Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saint of the Day: Our Lady of Lourdes

February 11th, 2012

The year was 1858 and the place was the French foothills of the Pyrenees. A young girl named Bernadette Soubirous, her sister Toinette, and their friend Jeanne Abadie were out gathering firewood for their families. Toinette and Abadie crossed a stream to gather wood on the other side, but Bernadette hesitated, fearing that wading in the cold water would bring on an asthma attack.

When her sister and friend moved out of her sight, she decided to take a chance anyway, and started to remove her shoes. It was at that moment that she was startled by a great noise like thunder. Turning towards a grotto behind her, she saw a single rosebush swaying as if being blown by a strong wind. Almost immediately she also saw a golden cloud form over the rosebush and a young and beautiful lady appear in the cloud. The lady smiled at Bernadette and motioned for her to come closer. All the fear that Bernadette had felt a few moments earlier faded away at the sight of this lady. She felt safe as if with her mother.

The Lady was dressed in an ivory-colored robe tied at the waist with a sapphire-colored 
sash. A long ivory-colored mantle trimmed in gold hung in folds flowing down to her feet. On her bare feet were two golden roses than shone like the gold trim on her mantle. Bernadette was awestruck by the vision of this Lady and didn’t speak, nor did the Lady. 
Bernadette found herself reaching for her rosary, which she always carried with her, and dropping down on her knees. It was then that Bernadette noticed the pearl rosary hanging on the Lady’s right arm, which she now also took into her delicate hands. Bernadette tried to lift her hand to cross herself before reciting the rosary, however, her arm seemed paralyzed. It was only after the Lady crossed herself that Bernadette was able to move her arm and do likewise. Bernadette prayed aloud, by herself. The Lady was silent except at the end of each decade when she recited, with Bernadette, the Gloria. When Bernadette finished praying the Rosary, the Lady and the golden cloud disappeared.

Bernadette had many other visions of the Lady in the grotto. At first her parents were very upset and unbelieving of the visions. Her mother thought that either Bernadette was imagining things or that what she was seeing was demonic. Word spread in the small village about her visions of this mysterious lady and crowds of people started following Bernadette to the grotto. Many ridiculed her, but some were supportive. One woman thought Bernadette might be encountering the spirit of one of her deceased friends. Bernadette’s family implored her to take holy water and throw some on the Lady. She did take some with her, but poured in on the ground.

The Lady repeatedly asked Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners and asked for 
penance for sins. When she instructed Bernadette to wash herself and drink from a place at the base of the grotto, Bernadette was perplexed. She looked, but could find no water. The Lady told her to dig in the ground, which Bernadette did, which caused quite a stir among the onlookers. Some thought she was insane. Bernadette continued to dig in the gravel and dirt until the ground started to feel damp. Then a trickle of water appeared and more started bubbling up from the ground forming a small puddle. Following the Lady’s instructions, Bernadette rubbed the water on her body and cupped some in her hands and drank it.

Still Bernadette’s mother refused to believe her daughter and other family members continued to ridicule her. When Bernadette spoke to the Lady about this, the Lady replied, “I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next.”

The next request of the Lady to Bernadette was to have a chapel built on the site of her visits. For Bernadette, a shy, 14-year-old girl, this was an impossible task. She felt compelled, though, to go to the parish priest with the request. She received a curt dismissal from him with these words: “Tell the beautiful Lady that the Cure of Lourdes is not in the habit of dealing with mysterious strangers. If she wants a chapel and has the right to one, she must reveal her identity.”

On the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1858, Bernadette got the answer to her 
question. “I am the Immaculate Conception,” replied the beautiful Lady. Bernadette was so excited to have an answer for the priest that she immediately set out for the rectory, repeating the words over and over to herself so as not to forget them. Although Bernadette didn’t understand the words, when she repeated them to the priest he was convinced that the mysterious Lady was the Blessed Virgin Mary. He knew that Bernadette, a poor, uneducated young girl, could not have been aware of the term “Immaculate Conception,” especially since this was a newly-proclaimed dogma in the Church that most people were not familiar with.

In 1864, Bernadette entered the order of the Sisters of Nevers and went to live in a 
convent. Two years later a chapel was erected and dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. The puddle that had appeared when Bernadette scratched at the soil continued to get larger and larger and today produces 32,000 gallons of water daily. Thousands of pilgrims visit Lourdes each year to bathe in the miraculous waters. Today Lourdes is the most well-known healing and pilgrimage site in the world.

