In the winter of 1858 a little girl named Bernadette was blessed with an experience that would spread healing love to countless people. This impoverished young girl had returned to her village seeking to prepare herself to receive the Eucharist, when she had a vision of a ‘lady dressed in white with a blue belt and a yellow rose on each foot’. Bernadette had a series of visions in the following months and the Church concluded that the lady was the Blessed Virgin Mary. As a sign of graces to be bestowed there, Bernadette was shown a hidden spring that has become a sign of healing in Lourdes today. Bernadette’s message was shared with others in her village, in her native France and eventually the world over. What is the meaning of the apparitions of Lourdes and what do they tell us as women and mothers who follow Christ?
The first thing we may consider is that Mary appeared to a poor and humble child to communicate a message for us all. The gospel parallel is the shepherds, who were chosen to receive the news of Christ’s birth and were first to hear the words “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to all of good will.” Other Marian apparitions are similar. We find Mary of Guadalupe appeared to a poor indigenous man, Juan Diego; Mary of Fatima to the three poor children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco; and at Medjugorje, Mary appeared to Marija, Vicka, and Ivanhow, children of humble origins. In all these cases, visionaries received messages of love and encouragement for all. God chose the weak and the humble, and we also must learn to give our lives and concerns over to God in a spirit of poverty if we would hear and live the gospel.
Lourdes also has a special message directed at the whole Church, to summon us to seek holiness. Too often we may grow comfortable with the idea that the laity need only obey a few precepts of the Church. Jesus himself taught that we had to go further in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven. The Marian apparitions challenge us as laity to a deeper commitment, to pray, fast, love God and neighbor, work and pray for peace and seek healing. To acknowledge we too are called to discipleship in a radical way, just as the priests and consecrated religious are, but through consistently living “in the world, but not of the world.”
Most of all, Our Lady of Lourdes calls us to understand and practice the virtue of compassion. Through Bernadette Mary reminds us that we are, all of us, in need of healing, both physical and spiritual. Only in her Son, Jesus, can we find this healing. So the waters of Lourdes wash the body, but also the soul. What is more, Lourdes is about healing but also about those who facilitate the healing: doctors, nurses, countless volunteers who bring the sick to the Basilica, pray the rosary and the Mass. It is a place of joy for so many who are not themselves sick, but the angels of the sick. They are given the joy of seeing burdens lifted, bodies healed and spirits reborn. This is the on-going miracle of Lourdes: healing and compassion. What better message for our world today?
As mothers, these messages are a consoling thing indeed: God chooses the humble ones and children to deliver his message, God calls the laity to holiness, God wills us to be people of compassion who seek health of body and soul. This speaks to us so directly and offers us the encouragement we need, to know our lives have great meaning before God. As we faithfully raise our children and do our work in the world, let us meditate on Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s words: “If you desire peace in the world, then go home and love your families.” We live out the challenge put to us at Lourdes every day when we do this.
© 2012 Julie Paavola