© Written by Mother Adela, sctjm
For private use only
“LOURDES, A FOUNTAIN OF GRACE, CONVERSION AND HEALING"
Our Lady, in the grotta of Lourdes, builds a home to receive her children, especially the sick and those most in need
More than one hundred and fifty years ago, on the 11th of February of 1958, the Blessed Virgin appeared in the Grotto of Masabielle, Lourdes, to a young girl by the name of Bernadette. What a beautiful gift given to us from Heaven…, the Immaculate places Her feet on the Grotto which was the waste dump of the village… and from that place of garbage, would come forth a fountain of grace and healing for all of humanity.
The life of Bernadette would not be the same, it would become from that moment on, the heart chosen to open that fountain. The life of the Church would not be the same either, the Immaculate had come to ask that a Sanctuary, a home to receive Her children and to lavish upon them comfort and healing there, especially to those who suffer and those who are sick. A sanctuary, a home… a place to embrace, to receive, to illuminate, to heal with maternal love many hearts. More than 150 years ago, the Immaculate gave us a great gift… a miraculous fountain…. a fountain of love and healing was opened through the maternal intervention of the Virgin. A fountain of grace burst forth for humanity. Fountain that is continually open for pilgrims, the sick, for millions of men and woman that come to receive of the water which does not cease flowing, nor diminishes, but which incessantly and graciously continues to give water to all those who come… “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive.” (Is 55,1)
The Immaculate has appeared in a place and it remains transformed for ever…. Where Our Mother puts her feet, even if it is a garbage dump, it becomes a Sanctuary… it becomes a privileged place of encounter with the love of God alive in the Eucharist, a place of grace and conversion, a place of healing of soul and body, a place of forgivness and reconciliation, a place, a new and real Cana, in which she can communicate all of the potency of her maternal love, of her Maternal Mission. What a beautiful gift given in the Marian apparitions and what a response of love they should evoke from our hearts! Behold your Mother!! Behold your son!
The Apparitions: the Maternal Heart at the encounter of Her Children
The apparitions of the Virgin Mary can only be understood from Her Marian mission. The mission of the Blessed Virgin ahs not finished with her Assumption into Heaven, as we are told in the Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium (chap 8, 62): “This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until The eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.(15*) By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home.”
From this text we can understand that the maternal mission of the Virgin towards us her children is a gift of the Holy Trinity for men… “Behold thy Mother… Behold thy Son.” Her Maternity continues without ceasing in the life of the Church, in the economy of grace. She realizes her maternal mission in relation to us by means of her mediation, in other words, communicating the graces that Her Son has won for us on the Cross, by means of Her intercession, praying unceasingly for our needs.
In the Apparitions of Our Mother, we see the following fruits:
- Conversion: we need to be taken once again to the Heart of Her Son
- Reminding us with Her maternal voice that we need to live the Gospel life of prayer and penance
- Forming us at Her feet; we can call the apparitions, schools of love, of conversion, of prayer and penance, of entering into the Word…
- Directing us towards the sacraments, open fountains of grace, healing and love, that actualize the saving and redemptive power of Christ in our souls.
- Awaken a greater love for the Church, particularly, the Mother unites and congregates us so that we as to know that we are sons and daughters of the Church, living in its Heart, for this reason, She always directs us to the shepherds of the Church, to ask them to construct a home, a sanctuary. She congregates us under the authority of the Church inside of its House.
- Effective means of evangelization: millions are converted in the places of apparitions. The Mother has a particular grace of maternal love to touch and to heal hearts, because She reflects, freely and fully, the love of God.
- The voice of the Mother which comes to counsel us, to warn us, to teach us, to propose the return of our human hearts to the origin of its existence: God. We can say that many times through Her apparitions, the Virgin becomes the conscience of the world and the Church.
- Catechize: The messages, are the maternal words of the Heart of the Virgin. The messages are important, when they are approved by the Church, because they are a reminder of the truth of the Gospel, applied to the historic moment or to a near future that is in relation to the apparition. I believe that the greatest gift of an apparition is to know that we are love, cared for, guided and accompanied by our Mother.
- To open new Canas, in which She speaks to Her Son of the wines that we lack and in which we can find Her powerful prayer and maternal mediation, the miracles of changing water into wine: to change hearts, souls, minds and bodies… relationships, futures, missions… Places chosen by God, to pour forth in a particular way, His graces through the hands of Mary. Privileged places that become a living sign of the spiritual reality of the maternity of Mary in the life of the Church.
A Marian Geography
Marian sanctuaries, according to JPII, reveal to us the full nature of the Church. (Sanctuary of Knock, 1979) In the different Marian sanctuaries, affirmed the Servant of God, “where not only individuals or local groups, but sometimes whole nations and societies, even whole continents, seek to meet the Mother of the Lord, the one who is blessed because she believed is the first among believers and therefore became the Mother of Emmanuel. This is the message of centers like Guadeloupe, Lourdes, Fatima and the others situated in the various countries. Among them how could I fail to mention the one in my own native land, Jasna Gora? One could perhaps speak of a specific "geography" of faith and Marian devotion, which includes all these special places of pilgrimage where the People of God seek to meet the Mother of God in order to find, within the radius of the maternal presence of her "who believed," a strengthening of their own faith.” (MR 28)
There is a geography of faith… how beautiful to understand this passing through the marian shrines… places that present to us the mystery of the Visitation in which each pilgrim because like the cousin Elizabeth. In this year, the entire Church celebrates 150 years of having received the visit of the Mother of God… and together we exclaim, directing our gaze to Lourdes, France: who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to visit me?
In Lourdes, The Immaculate opened a fountain of grace and healing. Bernadette’s mother allowed her to go with her younger sister Maria and a friend out to the fields to gather dry wood. The favorite spot for this was a field in front of the grotto. Due to her frail health, Bernadette stayed behind. The girls crossed the stream, but Bernadette did not dare to enter the water because it was too cold.
