The story of our Lady’s appearances to St. Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, France in 1858-59 is fascinating in and of itself. During nineteen visits at the Grotto of Massabielle, she requested abandonment of reason in favor of faith, prayer for sinners, humility, and “penance, penance, penance.” She required Bernadette to uncover a spring that still to this day pours forth healing waters. It was during the Lourdes apparitions that Mary – in a moment of singular humility and subservience to God – revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception.
One could go for a good long time meditating upon any one of those amazing facets of the Lourdes story. And I do, especially on the February 11 feast of Our Lady of Lourdes commemorating the first of the Lourdes apparitions.
But the facet that most amazes me is the holy grit of St. Bernadette.
She was doubted by her companions, family, parish priest and others in the hierarchy, the authorities, and townspeople. Her mother even had given her a “good beating” after the first apparition because she assumed Bernadette had made up the story. She was threatened, accused of lying, and scoffed at. She was labeled insane and made to undergo examination by a commission of doctors and skeptics bent on proving her mentally unfit. Yet, she kept to her accounts – which never changed – whenever she was asked to repeat them.
Our Lady asked Bernadette to do ridiculous things that made her appear to others as though she’d lost her mind. When instructed to ask the parish priest to build a chapel in honor of our Lady at the grotto, she courageously issued the request despite it having been met with ridicule. When our Lady instructed her to “go and wash and drink in the spring” even though there was no spring, Bernadette did as she was told, digging into the sand until the miraculous waters gushed forth. Then she washed herself – in the process smearing mud all over her face – and drank some of the muddy water. When our Lady instructed Bernadette to “kiss the ground for sinners,” she immediately knelt at the foot of the grotto, kissed the ground, and made her way up on her knees, kissing the ground as she went. When authorities barricaded the Lourdes grotto, Bernadette didn’t distress but rather placed her confidence in our Lady to see that the barricades were removed by the very men who had put them up. They were.
No matter the adversity she faced, Bernadette held to her conviction and kept her resolve to carry out the wishes of “the Lady” who appeared to her at the grotto. It wasn’t insanity that compelled her, but instead it was faith. She sensed that the woman of the apparitions was of God and that she must obey without question. Bernadette allowed Our Lady of Lourdes to touch her heart and lead her into a complete abandonment of reason in favor of faith.
We’re called to do the same. We’re called to open our hearts to Our Lady and to abandon reason in favor of faith no matter what the cost or consequences. We may be asked to wash and drink in muddy waters, withstand ridicule and accusations, have our credibility questioned, and kiss the ground for sinners either practically or figuratively. No matter. When the time comes, we’ll be able to proceed through the intercession of St. Bernadette and accompanied by our Lady.
We can, with prayer, the sacraments, and God’s grace, imitate the holy girt of St. Bernadette Sourbirous.
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