Once there was a poor little girl in the mountains of southern France. Everyone called her Bernadette. She was sickly, weak, and not very good at school, when she could get there. Her family was so poor that she had to go pick firewood in the February cold of the unforgiving foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, just so they could keep slightly warm in the damp, literal dungeon they called “home.”
One could very easily say that Bernadette Soubirous lived a dirty life: grubbing for wood to heat a dank cachot. Yet it was into this life that Our Lady entered, bringing water, knowledge, and miracles. When Bernadette was 14, Our Lady appeared to her in a hillside rocky shelter. On February 25, 1858, the apparition told Bernadette to dig in the mud, promising there would be a spring of drinkable water, good for washing, once she did. Bernadette was so confused by this request that at first she turned toward the nearby riverbank to search for this water, when the Lady corrected her and told her to dig in the filth of the grotto itself.
Did I mention this grotto was a place where people brought their pigs to, um, do their piggy business?
In spite of it all, Bernadette obeyed the Lady. The people had been gathering to see what Bernadette was doing at these supposed apparitions. They gawked this day as the poor, ignorant child scratched in the mud and obediently rubbed it on her face. At the Lady’s request, she even ate some of the “herb,” which was actually grass, that grew in the grotto.
And nothing happened. The mud remained mud. The grass remained food for animals owned by farmers too poor to buy them actual feed. A relative wiped the mud off of Bernadette’s face and took her home to their cachot.
But then, something happened. Hours passed. The mud became clearer. A trickle grew from the space where the Lady had told Bernadette to dig. The trickle grew into a stream, and then that stream became a fountain, pushing pure, clear water up out of the filth. It was not long before other people, especially the sick, began to obey the Lady’s request to wash in the water and drink of it. Many of them were healed. All because a poor, weak, inadequately educated teenager took a chance and got the first mud cleared away.
We let so much dirt get in our way, in the grottoes of our own hearts. We don’t have enough money. We’re too sick. Our kids won’t obey. Our husbands won’t love us. And yet Our Lord promises us that, if we will be brave and dig through it all, as dirty as we might get, He will send us living water. When we forget, he sends Our Mother to remind us, to show us the way.
While she’s willing to do it when God sends her, we don’t need to wait for Mary appear in any extraordinary way. Like the very best mother for the very smallest child, she is just at the other end of our cry for help. She never tires of hearing from us, and that’s why she invites us to gather our families and pray the Rosary. Fifty-three times in each Rosary, we call out to her and remind ourselves of her holiness—she, another poor, humble girl who obeyed the most ridiculous requests. St. Bernadette Soubirous had the courage to follow Mary’s example. So can we.
In her final years, with the days of the apparitions behind her, St. Bernadette humbly said, “The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again.” May we see ourselves as clearers of dirt so that healing and purity can pour out on ourselves and others.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
What dirt is in your life that is standing between you and true healing? Where do you think Mother Mary wants you to dig first?
[If you would like to read more about Erin’s journey as a family abuse survivor to the baths at Lourdes in the midst of the abuse crisis breaking in the U.S. Church, visit this link.]
Copyright 2019 Erin McCole Cupp