The girls insisted that she try, and when she started to take off her shoes, a very loud noise, like strong winds,made her raise her head and look around. At the back of the grotto a marvelous apparition stood out in front of her. At this same moment the Church bells started to ring to announce the Angelus.
Our Lady was surrounded by a light brilliant as the sun, but sweet and gentle, like everything that comes from heaven. She was dressed with a brilliant white dress, of unknown texture and tied to it was a blue ribbon; a long white veil that fell to her feet covered her body. Her bare feet of a virginal cleanliness seemed to lean on the wild rose bush. Two brilliant gold colored roses covered the top of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s feet. Everything in her radiated happiness, majesty, innocence, goodness, sweetness and peace. Her forehead was smooth and serene; her eyes where blue, full of love; and her lips appeared soft and meek.
Our Lady seemed to be greeting Bernadette tenderly while she bent toward her. Her hands were clasped together in front of her chest in a fervent, prayerful position. She held a long white and gold rosary with a beautiful golden cross between her fingers. Our Lady started to go through the beads of the rosary between her fingers and together they prayed. Lourdes has become a surprising school of prayer. “Here, the Virgin invited Bernadette to pray the Rosary, praying Herself with the Rosary. In this manner, this Grotto has become a surprising school of prayer, in which Mary teaches all to contemplate with ardent love the Face of Christ.” JPII Introduction of the Luminous mysteries of the Rosary, Lourdes August 14, 2004.Sunday, February 14: Holy Water
Bernadette perceives a strong interior force that moves her to return to the Grotto. Because of her insistence, her mother allows her to return. After the first mystery of the Rosary, Bernadette sees the same Lady. Bernadette sprinkles holy water on Her to see if She was from god. The Virgin smiled when the water touched her feet, She took her rosary and together they begin to pray. The snares and laughter begins against Bernadette.
Thursday, February 18: Our Lady speaks
For the first time, our Lady speaks. Bernadette handed a paper to Our Blessed Mother and asked her to write down what she desired to communicate. The Virgin said : “What I have to communicate is not necessary to write down, just grant me the gift of coming here during 15 consecutive days.” Bernadette promised Our Lady to do so and Our Lady responded: “ I also promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next.” The fifteen miraculous days begins. Rumors of the apparitions expanded rapidly and great multitudes of people visited the grotto.
Friday, February 19: Brief and silent apparition
Bernadette arrived at the grotto accompanied by her parents and many people. From this day on she went to all the apparitions with a lighted candle.
Saturday, February 20: A Personal Prayer
The lady has taught her a personal prayer. When the vision concludes, a great sadness overcomes Bernadette.
Sunday, February 21: Pray for Sinners
At one point it seemed as if the apparition was moving towards the back, as if burying itself in the rock. So as not to lose Mary from her sight, Bernadette approached closer on her knees. She observed that Our Blessed Mother become saddened. She asked her : “What is wrong ? What can I do ?” The Blessed Mother responded: “Pray for sinners.”
Bernadette was an object of ridicule, persecutions, and offenses. The civil authorities also became involved. Thecommissioner even picked her up from her house to examine her, threatening to take her to jail if she continued going to the grotto. One of the main doctors of Lourdes decided to study her case and observe and examine her. Thedoctor’s examination concluded that Bernadette had no indication of hallucination, hysteria, or escape from reality. He said : “here is a extraordinary event, totally unknown to science and medicine.”
Monday, February 22: Our Lady did not appear
The Blessed Mother did not appear. All the people made fun of Bernadette. She cried thinking perhaps she had committed an offense and that was the reason why Our Blessed Mother did not appear. But she had firm hope of seeing Mary again.
One of the most surprising things for the people was to see a simple, humble, uneducated shepherd girl greet the Blessed Mother with so much grace and dignity after the apparitions.
One time she was asked: “Tell me, who taught you to be so gracious at your greetings?” She responded: “No one, I don’t know how I greet, I just try to do the same as the vision, she also greets me this way when she departs.”
Tuesday, February 23: The Secret
It’s the first time the Blessed Virgin orders something concrete. Before 10 thousand people our Blessed Mother gave Bernadette a secret that only she can keep and not reveal to anyone. She also taught her a prayer to repeat, but not to let others know it.
The Blessed Mother said: “Now, my daughter, go and tell the priest to erect in this place a Sanctuary, and people should come here in procession.” Bernadette went immediately to the church to give the message to the Pastor. The priest asked her the name of the lady and to tell Her that She do the miracle of having the rose bush blossom.”
Wednesday, February 24: Penance!
Bernadette told Mary what the priest requested. Our Blessed Mother only smiled without saying a word. She then asked her to pray for sinners and exclaimed three times: “Penance, Penance, Penance!” She asked Bernadette to repeat these words and she did so as she kneeled towards the back of the grotto. Mary revealed a personal secret there. The Blessed Mother said to her: “Pray for sinners . . . you will kiss the ground for the conversion of sinners.” As the vision moved back, Bernadette would follow it kneeling and kissing the ground. Bernadette turned to the people and said with signs: “You also kiss the ground.” Since then Bernadette received the mission to do penance for sinners.
One day the Virgin asked her to go up and down the grotto on her knees. The Virgin’s face was very sad. “The Virgin has ordered this for me and for others,” Bernadette said.
Thursday, February 25: The Fountain
The Virgin confides the third and final secret to Bernadette: Mary said: “My daughter, I want to entrust the last secret only to you; just as the last two, do not reveal them to any person in this world.” After a moment of silence the Virgin said: “And now go and drink and wash your feet at the fountain, and eat the grass there.” Bernadette looked around her, and saw no fountain. She thought the Virgin was sending her to the stream nearby and ran to it. The Blessed Mother stopped her and said: “Don’t go there, go to the fountain that is here.” She pointed to the grotto.
Bernadette went up and stopped near the rock. She looked for the fountain with no success, and so as trying to obey, she looked at Mary. Having been given a new sign from Mary, Bernadette inclined down and started digging into the dirt with her hands, successfully digging a hole. All of a sudden it started to become humid and coming from unknown depth, through the rocks, water started to appear and rapidly fill the hole with as much water to fill a glass.
