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Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11)

February 11, 2005

Blessed feast of Our Lady of Lourdes!

One hundred and forty-seven years ago today, a fourteen-year-old girl’s chore of gathering firewood was interrupted by an event which was to bring physical and spiritual healing to thousands. St. Bernadette Soubirous was taking off her socks in preparation for crossing a cold stream to join her companions when she heard what sounded like a gust of wind. Startled, she looked up. Everything was still. She returned her attention to her stockings. The sound came again. This time she saw a vine sway in the neighboring grotto–a cold, damp, dirty place the locals referred to as the “pig’s shelter” because swine feeding in the area usually took cover there. In the midst of this squalor a beautiful young lady, dressed in pure white with a blue sash, appeared, smiled at Bernadette and kept her company in praying the rosary (the lady didn’t pray the “Hail Mary” but joined in for the “Glory Be”). The lady’s smile, warm and welcoming, was to be a hallmark of the visions. It seems that much of her message was delivered in her loving smile.

This setting in itself holds a powerful message for us. Bernadette was desperately poor, suffered from asthma and was slow at her lessons. From her external circumstances, one might expect her to be miserable and unlikely to amount to much. Yet God chose her, and she radiated a joy that cannot be found in health, wealth or intelligence. He offers us that same joy, no matter what our circumstances. The grimy grotto was hardly a place one would expect to meet with purity personified, yet that was the place God chose. Perhaps it reminded Him of the stable-cave of His birth.

This was the first of eighteen apparitions, two of which are especially well-known. During the ninth apparition, the lady told Bernadette to drink from the spring, wash herself and eat of the bitter herbs. Bernadette couldn’t find a spring, so she dug a bit in the mud, drank of that and smeared it on her face. She also ate some of the little plants growing in the cave. The crowd following her ridiculed her as one gone mad. When asked why the lady wanted her to do something so foolish, she replied that it was for sinners. Our Lord too, was disfigured and mocked for sinners. From His suffering flowed the fountain of salvation. From Bernadette’s humiliation came a spring of healing waters.

The other particularly noteworthy apparition occurred on March 25th, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, when the Lady finally revealed her name in response to Bernadette’s repeated requests on behalf of her priest. “I am the Immaculate Conception”, she said, confirming the dogma that Pope Pius IX had declared just four years previous. In this way, she identified herself as the Blessed Virgin, conceived without the stain of Original Sin.

Our Lady of Lourdes, loving mother, sinless model and source of healing, pray for us.

(information adapted from the Lourdes website. For more information, see: http://www.lourdes-france.org)

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