Bernadette Soubirous and the Miracle at Lourdes
As this blog is devoted to the Rosary, we will obviously be discussing the Blessed Virgin Mary and instances of Marian apparitions that have been documented by the Church. February 11 is, in fact, the anniversary of the Miracle at Lourdes. While I will touch upon the historical aspect of that event, I also want to focus on Mary’s role as a healer, as presented by Pope John Paul II in his 2004 letter for the World Day of the Sick.
First, here is what occurred at Lourdes in 1858: Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old French girl, was gathering wood near the Massabielle grotto when she saw the image of a small lady in a niche along the cave wall. Over the course of the next five months, she saw the lady—who identified herself as the Immaculate Conception—a total of 18 times. According to Bernadette, the lady’s messages focused on prayer and penance, and a request for a chapel. Eight years later Bernadette joined the Sisters of Charity at Nevers. She died at the age of 35; her last words were reported to be: “Blessed Mary, Mother of God, pray for me. A poor sinner; a poor sinner.”
What many people do not know about Bernadette, who was canonized in 1993, is that her short life was marked by much physical suffering. She contracted cholera as a child; she suffered from severe asthma; and she endured the debilitating effects of tuberculosis towards the end of her life, often so crippled with pain that she could not leave her bed. Her last years were spent in prayer; in fact, she was praying the rosary when she died.
In his 2004 message, Pope John Paul II commented on the healing powers of Lourdes. The shrine built there in response to the Lady’s request attracts millions of people each year, and the numerous miraculous cures have been attributed to the grotto’s clear waters of the spring. “In that mountainous region, Our Lady wished to demonstrate her maternal love, especially towards the suffering and the sick. Since then, she continues to be present through her solicitude.”
Mary is not only an Intercessor in our prayers to God, but also a healer for body and soul. As Pope John Paul noted, at Lourdes Mary has healed pain and sickness, “restoring many of her sons and daughters to health of body. She has worked much more surprising miracles, however, in the souls of believers, preparing them for the encounter with her son Jesus, the authentic answer to the deepest expectations of the human heart. The Holy Spirit, who covered her with his shadow at the moment of the Incarnation of the Word, transforms the soul of countless sick people who turn to her. Even when they do not obtain the gift of bodily health, they are able to receive another that is much more important: the conversion of heart, source of peace, and interior joy. This gift transforms their existence and makes them apostles of the Cross of Christ, standard of hope, even amid the hardest and most difficult times.”
The Pope also explained the lasting message and true meaning behind the healings of body and spirit that take place at the grotto: “If Jesus is the source of life that conquers death, Mary is the attentive mother who comes to meet the needs of her children, obtaining for them the health of soul and body…. At Lourdes, it is not difficult to understand Mary’s unique participation in the salvific role of Christ… May she help every Christian to witness that the only authentic answer to pain, suffering, and death is Christ our Lord, who died and rose for us.”
So, as we remember the Miracle at Lourdes this week, we remember Bernadette Soubirous—the physical suffering she endured as well as the emotional suffering brought on by those who were skeptical of the wondrous events that occurred in the grotto. And mostly we remember that the Blessed Virgin Mary, who suffered in silence at the foot of the Cross, is not only the Mother of God but our loving Mother who will aid in restoring our body and our soul.
Note: I recommend the movie The Song of Bernadette, starring Jennifer Jones. Based on the novel of the same name by Franz Werfel, the film does take some liberties regarding the people depicted, but stays true to what occurred during the Marian apparitions. The film won four Oscars, including Best Actress, in 1943.