Mixed with swampy dirt, Bernadette put it on her lips three times, with no intention of drinking it. Overcoming her repugnance to the dirty water, she drank it and wet her face. The people started to laugh and made fun of her, saying she was mad. She responded to them: "IT IS FOR SINNERS!"
But in God’s mysterious designs, Bernadette with her fragile had hands just unknowingly opened the spring of healings and great miracles that have moved humanity. The miraculous water of Lourdes has been examined by prominent scientists: it is virgin water, very pure, natural water, lacking thermal properties. Also, it has the particularity that no bacteria live in this water (Symbol of the Immaculate Conception, in which there never was in her a stain of original or personal sin).
Friday, February 26: the First miracle
The miraculous waters produced the first miracle. The good pastor of Lourdes had asked for a small sign, but the Blessed Virgin gave the entire population and him a very large one.
In Lourdes lived a poor working man, a stone cutter named Bourriette who had his left eye mutilated by a mine explosion 20 years before. He was a very honest and Christian man. He sent his daughter to the new fountain for water and started to pray. Even though the water was dirty he rubbed his eye with it. He then started to scream with joy.The darkness disappeared: nothing but a small cloud was left which also disappeared as he continued washing his eye with the water. Doctors had said that he would never recover his sight. Upon examining him again, no choice was left but to call it a miracle. The most amazing thing was that the miracle left the scars and the profound lesions of the wound, but his sight was recovered.
Saturday, February 27: Silence
The apparition is silent. Bernadette drinks water from the fountain and makes her usual gestures of penance.
Sunday, February 28: Between persecutions, a second miracle
More than a thousand people are present during the apparition. Bernadette prays, kisses the ground and crawls on her knees as a sign of penance. They then take her to Judge Ribes house who threatens to put her in jail. Another miracle: among the thousands of people, there for the first time a priest. During the night, Catalina Latapie, a friend of Lourdes, goes to the Grotto, wets her dislocated arm into the fountain of water and her arm and hand recuperate their agility.
On Tuesday, March 2, Bernadette went again to see the pastor of Lourdes, reminding him of Mary’s request to build a sanctuary on the sight of the apparitions. The pastor said it was a work for the Bishop who is already aware of the petition and the one responsible to fulfill the celestial desire of the vision.
Wednesday, March 3: A smile and another miracle
At 7 in the morning, Bernadette goes to the Grotto but the Vision does not appear. At the end of the school day she feels an interior call to go to the Grotto and returns to ask the Lady her name. The response is a smile. The Pastor says once more: “If the Lady really wants a chapel, She must say Her name and make the flowers at the Grotto bloom.
On the last day, as was her usual habit, Bernadette went to Holy Mass before going to the grotto. At the end of the apparition she felt deep sadness, the sadness of separation. “Will I see the Virgin again?” The Virgin, always generous, did not allow the day to end without a manifestation of her goodness: a great miracle, a maternal miracle, the crowning of the fifteen apparitions.
The miracle: a two-year old child named Justino who was already agonizing. Since birth he had high fever that little by little was deteriorating his life. On the day of the miracle, his parents thought he was dead. The mother in desperation took the child and ran to the fountain. The child did not have any vital signs. The mother immersed the child in the cold water for 15 minutes. After she returned to the house, she noticed the child was breathing normally. The following day Justino woke up with a healthy complexion, his eyes full of life, he asked for food, and his legs were strengthened. This event moved the whole region and soon afterwards all of France and Europe. Three well known doctors certified the miracle, naming it of first degree.
After this the governor of Tarbes, the city to which Lourdes belonged, united all the mayors of the area to give precise instructions on how to immediately prohibit the people from visiting the grotto. All was in vain because more and more pilgrims from all over went to the grotto every day.
Bernadette continued going to the grotto, even despite the persecutions and mockery. She would go pray the rosary with the pilgrims, but the gentle vision did not appear. She resigned herself to not seeing the Virgin again.
Thursday, March 4: A great multitude accompanies her
The people grew increasingly numerous (around eight thousand people) were expecting a miracle at the end of the fifteen days. The vision remained silent. The priest Peyramale held his position. During the following twenty days, Bernadette would not go to the Grotto; she did not perceive within her the irresistible invitation.
Thursday, March 25: The name that was long awaited!
Finally Our Lady revealed her name; but the wild rose upon which her feet rested during the apparitions did not bloom. Bernadette recounts: “SHE RAISED HER EYES TO HEAVEN, JOINED HER HANDS IN A SIGN OF PRAYER WHICH HAD BEEN OPEN AND EXTENDED TOWARD THE GROUND, AND TOLD ME: I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.”
Bernadette left running, repeating without stopping along the way, those words that she did not understand. Wordsthat moved the good pastor, since Bernadette was still ignorant of this theological expression that served to name the Blessed Virgin Mary. Only four years before, in 1854, had Pope Pius IX declared that expression as a truth of the faith, a dogma.
Wednesday, April 7: the miracle of the Candle
During the apparition, Bernadette holds in her hand a lighted candle. At a certain point, the flame of the candle brushes her hand but without burning her. This occurrence is reported by Dr. Douzous.
Narration of the miracle of the Candle:
This day, Bernadette returned to the grotto, surrounded by a great crowd of people who prayed with her. Bernadette knelt as was her usual custom, she had a lit candle in her left hand that accompanied her on all occasions and she set on the ground. Absorbed in contemplation of the Queen of Heaven and moreover knowing now with certainty that she was the Blessed Virgin Mary, she raised her hands and let them fall a little, without noticing that she had them above the top of the lit candle. The flame then began to pass between her fingers and grew over them, moving from one side to the other according to the light breeze. Those who were there shouted: “She’s getting burned!” But she remained unmoved. A doctor who was close to Bernadette took out his watch and confirmed for more than fifteen minutes that the hand that was in middle of the flame without making any movement. Everyone shouted, “Miracle!” The doctor noticed that Bernadette’s hand was unharmed. After the apparition ended, one of the spectators brought the flame of the same lit candle close to her hand, and she exclaimed, “Are you trying to burn me?”
