If you only knew how good the Blessed Virgin is! If people only knew! (Saint Bernadette)
High in the Pyrenees, the ice-cold water of the river Gave rushed along on the morning of February 11, 1858. Fourteen-year-old Bernadette had stopped to take off her stockings before wading across. Her younger sister, nine-year-old Toinette, and their friend Marie Abadie had already waded across the river. The three girls were collecting branches for firewood.
Bernadette suddenly heard a strong wind whistling through the nearby grotto, carved out of a huge rock formation. The shrubs swayed in the wind, including the delicate roses that graced the grotto. Looking up, Bernadette could hardly believe her eyes.
Standing before her, high in the grotto, was a beautiful young woman wearing a white robe with a blue sash and a long white veil. Rosary beads hung from her right arm and yellow roses rested on her feet.
Bernadette rubbed her eyes in disbelief. But when she looked up again, the lady was still there. Not knowing what to do, Bernadette pulled out her rosary beads and began to pray. The lady followed the prayers, but joined in only for the Glory Be. After the prayers, the lady disappeared.
Still in awe, Bernadette told Toinette what had happened but made her promise to keep it a secret. However it wasn’t long before Toinette told their mother, who thought it was all nonsense. She forbade Bernadette to go back to the grotto. But nothing could keep her away, and on February 14 she saw the lady again. She still said nothing to explain who she was. On February 18 the lady appeared for the third time, and she asked Bernadette to come every day for two weeks.
In the meantime, word had gotten out and crowds began to go to the grotto as well. They had concluded that the Blessed Virgin Mary was the one appearing, but Bernadette had never said that. In referring to the lady she used only the word “aquero,” which means “that.”
During the vision on February 24, the lady said, “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners!” The next day, February 25, a crucial event occurred. The lady told Bernadette, “Go and drink at the spring and wash yourself in it.” Bernadette was confused because there was no spring there, only the nearby river. When Bernadette went toward the river, the lady called her back. It wasn’t the right place. Bernadette began to dig in the ground near where the lady had indicated. She found only mud. Three times she threw away the muddy mess. Finally, on her fourth attempt, she started to see a little bit of water trickling out of the ground. The people, meanwhile, thought she was crazy because she had washed her face with the mud.
Although it was only a trickle at first, by the next day it could be clearly seen that a spring had begun to flow. There had never been one there before.
The visions continued for two weeks as the lady had promised. And after that, she appeared once more, for a total of eighteen apparitions.
On March 25, Bernadette finally asked the lady who she was. The lady looked up to heaven and said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette didn’t know what that meant, because she had not had much schooling. Trying her best to remember the words, she went and told the parish priest, Father Peyramale. He was astounded, for a little over three years earlier, on December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX had declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. So now there was no doubt that the beautiful young woman was indeed Mary, the Mother of God.
Events moved quickly after that. Mary had requested that a chapel be built there, and it was. Miraculous healings and cures had begun to occur. Larger and larger crowds flocked to Lourdes, which today is still one of the best-loved shrines in the Catholic world.
Mary brings healing and peace
On February 11, the anniversary of the first apparition, the Church celebrates the World Day of Prayer for the Sick. This day is connected to Lourdes because it has become famous as a shrine for healing, where physical diseases have been cured in a miraculous way. So far the Church has officially approved sixty-seven of these miracles, which have gone through a very rigorous process to ascertain their authenticity. But many thousands of pilgrims have been helped physically, emotionally, and spiritually by their prayers to Our Lady offered in faith. Mary obtains these graces for us through her intercession.
A highlight of any pilgrimage to Lourdes is going to the baths at the spring. This immersion in water can recall our Baptism, which takes away all sins. Pilgrims to Lourdes often bring home bottles of water from the spring. This can be used as a sacramental, to bless oneself with while praying for healing and renewing one’s baptismal commitment. But if you don’t have any Lourdes water, you can always get holy water from your parish church. It’s usually available near the baptismal font. You may wish to bring some holy water home to use as a reminder of your own Baptism.
We don’t have to go to Lourdes in order to experience Mary’s loving care for us. All we need do is turn to her in prayer and ask for her help. This can be as simple as spontaneously saying, “Mary, help me!” when a need arises, or it can mean praying the Rosary or meditating on Mary’s example in the Gospels. Just as any loving mother will rush to the side of her child who has fallen and scraped her knee, Mary will rush to our side as we pray and bring our petitions to Jesus, her Son. The next time you get sick or have any need, don’t hesitate to call on Mary for help. She will not disappoint you.
by Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouvé FSP
image by Dodo71 for Pixabay