This past Sunday, February 11th, there was a feast day that was largely overlooked. It was the 160th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The Bishop of Lourdes says the pilgrimage site in his diocese is like a promise that never betrays. “The apparitions in Lourdes, like Lent, propose to us the same question, that of hope. In what do we place our hope? What are we ready to do to enter into the great hope?”
This 160th year is another occasion to follow the footsteps of Bernadette Soubirous and rediscover the message the Virgin Mary gave us through her.
There are various elements to the message. There is a strictly evangelical and constant aspect, which is that God chooses the humble and the little ones, because Bernadette was uneducated. She was intelligent but not educated. She did not know how to read or write. She didn’t go to catechesis and she belonged to a bankrupt family.
There is also the aspect of prayer. All of the episodes of the apparitions take place entirely in a climate of prayer. And there is, as well, the aspect of trust, that is, that the Virgin and Bernadette speak to each other, and sometimes don’t even say anything. The encounter takes place in silence on 18 occasions. There is, thus, this type of cooperation, of reciprocal familiarity between Bernadette and the Lady. And something of this remains. In Lourdes, people are not afraid. And that’s why there are so many people who come to visit. She presents herself as someone who can understand everything and can welcome everything.
And there’s an aspect of penance that cannot be forgotten. This aspect does not appear at the beginning nor at the end of the apparitions, but rather in the middle. Five of the apparitions are very focused on penance and during a time of penance is when the fountain is discovered, which today is very associated with Lourdes, because immediately Lourdes was spread around the world.
For many years, a pilgrimage has been seen from the outside as a request for a miraculous cure. I don’t think anyone comes for starters because of that. Certainly in the history of Lourdes, this has had an important place. But I think that today, healing is spoken of in all senses of the word. It can be the healing of a relationship, a more psychological healing, an interior healing. Then there’s reconciliation. So it’s something very open. The word healing now has a greater connotation, not just a physical sense.
With the focus on humility, prayer, penance, healing and reconciliation, it seems Our Lady of Lourdes is a perfect guide as we enter our observance of Lent.
~ Deacon Mike