Thursday, July 16: Last Apparition
Bernadette feels the mysterious interior call of the Virgin and goes to the Grotto. As it was not permitted anymore for people to go to the Grotto, she goes to the other side of the nave, in front of the Grotto. “IT SEEMED TO ME THAT I WAS IN FRONT OF THE GROTTO, AT THE SAME DISTANCE AS OTHER TIMES, I DID NOT SEE ANYTHING BUT THE VIRGIN. I HAD NEVER SEEN HER SO BEAUTIFUL!
Bernadette had fulfilled her mission with great love and courage in front of all the sufferings that she had to overcome and before all the obstacles that the Enemy put in her path. Her confessor said repeatedly: “The greatest proof of the apparitions is Bernadette herself, her life.”
The messages the Blessed Virgin Mary gave at Lourdes, France in 1858, are summarized as follows:
1- It is in appreciation from heaven of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, declared four years prior (in 1854). At the same time, She presents herself as Mother and model of purity for the world in need of this virtue.
2- It is an exaltation of the virtues of poverty and humility accepted in a Christian way by having chosen Bernadette as an instrument of her messages.
3- An important message in Lourdes is the Cross. The Blessed Mother repeats that the most important thing is to be happy in the other life, even though it is necessary to accept the Cross to achieve happiness.
4- The importance of prayer, the rosary, penance, and humility (kissing the ground as a sign); a message of infinite mercy for sinners and for the care of the sick.
1- Surrounded by light: this is a symbol of the light of faith which we receive at Baptism. Faith is the light of life with which we should shine before the world. We should transmit the brilliance of faith by our sanctity of life.
2- The light was tranquil and profound: in our Christian faith we find repose for our souls.
3- Of incomparable beauty, there is nothing like it here on earth: work unceasingly to acquire the true beauty of soul so that it is pleasing for God to contemplate.
4 - White dress, pure and delicate, never has anyone been able to imitate: our soul should be dressed in purity and be delicate before God; sin stains our white dress.
5- Bare feet, on top of which is a brilliant rose : bare feet preach to us about the evangelical poverty of the Gospels which is a beautiful and sublime virtue that to those who practice it Jesus has promised himself the Kingdom of Heaven. The luminous rose is a call to be the fragrance of Christ to all, the divine fragrance of the Gospels.
LIFE OF BERNADETTE
Religious, example of humility and trust in God
Humble and sickly childhood, but full of piety
St. Bernadette Soubirous was born on January 7th, 1844 in a
small town of Lourdes, in the most beautiful French Pyrenées
mountains. At baptism she was given the name Marie-Bernard, but
Her father, Francisco was an honest man, but not very capable in business. He worked as a miller for the Casterots, an affluent family. He lived with his family at the mill of Boly. Their mother, Luisa Casterot married at age 16 to assure her future, but things did not turn out well. When the clients came to grind their wheat, the young couple would provide a complete meal to them. They were able to do so in times of abundance, but crisis and tightness came to change all this.
Because of their debts, the Soubirous family had to leave the mill and find shelter in a cell of a prison, the property of Francisco’s cousin. The entire family of six lived in one room, the father, mother, and four children. The older ones were girls, Bernadette being the first, Toinette second (two and half years younger), then two boys, Jean-Marie and Justin. To obtain the scarce daily bread for the children, Francisco and Louise accepted all types of jobs.
When Bernadette was born the family still had resources. This is proven by the fact that the child was given to a wet nurse the first six months. The wet nurse’s name was Marie Avarant and her married name was Lagues. She lived in the countryside five miles from Lourdes. Marie Lagues breast-fed Bernadette for 15 months, from June 1844 to October 1845. According to the custom, both families stayed very united.
The economic difficulties of the Soubirous family gave opportunity for Marie to ask to care for Bernadette. This was an excuse so that Bernadette may help take care of the other children, but in reality Marie wanted her to tend the sheep. Bernadette became a contracted shepherdess without pay.
On her departure to Bartres she was promised that she will be able to be prepared for First Communion by the priest of the village. She was 14 years old and the only girl of this age in Lourdes who had not received First Communion. But seeing how well she worked, they obliged her to spend more time caring for the sheep, and this did not permit her to receive Catechism classes because she was out in the fields working. This hurt her heart very much.
Bernadette’s intelligence had been questioned. Many believe she was not very intelligent. It is true she learned with difficulty and she herself said she had “a bad head,” meaning little memory. Because she was not given the opportunity to study, Bernadette at 13 years of age did not know how to read or write. The teacher Jean Barbet, who once gave her Catechism class, said about her: “Bernadette has difficulties retaining the words in Catechism which she cannot study because she does not know how to read. However, she applies enormous effort to comprehend the meaning of the explanations. She is very attentive, most especially, she is very pious and modest.”
Even though the priest of Bartres, Abbe Arder, had entered a monastery shortly after Bernadette arrived, he was able to capture the excellence of her heart in the little contact he had with her. The priest had much faith in the apparitions of La Salette (1846), 11 years before, and compared Bernadette with the children of La Salette.
He said about Bernadette: “She seems to me like a flower surrounded in divine perfume. I assure you that on many occasions, when I have seen her, I have thought of the children of La Salette. Certainly, if the Blessed Virgin appeared to Maximino and Melania, she did so in order for them to become as simple and pious as she is.”
Neither ignorance nor poverty, not even the sickly aspect of Bernadette prevented the appreciation of her virtues of simplicity and piety.
The Priest on one occasion said: “Look at this small child. When the Blessed Virgin wants to appear on earth she chooses children like her.”
His words were prophetic, for in a few months the Blessed Virgin started to appear to Bernadette in the grotto of Massabielle, near Lourdes. When Bernadette saw that her desire to receive Holy Communion would not be possible in Bartres, she asked Maria Lagues to allow her to go to Lourdes, insisting to her parents to allow her to return home. She wanted to receive First Communion in 1858 and needed to start catechism classes immediately.
