Today, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, begins a series of "re-posts" of my previous series of blog posts reviewing the 18 apparitions of Our Blessed Mother to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at the grotto at Lourdes.
To understand the message of Lourdes, however, we need to return to the beginning of the story of Bernadette Soubirous, and the sleepy town of Lourdes, sitting at the base of the Pyrénées mountains. Bernadette’s parents, François and Louise Soubirous, had settled in Lourdes, working in the mill owned by Louise’s family. On January 7, 1844, Marie-Bernarde (always referred to as Bernadette) was born, their first child. Over the course of her life, Bernadette’s parents would bring eight additional children into the world, five of which died before reaching the age of ten years old.
“immediately after I made the Sign of the Cross, the great fear that had seized me disappeared.” Bernadette prayed the Rosary, with the woman fingering the beads along with her, but remaining silent. As soon as Bernadette had finished the Rosary, the lady beckoned her closer. Bernadette, again afraid, remained kneeling where she was, and the lady disappeared, leaving her alone. Her companions returned, neither having seen anything.
After telling her sister and friend what had happened, she begged them not to mention the apparition to anyone. However, Bernadette’s sister promptly told their mother upon return home, and they were both punished and forbidden to return to the grotto. Bernadette would return, however, drawn to the beautiful young woman, in three day’s time.
Saint Bernadette later wrote in her Journal Dedicated to the Queen of Heaven:
“Dearest Mother, how happy was my soul those heavenly moments when I gazed upon you. How I love to remember those sweet moments spent in your presence, your eyes filled with kindness and mercy for us! Yes, dear Mother, your heart is so full of love for us that you came down to earth to appear to a poor, weak child and convey certain things to her despite her great unworthiness. How humbled she is. You, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, chose to use what is weakest in the eyes of men. O Mary, give the precious virtue of humility to she who dares to call herself your child. O loving Mother, help your child resemble you in everything and in every way. In a word, grant that I may be a child according to your heart and the heart of your dear Son.” (quoted in “A Holy Life: Saint Bernadette of Lourdes,” McEachern, Ph.D., 2005, pages 18-19).
The Blessed Mother appeared to Saint Bernadette eighteen times, bringing a message of prayer, penance, poverty, and participation. She said, “Penance. Penance. Penance. Pray for Sinners.” She picked the most humble of messengers, truly showing that we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord. Between today and July 16, we will journey with Saint Bernadette as we encounter Our Blessed Mother through her eyes, memories, and words.