Our pilgrimage took us from Paris, Lisieux, Omaha Beach, Mont Saint Michel, the Shrine of Saint Anne in Aurray, and then south to Lourdes. Here we pondered another powerful cause for the explosion of religious fervor in the 19th Century: the apparitions of Mary first at La Salette, but then in Lourdes. We will tell more about LaSalette in a later post. I want to share first about Lourdes.
Following on the heels of the solemn definition of the Immaculate Conception (1854), a young girl from an impoverished family saw a beautiful woman who confirmed this teaching (1858). Mary who disclosed her presence to Saint Catherine at Rue du Bac as conceived without sin was not only praying for those who had recourse to her, she was executing a daring plan. Just like she implicated Catherine Laboure in bringing hope to the despairing, she also pulled Bernadette into her web of grace to encourage those who need a reason for their hope.
Identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception, Mary told Bernadette that a Shrine should be built over a grotto near a river where she stood. Mary also told Bernadette to dig and then to drink and to bath in the water that flowed there. The water was to be a sign of conversion and bathing in it an act of making a new beginning in the spiritual life. Mary explained that there would be miracles, (and it is beautiful to see the great faith not only of the sick but also their caregivers), but these signs were meant to stir confidence so that many souls would return to God and live holy lives.
Bernadette did as she was told even though it was a trash dump and she also told the local priest to build a Sanctuary even though the priest thought her to be delusional. Yet it was this radical obedience without regard for herself or what others thought that allowed Mary to bring forth a source of spiritual renewal for the whole world. The axiom that God is not limited to the most powerful and greatest, but allows himself to be contained in the weakest and least is in the story of Bernadette fully illustrated.
Bernadette eventually entered religious life and embraced a life of silence, anonymity, and intercession. When asked about mental prayer she explained the importance of welcoming Christ and showing Him hospitality in the heart. She said that when Christ feels welcome, He is a good guest: He never forgets to pay the rent.