It is important, as such, to understand the reason that Bernadette was in Lourdes when she was 14 years old and the apparitions began: she sought with her whole heart to receive Holy Communion. Our Lady visited a pure soul full of love for her Son, a soul disposed to sacrifice anything to accomplish the work of God. Bernadette, upon seeing herself prevented from receiving Communion, had recourse to Our Lady, praying the rosary daily and Our Lady opened the doors for her. Our Lady knew that she could trust to her the transcendent message she wanted to communicate to the world.
Her parents agreed and she returned to Lourdes on January 28th, 1858 only 14 days before the first apparition of the Virgin. The Blessed Mother appeared from February 11th, 1858 to July 16th of the same year.
Two virtues stood out in Bernadette: piety and modesty. To be pious it is not necessary to be intelligent.
Even after she became a religious, she herself said that she did not know how to pray and would remain long hours in prayer. Her prayer was not mechanical; she would speak to God and the Virgin just as we speak to a person face to face. It was a prayer from the heart: intense, honest and effective.
She loved prayer. She knew very well how to pray the Holy Rosary, which she always carried in her pocket. She had the Rosary in her hands when Our Lady appeared. Her first response in times of difficulties or trials was to take out the Rosary and start praying.
This small soul chosen by the Virgin had much to suffer both morally and physically until her death. But we should never forget that God guided this small child and she responded with humility, abandonment, faith and courage. Bernadette had virtues that were criticized by the people as “defects.” Because of this error of the people, the authenticity of the apparitions was doubted. This child of only 14 years old (she became 14 on Jan. 7th, 1858) had to be wise, firm, extraordinarily courageous, and how to make discernments and confront the people trying to dissuade her, among them priests, bishops, head of police, attorneys, etc.
To have an idea of the interior fortitude and capacity of judgment Bernadette had, we can see some statements she made during an interrogation to which she was submitted. After the Chief Prosecutor, Mr. Dutor, made Bernadette and her mother stand for a long time, he finally said to them : “There are chairs. You may sit down.”
Bernadette responded: “No. We can dirty them.”
On another occasion, when she was asked about the language that the Virgin spoke, Bernadette said:
“She spoke to me in dialect.” They responded to her: “The Virgin Mary couldn’t have spoken in dialect, because God and the Virgin don’t speak dialect.”
Bernadette responded: “How can we know and speak dialect if they don’t speak it? Do you think she spoke to me in French? Do I speak French?”
In the twelfth apparition, Bernadette gave the Virgin a rosary.
After the apparition, a priest asked her: “Now you also bless rosaries?”
Bernadette smiled and said: “I don’t wear a stole do I?”
Another person asked her: “Well Bernadette, now that the Virgin promised you will go to heaven, you don’t need to worry about your soul.”
Bernadette: “But, Father, I will only go to heaven if I behave correctly.”
Her interrogations were long hours, sometimes entire days; they tried by all means to deceive her so she would contradict her declarations. But she maintained herself alert, on guard, knowing they were not looking for the truth, but wanted to prove she invented everything.
Bernadette frequently had to confront the Pastor of Lourdes, Abbe Peyramale, who had a reputation of having a bad temper. In all the occasions that our saint went to visit him, even fearful, she always controlled this natural tendency. Her will to accomplish the mission Our Lady gave her was more powerful than the bad temper of the priest. We see how Bernadette fulfilled the desires of the Virgin even though she had obstacles and personal weaknesses.
On March 25th, 1858, the Virgin revealed her identity, giving Bernadette the proof her pastor insisted upon. The words of the Blessed Virgin, “I’m the Immaculate Conception,” brought down once and for all the wall unbelief in the pastor’s heart, who became at this moment one of the greatest defenders and supporters of the apparitions, using his same temper to defend the girl against attackers.
The Lourdes apparitions were different from other apparitions like La Salette, Pointman, Fatima, Knock, Beuraing. With the exception of the apparition of the miraculous medal, Bernadette was the only visionary. She did not have another person to corroborate and support her testimony. Her only fountain of strength was the Blessed Virgin which was sufficient for her.
A time was to come when her gifts, interior fortitude, her diligence in answering questions, all of which she used to defend the apparitions of the Virgin, were going to be used against her. Those who supported her knew and understood her great virtues, but according to those who criticized her these virtues were great defects. Her interior fortitude was called stubbornness; her diligence in responding was insolence. Once, in the Convent of Saint Gildard in Nevers, when she was accused of having self love, she drew a circle and put a mark with her finger in the center of the circle and said: “Whoever doesn’t have self love put your finger here” (indicating the marked center).
For Bernadette the apparitions were an unmerited blessing, this gift by itself did not make her a saint. It was a gift for the world, but at the same time, because of her admirable attitude she received graces leading her to holiness. It is important to clarify that St. Bernadette did not become a saint because she saw the Virgin Mary, but because she climbed the ladder of holiness through enormous trials and crosses. To be a saint it is not necessary to have great mystical experiences. It is necessary and sufficient to have two things: HUMILITY AND LOVE. It is in ardent prayer and a life of virtue that love is expressed in itself.
Bernadette after the apparitions
The humble young lady chosen for such a great mission remained
as she was before the apparitions. In other words the Virgin
conserved her simple, humble and modest. She did not like the
uproar and popularity.
She seemed like any ordinary girl, except in her virtues, innocence, candor and honesty in works. She piously received her First Holy Communion that same year on June 3, 1858, the Feast of Corpus Christi.
God continued visiting her, not with brilliant apparitions, but through the bitter trial of sufferings: of incomprehension, mockery and ridicule, she was ill most of the time, she withstood all types of pain, but she maintained herself recollected with patience. She suffered from chronic asthma, tuberculosis, vomiting blood, aneurism, gastritis, tumor in the knee, cavities in the bones, and abscesses in the ear leading to deafness. Shortly before death she slightly regained hearing.