On January 18, 1862, the Church officially confirmed the apparitions at Lourdes. Sixteen years later, in 1879, Sister Bernadette died. Her body, however, on display in the Sister’s Chapel, has never decomposed. Bernadette was canonized on December 8, 1933.

We pilgrims to Lourdes

Anyone who has made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Lourdes will not have missed the opportunity to pray at the Grotto where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on the 11th of February 1858. A mystical place, similar to the welcoming “bosom” of a mother, almost a baptismal font, in which to immerse ourselves and rediscover the unrivalled beauty of being Christians: having God as our Father and Mary as our Mother!

Lourdes is one of the most important “places of grace” known to the Church. It is like a vast basin of purity where countless souls have removed the clothes of sin and put on the snow white garments of spiritual rebirth! Some, like the author, found the light necessary to embrace the call to the priesthood, others, the strength to remain faithful to this commitment.

How can we deny that the Mother is the one who knows the Will of the Son better than anyone else and that turning to Her we understand better the mysterious plan God has for each one of us? No one better than Mary can convince us to “do whatever he tells you”!

In Lourdes, like the servants at Cana, we too sincerely open our hearts to the presence of the Mother and, attentive to her words, we are captivated by the mystery of the Son. Then we see His Will for what it truly is: our path to happiness!

Bernardette actually saw the Lady dressed in white, whereas we see her not with our eyes but with our heart, which is aware in faith of her presence on our journey. In front of the Grotto of Massabielle the pilgrim's interior vision is illuminated with a light typical of that place of grace: the light of the spiritual motherhood of Mary who gives Jesus to us as at Christmas, again and again.

Those apparitions have sustained countless souls, encouraging them on the path of conversion and personal sanctification. And their change has helped improve the world because the whole world benefits from the conversion of even one heart.

For us, pilgrims to Lourdes, Mary's universal motherhood is a mystery to discover again and again, so she may accompany us all through life. In Lourdes this Marian light is present everywhere: when we bathe in the waters, in the evening when we mingle with thousands of others to pray the rosary at the torchlight procession; in the afternoon when we join crowds of sick persons taking part in the Blessed Sacrament Procession.

Her presence is a mystery to savor in our soul and to learn, with Mary, to honour her Son, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The first to witness Our Lady's presence at Lourdes was little Bernardette Soubirous, who became her intrepid messenger. Although she is buried far away in Nevers in the north of France, her body totally incorrupt, as if she were asleep, you can "meet" Saint Bernadette everywhere in Lourdes.

It is sweet to remember her and read the humble words she addressed to Our Lady: “Yes, gentle Mother, you lowered yourself, you came down to earth to appear to a helpless little girl… You, the Queen of Heaven and earth, deigned to make use of what was most humble for the world” (from her Journal dedicated to the Queen of Heaven, 1866).

The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, recalling that “this year (2008) the beginning of Lent coincides providentially with the 150th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes”, said in his Angelus reflection on the 1st Sunday of Lent “the message which Our Lady still offers at Lourdes recalls the words Jesus said at the beginning of his public mission and that we hear so often in these first days of Lent: ‘Convert and believe in the Gospel, pray and do penance. Let us respond to the call of Mary who echoes that of Christ and let us ask Her to help us ‘enter’ Lent with faith and live this season of grace with deep joy and generous commitment” (Benedict XVI, Angelus 10 February 2008). (Agenzia Fides 13/2/2008; righe 47, parole 662)

— Mgr. Luciano Alimandi

Patron: Bodily ills.

Symbols: The Blessed Virgin ("The Immaculate Conception") who wears a white dress, blue belt, and a rose on each foot.

Things to Do:

Watch The Song of Bernadette, a masterpiece filmed in 1943.

Bring flowers (roses would be appropriate) to your statue of Our Lady at your home altar, especially if you have a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Obtain some Lourdes holy water and give the parental blessing to your children (see link).

Give extra care to the sick in your community — cook dinner for a sick mother's family, bring your children to the local nursing home (the elderly love to see children), send flowers to a member of your parish community who is ill.

Blessed Mother, our Lady of Lourdes, we thank you for appearing to the child Bernadette so as to show the world the power of God. The miracles brought forth then and even until now are a great testimony of His Love and Mercy. Thank you, Mother, not only for the miraculous healing power of the waters of Lourdes, but also for the love and compassion that prevails there. We thank our Father in heaven for you, dear Mother and also for Saint Bernadette and we implore your intercessions for us that we will always be like little children, docile and loving and open to His Will. Amen.


Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes (9 days):

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