Today’s celebration of the Holy Mass commemorates two occasions: first, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and second, the World Day of the Sick. Today’s feast commemorates the first of eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that began on February 11, 1858 to the humble child Bernadette. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 964) says like this about Mary, our heavenly mother: “She whose role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ, her role flowing directly from this union.” This is a beautiful teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary especially on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is because any appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not of her own will but the will of the Father.
The apparitions at Lourdes took place four years after the definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. On March 25, of the same year, when Bernadette asked the beautiful lady what her name was, the Virgin Mary answered: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” These apparitions were like a seal from heaven on the Holy Father’s words. Pope Pius X ordered that February 11 be kept as the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910 edition Vol. 9) wrote something on the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary that on February 11, 1858 in Lourdes, France, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared, for the first time, to Bernadette Soubiroux who was then fourteen years old. In total, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared 18 times, the last apparitions being on July 16, 1858. During this blessed moment, Bernadette often fell into an ecstasy. Even though others were present at the time, no one else but Bernadette experienced the vision or heard the voice of Our Lady.
During the apparition, Our Lady told Bernadette to drink water from a mysterious fountain that suddenly gashed forth and which had not previously existed. On another occasion, Our Lady told Bernadette to tell the local priests that she wanted a chapel built on the spot and procession made to the grotto where Our Lady appeared. The first reaction of the clergy was total disbelief. But after only four years in 1862, the local Bishop of the Diocese declared that the faithful were “justified in believing the reality of the apparition.” The huge basilica built above the grotto still cannot provide enough spaces for the countless pilgrims who participate in the Eucharistic celebrations.
The Our Lady of Lourdes became one of the major pilgrimage centers in the world. Today Lourdes is still a small town of more or less 15,000 people. But year after year it hosts about five million pilgrims who came from more than 150 nations around the world. This excludes the many private pilgrimages of those who were drawn to Lourdes. Countless sick people seek healing, touching the rock, drinking the water from the spring or bathing in the cold water near the grotto. But the healing experiences at Lourdes are more spiritual than physical. It is because those sick who came back home can now accept their sickness and offer it as a sacrifice for the conversion of sinners. They listen to the call of Mary at Lourdes: “Pray to God for the conversion of sinners.” Priests near the Chapel of Reconciliation are hearing confessions day and night and reconcile countless sinners with God. So we can say that Confession and Eucharist are the centers of devotion in Lourdes.
Pope John Paul II set February 11 aside as the ‘World Day of Sick.’ In his proclamation, His Holiness stated: “I consider most appropriate, indeed, the bestowal upon the entire ecclesial community of an initiative which, as already practiced in some nations and regions, has brought forth precious pastoral fruit.” February 11 serves the purpose of reminding the members of the Church of the healing ministry of the Church. It reminds us of our Christian obligation to attend to the sick and the suffering that is all around us. This day has been set aside to show our gratitude to all those who model after Jesus, the caregivers, the doctors, nurses, the health care workers, the pastoral ministers and all those who are striving to restore the health of the sick.
But even without going to the Lourdes Grotto, in Lourdes, France, we can still experience the healing power of God through the intercession of our heavenly mother. We can still do the repentance and be reconciled with Jesus through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Let us do the same what happens at Lourdes now.
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