The Virgin had said to Bernadette: “I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next.” These words of the Virgin were fulfilled fully in our saint. She suffered much during her life until her death at the age of 35. Bernadette’s health was very delicate; she was often in bed with high fevers and experienced many critical days with painful attacks of asthma.
Many found a cure in the fountain of Lourdes, but not Bernadette. One day she was asked: “Why don’t you drink from the water of the fountain? This water has cured others, why not you?” This insidious question could have become a temptation for Bernadette, but she was not disturbed. Bernadette responded:
“The Blessed Virgin perhaps desires for me to suffer. I need it.”
“Why you more than others?”
“The good God knows.”
“Will you return to the grotto again?”
“When the Pastor permits it.”
“Why doesn’t he permit it all the time?”
“Because all the people follow me.”
“You have gone before even though it was prohibited.”
“This was because I was pressured.”
“The Virgin said you will be happy in another world; therefore are you sure you are going to heaven?”
“O no, this is only if I do what is good.”
“Didn’t she tell you what to do to go to heaven?”
“You know it very well; it is not necessary for me to repeat it.”
Last years in Lourdes
Bernadette was unable to receive in her home the care she needed
for her fragile health and the great numbers of curious visitors
made her very tired. Seeing this need, Abbe Peyramal asked the
Superior of the Lourdes Hospice to receive the child. The priest
said: “The child should be with you because you can give her the
care she needs in all aspects.”
In 1860, the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, who served in the hospital and the school, offered her help. Since that day she stayed under their roof with her delicate health but with orders to never attract attention to herself from anyone. Even when her parents moved from the jail to the mill, the sisters still gave her permission to stay with them. Her mother cried when she left, but she knew this was best for her daughter.
In the hospice Bernadette was assigned to the care of Sister Elizabeth who was to teach her to read and write. Bernadette was 16 years old, it was July of 1860. The superior told Sister Elizabeth: “It is said she is not too intelligent. See if there is a possibility to do something with her.”
Referring to Bernadette, Sister Elizabeth said: “I found in her a vivid intelligence, perfect innocence and an exquisite heart.” She ended up reporting to the Mother Superior the following: “My dear Mother, you have been mislead. Bernadette is very intelligent and retains very well the doctrine given.”
Without being brilliant, Bernadette acquired a lot of knowledge. During her time in the hospice, she still acted like someone her age. She was honorable, sincere, pious and playful, very vivid, enjoyed laughter, saying jokes and playing games. Many times she was given the task of caring for the younger children, as customary in elementary schools. Bernadette showed herself to be as young and playful as the youngest girl.
One of the children said: “Bernadette was very simple. When we asked her to take care of us, she did so in such a way that she seemed like another child playing with us, not letting us be reminded of her miraculous adventure. Raised with the thought that our friend saw the Virgin Mary, we consider her very natural as a child of today who has seen the president of the Republic.”
Bernadette was completely natural in her daily behavior, but she was very serious in her Christian life. During her growing years Bernadette had, like all young ladies, her moments of vanity, wanting to look good. But all these vanities passed by her rapidly without leaving a trace in her heart. Sister Victorina said: “The fever passed rapidly and didn’t harm her profound piety.”
The community also counted on Bernadette’s prayers. One day Mother Alejandrina suffered a sprain and the doctor recommended that she rest. However, she was very active and asked Bernadette to ask the Virgin to cure her. Bernadette immediately went to pray before the statue of the Virgin in the chapel. She prayed with all her heart. The following day the doctor found Mother Alejandrina occupied in her work, as if nothing had happened.
Her religious vocation
The Blessed Virgin Mary gave her a special grace by calling her to religious life. It seemed Bernadette never seriously considered marriage. In 1863 at the age of 19 or 20, her religious vocation was clearly presented to her. She thought of being a Carmelite, but it was not difficult for her to comprehend that her health was too delicate to confront the rigors of the Carmel.
Bishop Forcade of Nevers who guided Bernadette had in his
diocese the Mother House of the Sisters of Charity of Hospice
and the School of Lourdes. He asked Bernadette what her future
intentions were and she responded: “Dear Bishop, all I ask is to stay in this house as a servant.” “But my child, haven’t you thought of becoming a religious like
the sisters you are so close to?”
“O Bishop, I have never believed this was possible for an
ignorant and poor child like me. You know very well that I’m
poor and don’t have the necessary dowry.”
“Poverty should not detain you. An exception to the rule can be
made and a young lady can be received without a dowry if she
shows clear indications of a vocation.”
“Bishop, your words have touched me profoundly, I promise I will
think about it.”
Bernadette knew a decision like this should not be done without
consideration and reflection.
The Bishop was very complacent with her prudence and recommended
her to take her time and to make a decision with complete
liberty and without haste.
On August 1864, Bernadette said to the Mother Superior of the Hospice: “My dear Mother, I have prayed much to know if I’m called to religious life. I believe the answer is yes. I would like to enter the congregation if I’m accepted. Permit me to write to the Bishop.”
In response, the Superior embraced Bernadette with tears of joy. After her decision, she experienced attacks of illnesses. The need to try several medicines to cure her delayed her entrance. In 1866 she wrote: “I’m more convinced than ever to leave the world. Now I have definitely decided and hope to leave it soon.”
Finally the great day came in July of 1866; she was 22 years old. She visited her beloved grotto for the last time with a farewell from the heart. “See this grotto? It was my heaven on earth.” The following day she said good-bye to her family and on July 4th, 1866, Bernadette left her birth place and never returned. Before departing she said a prayer inspired from the Magnificat in thanksgiving for the poverty of her servant. Directed to Mary she said: “Yes, dear Mother, you have come down to the earth to appear to a weak child. You, Queen of heaven and earth, have chosen what was the most humble according to the world.”
