The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which we celebrate today, February 11 has always had a special place in my heart -- not only because of my French family background and living in a small French village (located in the heart of the USA), but because as a child, I related on a personal level to Bernadette. Like her, I was initially a slow learner in school. My health was poor and I was a little behind my peers in the primary grades because I missed so much school and also because I was nearsighted and needed glasses. (However, it didn't take me long to catch up and even excel in my studies after I got my glasses.) Everyday after school, I visited Bernadette and Our Lady at the Lourdes shrine behind our church and prayed there, often imagining what it would be like to have been St. Bernadette. To this very day, I continue to be fascinated by the simple obedience, humility, and holiness of this great saint.
February 11 marks the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1858 to St. Bernadette Soubirous. Between February 11 and July 16, 1858, the Blessed Mother appeared eighteen times to a poor, uneducated, sickly fourteen-year-old Marie Bernade (St. Bernadette) times in the in the hollow of the rock at Lourdes, called “de Massabielle”.
On March 25, the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1858, she said to the little shepherdess who was only fourteen years of age: "I am the Immaculate Conception." Because the dogma of the Immaculate Conception had been officially proclaimed less than four years earlier, and Bernadette could not have even known of its existence, when Bernadette repeated the words, it gave credibility to her apparitions. It was confirmation from heaven that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was indeed true.
During one of these apparitions, when Bernadette was told by Mary to begin digging in the ground; she obediently did so, to the townspeople’s scorn. Water immediately began flowing from the spot where Bernadette dug, a tiny stream that has since has grown to the size of a small river. Thousands of healings have been reported as the result of people bathing in or drinking this miraculous water. The walls of the grotto where the Blessed Mother appeared are lined with the crutches of the lame who have walked away from the waters, totally healed.
What is the message of Lourdes?
First, we are called to look at the grace and holiness of Christ in Mary, become converted, and be healed spiritually. It is a call to enter fully into the mystery of the redemption.
The second message was that of prayer. In order to be more fully conformed to the will of God, we must pray without ceasing. Prayer leads us to the Spirit of God.
The third part of the message was Bernadette herself – simple Bernadette. She was uneducated and poor. She could not explain things very well. But, she had a pure heart. And, it was this purity of heart that opened her up to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit and to experience the fruits of the redemption.
Our Lady made some rather bizarre requests of Bernadette – to eat grass like salad, to dig in the dirt and mud with her hands to find a healing stream. Though humbling, Bernadette willingly performed these tasks despite the fact that she was laughed at and mocked by the townspeople. Mary’s appearance and Bernadette’s response present a picture of what it means to love God with our whole heart, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is a visible expression of purity of heart that calls us "Be it done unto me completely and fully according to your word. Accomplish in my life fully what you want to accomplish." This is in contrast to our culture where one’s own will, pleasures, desires, and interests take precedence. In our self-centered culture, the motto is, "Be it done according to my will."
Thus, the message of Lourdes is a call to personal conversion, prayer, and charity.
Let us follow the example of Bernadette in her purity of heart, obedience to God's will, and love for God and neighbor. May our hearts be purified by the Holy Spirit, as we follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
~© February 2016 Jean M. Heimann
Consecration Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes
Holy Mary Mother of God, Virgin Immaculate, you appeared eighteen times to Bernadette at the grotto in Lourdes, to remind Christians of what the truths in the Gospel require of them. You called them to prayer, penance, the Eucharist and life in the Church.
To answer your call more fully, I consecrate myself through you to your Son Jesus.
Make me willing to accept what he said. By the fervor of my faith, by the conduct of my life in all its aspects, by my devotion to the sick, let me work with you in the comforting of those who suffer and in the reconciliation of people, that the Church may be One, and there be peace in the world.
All this I ask, confident that you, Our Lady, will fully answer my prayer.
Blessed be the holy and Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Saint Bernadette, pray for us.
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, pray for us.