February 11-Our Lady of Lourdes

Today we are celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was said that Mary herself, in 1830, had asked a Vincentian Sister at the Rue du Bac in Paris, that a medal be struck bearing her likeness and the inscription: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

Let us also recall that in 1854, Pope Pius IX, after consulting all Catholic bishops, had defined as a dogma of faith the Immaculate Conception of Mary; that is, she is sinless from the first moment of her existence.

Father Robert F. McNamara and Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints retold this story of the appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous. He said that Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen-year-old girl was the child of a very poor family of Lourdes, a town in the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France. That on February 11, 1858, she saw a lovely lady in the nearby riverside grotto of Massabielle. That day Bernadette was picking up sticks for firewood. She had two younger girls as companions, but only she had the vision. The Lady was clothed in a white veil and dress and a blue sash, and she carried a rosary on her forearm. She persuaded Bernadette to recite the rosary while she herself fingered its beads, but that day she said nothing. When Bernadette told her story at home, she met mixed reactions. But she returned to the grotto three days later and saw the vision once more.

On February 18, the Lady, still not identifying herself, asked Bernadette to come back there every day for a fortnight. The apparitions continued until July 16; 18 in all.

On February 21 the Lady revealed to Bernadette a spring at the bottom of the cave. This spring, at first a mere trickle soon began to pour forth thousands of gallons each day. On March 1, a cure took place at the grotto: the first of hundreds to come.

On March 2, the Lady said she wanted a chapel built on that spot. Then, on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, she finally declared her identity: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The Church for long centuries had believed in her Immaculate Conception, her exemption from every trace of the original sin which through Adam, our first and common father, separated man from his God. It was never proclaimed a dogma, however, until 1854. And Bernadette had never heard of the term nor of the dogma. But the local priests now knew that the Lady who spoke was Mary.

Our Lady by her apparitions at Lourdes in 1858 seems to convey her appreciation for the formal proclamation of her great privilege, by Pius IX, in 1854. Countless and magnificent miracles of healing have occurred at Lourdes, confirmed by physicians and recorded in the Lourdes shrine “Book of Life.” To name but one: a doctor wrote a book describing the great miracle he had witnessed for a dying girl, whom he had observed on the train that was carrying handicapped persons from Paris to Lourdes. He had not expected her to survive and return home from the sanctuary.

Many physical healings are attributed to her. But we have read and heard some reports that not all who go to Lourdes are physically healed. Just like this writing I had read that countless sick people seek healing at the Grotto, touching the rock, drinking the water from the spring or bathing in the cold water near the Grotto. The report said that the healing experiences in Lourdes are more spiritual than physical. It is because most, if not all, go away with deep peace in their hearts. Perhaps they have come to terms with their illness and view their illness within the deeper and wider perspective of faith. They accept and offer their illness as sacrifice for the conversion of sinners. In the Grotto of the Our Lady of Lourdes, these words of Mary were written: “Pray to God for sinners!” I’m sure these sick people who went there meditated and reflected these words.

I myself have never been there but I never met a sick Lourdes pilgrim returning who was not filled with peace and joy. Just like a friend of mine who was there. She had cancer but she was not healed physically but her whole outlook of life has changed. In other words, she was healed spiritually.

Today is also World Day for the Sick. This was declared by the late Pope John Paul II. This declaration is a reminder of what Lourdes is all about. Lourdes is a visible sign of God’s special love for the sick. And not all of sick people have the opportunity to go there. But we can bring Lourdes to them through our prayer, fasting and almsgiving on their behalf. We can still bring Lourdes to sick people by showing our compassion and love to them. It is this way that we can serve and meet Christ.

We can be sure that it is Mary who appeared if her basic advice is the same one that she gave to the waiters at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you” (John, 2:5).

See Today’s Readings: Our Lady of Lourdes

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