She departs to begin her novitiate
She departed to start her novitiate. She arrived at the convent
of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers on July 7th, 1866 in the
evening. On Sunday, Bernadette had a nostalgic attack that lead
her to cry all day. She was encouraged by the sisters telling
her that this was a good sign because her religious life should
start with sacrifice. In the history of the Mother house one can
read: “Bernadette is in reality all we have heard of her, humble
in a supernatural way; simple and modest even though she has
been exposed to things that would elevate her mind. She smiles
and is sweet and happy, even though her illness is eating her
up. This is the seal of holiness, suffering united with
Sr. Marie Bernard: Neither the Superior Mother Josefina Imbert nor the novice mistress Mother Maria Teresa Vausou understood the treasure God had given them. They did admit that the Virgin appeared to Bernadette, but they saw her so “ordinary” that they had difficulty in seeing her holiness. Apparently their idea of holiness was different from the Church’s.
In the diocesan process of Beatification, Rev. P. Peach, professor of dogmatic theology in the seminary of Moulins, said to his students: “The testimony was this: Bernadette was very ordinary. But when asked if she was faithful to the rules, if she needed to be corrected for disobedience or in reference to the vows of poverty, chastity, all the sisters agreed and said: O no, none of this.”
Why did the superiors treat her poorly? We can only respond that it was part of Divine Providence for the sanctification of Bernadette. Particularly the Novice Mistress, Mother Maria Teresa Vauzou, caused much spiritual suffering for Bernadette during the 13 years she lived in the convent. Mother Maria Teresa was known for her observant eye and her psychological penetration; but she was never capable of capturing this pure soul’s intimate union with God and total abandonment to the desires of God’s Divine Will that formed her interior life. Bernadette never studied forms of prayer, but spent hours praying, reciting her rosary with great devotion. She lived in perpetual union with the Virgin Mary and with Jesus through Her.
Upon receiving her postulant habit, her religious name was given; it was her same baptismal name- Sister Marie Bernard.
Three weeks after receiving the habit, Bernadette became gravely
ill with a new attack of tuberculosis and had to be admitted to
the infirmary. This crisis of asthmatic suffocation and of
coughing was so serious that the doctor thought she would die
Mother Superior called the Bishop and he administered the Extreme Unction, but she was unable to receive the Viaticum because of her constant coughing and vomiting of blood. Thinking Bernadette was to die soon, Mother Superior gave her the consolation of permitting her to pronounce her vows. She talked to the Bishop and the community approved.
Knowing what she was about to do, Bernadette responded with a thankful smile. Bishop Forcade presided over the ceremony. Bernadette gave her consent by signs because she was not able to speak. She was given the profession veil. All believed she was dying but Bernadette always put her health in the hands of Mary.
The new religious fell asleep and woke up the next morning very happy, declaring to her Superior: “My Reverend Mother, you allowed me to do my religious profession, thinking I was going to die. Well look, I’m not going to die.”
The Mother Superior responded: “You silly girl, you knew you were not going to die and did not tell us. In this case, if you have not died by tomorrow morning I will take your veil away.”
Sister Marie Bernard simply responded with admirable heroic submission: “As you wish, Reverend Mother.” Even though this caused her great pain she knew how to accept this chalice that the Lord sent her.
Her mother died on December 8th, 1866 at the age of 45 years. This was one of the greatest sufferings that Bernadette experienced. In her pain she said to the Lord: “My God, you have willed this! I accept the chalice you have given me. May your Name be blessed.”
During her novitiate Bernadette was treated harshly and perhaps with more cruelty than the rest of the novices. Her companions would say: “It is not good to be Bernadette.” But she accepted all and saw the hand of God in everything.
Bernadette professed on October 30th, 1867 with the name of Sister Marie Bernard. She was 23 years old. The happiness of this moment, however, was stained by cruel humiliation. When time came to distribute the newly professed sisters their work, Mother Superior responded to the Bishop’s question: “What about Sister Marie Bernard?” “O Bishop, we do not know what to do. She is good for nothing. If you desire, Bishop, we can try to use her as a helper in the infirmary.” The Bishop agreed. Sister Marie Bernard received the pain of this humiliation in her heart without any complaints or tears, she simply accepted the chalice.
The next chalice she was to drink was the death of her father in 1871, six years after the death of her mother. She did not get a chance to him after leaving Lourdes.
A sister found her crying in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and when the sister was going to console her she said:“My sister, always have great devotion to the agony of our Savior. Saturday in the afternoon I prayed to Jesus in agony for all those who would die at this moment, and it was precisely the moment my father entered eternity. What a consolation it is for me to have helped him.”
She had to go through many tribulations; big and small humiliations bombarded her. She said: “When my emotions are too strong, I remember the words of Our Lord: ‘It is I, don’t be afraid.’ I immediately appreciate and thank Our Lord for this grace of rejections and humiliations from my Superiors and sisters. It is the love of this Good Master who would remove the roots from this tree of pride. The more little I become, the more I grow in the Heart of Jesus.”
Bernadette was given a great gift in the beginning of 1874. She was an assistant in the infirmary, a job she loved very much, but her strength was diminishing.
After a bronchitis attack she had in the fall of 1873, for which she was hospitalized, it was determined she was too weak to continue helping in the infirmary and was given the work that required the least physical effort. It was at the same time the most important and the one which she loved more than being a helper in the infirmary.
Later she was named assistant sacristan. Her new position gave her the opportunity to spend more time in the chapel, close to the Blessed Sacrament. She was almost without supervision, something which permitted her to talk to the Lord in the Tabernacle without anyone thinking she was strange. She managed all the sacred vessels with great reverence. The corporal, purificators and albs were treated conscious that Jesus Incarnate touched them during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That is why she did not permit anyone to help her in this ministry. This gift, however, did not last too long because her health deteriorated. She became disabled from 1877 until her death. She was provided with all possible help and she obeyed all doctors orders.
She professed Perpetual Vows on September 22nd, 1878, during a period when she was feeling better. Her good health, however, did not last long. The following December 11th, she returned to the infirmary to never leave it.
