remember when I was sitting my final exams for university last year, she kept telling me that she was offering up her pain for my success. She was really wonderful and I don’t know what we will do without her…except pray to her!
Paul Russell recalled a lecture tour given by Ali in Australia some years ago and "especially her passion for life."

From Canada, Paul Tuns wrote appreciatively:
The pro-life movement and the disabilities community has fortunate to have Davis for the extended period after her fortunately failed suicide attempt; she was a powerful and much-needed voice for those with disabilities in combating the Culture of Death. 
The Sisters of the Gospel of Life in Scotland added their tribute:
Her life was full of faith after her conversion to Catholicism and her words were full of witness.  To hear her speak of her life, which had been one of pain and suffering as well as joy and love, was a privilege. 
On a more personal note Alison was a modest, witty, generous person whose light shone so brightly.  That light has gone from this earth with her death,  but with God she will shine even more brightly,  we are sure.
Other appreciative tributes came from the US group Not Dead Yet and well-respected English priests Fr Tim Finigan and Fr Ray Blake.  Fr Blake went out of his way to be present on the evening of Thursday 12 December and concelebrated Mass after Ali's body was received into the Church.  He repeated some extraordinary things that were said about Ali on that night, about which I intend to say much more in due course.

On several news sites and blogs readers made comments expressing their appreciation of Ali. Some readers knew her well, others didn't know her at all.  I was especially struck by the comment left in response to the obituary in the Catholic Herald by a reader, Paul Priest, who is not personally known to me and I do not think Ali knew him. He wrote:
The best of us: 
That lone voice who 'recalled to life' the conscience of the Pro-Life movement.
Thank God for her. 
Few may realise but that lady's legacy will change the world
Bless her name.
I do not think that Paul Priest overstated Ali's contribution to the pro-life movement and the world. On the contrary, in spite of the wisdom of his insightful remarks, I think that her contribution will one day be recognised as being greater than he anticipates.