The Dark Night
Her last months were very difficult. She went through the dark night of the soul. She lost her confidence, her peace of heart and the certitude of heaven. She was tempted with discouragement and desperation, thinking she was not worthy of salvation. This was her most bitter chalice and the greatest suffering. She suffered very much physically. Being in bed created wounds all over her back. Her tuberculosis ridden leg burst. She developed abbesses in her ears, making her completely deaf for some time. If it were not for the evidence of her symptoms no one would suspect she was so sick. Her serene and joyful attitude did not manifest the profound suffering she was going through. Bernadette never lost her fortitude and acceptance. To a sister who said she was going to pray to the Lord so He would console Bernadette, the latter responded: “No, no, no consolation, only strength and patience.”
Bernadette experienced her passion during Holy Week of 1879. On
April 16th, 1879 she asked the religious to pray the rosary with
her while she followed with fervor. At the end of the Hail Mary,
she smiled as if she had encountered again the Virgin in the
Grotto. Then she died at 3:15 PM. Her last words were the
conclusion of the Hail Mary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for
Her body was placed in the small Gothic Chapel situated in the center of the convent’s garden which was dedicated to St. Joseph. On September 22, 1909, 30 years after her death, her body was removed from this same chapel to be examined for the Diocesan Beatification process. The body was found in a perfectly preserved state. Her skin was hard, but intact and her color remained. A second examination occurred on April 18th, 1925, just before her beatification on June 12, 1925.
Bernadette was canonized on December 8th, 1933. We celebrate her feast day on the day she went to the Father’s house: April 16th.
Lourdes has become the most visited Marian Shrine of Europe and the second in the world after the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. An infinite number of sick people have visited Lourdes and have been healed in the miraculous waters, but the greatest gift is still the amount of conversions of the heart.
Today, Saint Bernadette’s body can still be seen incorrupt in the Chapel of Nevers in the glass casket where she appears to be asleep. Her sweetness and peace touch all our hearts.
DECREE according to which is granted a daily Plenary Indulgence
on the 150th Anniversary of the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes
On the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Grotto of Massabielle near Lourdes, a daily Plenary Indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who, from 8 December 2007 until 8 December 2008, devoutly and in accordance with the established conditions, visit the Grotto of Massabielle, as well as those who, from 2-11 February 2008, visit a blessed image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes solemnly displayed for public veneration in any church, oratory, grotto or suitable place.
God's omnipotence and infinite love have joined together in a marvellous bond the role of Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and hence, Mother of his Mystical Body the Church, and the salvific work of the Church herself: Blessed Abbot Guerric thus connects the protection sought by the Christian faithful from Mother Mary with the Catholic Church's universal ministry of salvation: "The Blessed Mother of Christ, insofar as she sees herself the mother of Christians by way of mystery, also shows herself to be a mother by her solicitude and tender affection for them.... Consider if her children, prompted by a certain spontaneous sense of faith, do not also acknowledge her as mother as they find refuge, before all else, at the invocation of her name in every trial and danger just like children in the arms of their mother" (Sermo I, In Assumptione B. Mariae Virg.).
Similarly, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council highlights what we might call the "joint" mission of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Catholic Church: "For Mary, who since her entry into salvation history unites in herself and re-echoes the greatest teachings of the faith as she is proclaimed and venerated, calls the faithful to her Son and his sacrifice and to the love of the Father. Seeking after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like her exalted Type, and continually progresses in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things" (n. 65).
The history of the Church and the marvellous signs of Marian devotion continually and clearly confirm the ways of Divine Providence and foster devotion among the faithful.
A glance over the nearly 150 years since Mary Most Holy, revealing herself to little Bernadette Soubirous as the Immaculate Conception, wanted a shrine, a treasury of grace, to be built and maintained in the place called Massabielle, in the city of Lourdes, brings to mind the countless number of signs by which the supernatural life of souls and even the health of bodies have benefited much from the goodness of Almighty God. This plan of Divine Providence, accompanied by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, clearly demonstrates that the integral end of man is the good of the whole human person, both here on earth and especially in eternal salvation.
Since the establishment of the Shrine at Lourdes, the Christian faithful have understood that there the Blessed Virgin Mary, through the ministry of the Catholic Church, desires to provide most lovingly for the complete health of men and women.
For as they venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary in the place "touched by her feet", they refresh themselves with the sacraments, make firm resolutions to lead more perfect Christian lives, perceive more clearly the meaning of the Church and experience the solid reasons for all these things: the very connection of these remarkable events over time has clearly attested to the joint action of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church: indeed, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was defined in 1854, and in 1858, Mary Most Holy appeared to the devout young girl Bernadette Soubirous with ineffable motherly sweetness, uttering the words of the dogmatic definition: "I am the Immaculate Conception".
In order to allow the fruits of renewed holiness to grow from this blessed commemoration, the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI has generously decreed that the gift of a Plenary Indulgence be granted according to the following conditions:
Each and every member of the Christian faithful who, truly repentant, is purified through sacramental confession, restored through the Most Holy Eucharist and offers prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, will be able to gain a Plenary Indulgence daily, which may also be applied, by way of suffrage, to the souls of the faithful in Purgatory:
A) If, during the year running from 8 December 2007 until the end of 8 December 2008, they devoutly visit the following places, preferably in this order - 1) the parish baptismal font used for the Baptism of Bernadette; 2) the house of the Soubirous family called the "cachot"; 3) the Grotto of Massabielle; 4) the chapel of the hospice where Bernadette made her First Communion - and pause to reflect for an appropriate length of time at each of these Jubilee sites, concluding with the Lord's Prayer, some legitimate form of the Profession of Faith, and the Jubilee prayer or some other Marian invocation.
B) If, from the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord on 2 February 2008 until the end of the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes on 11 February 2008, which is also the 150th Anniversary of the Apparition, they devoutly visit a blessed image of the Holy Virgin Mary of Lourdes in any church, chapel, grotto or other suitable place in which it is solemnly displayed, and in the presence of that image perform some pious act of Marian devotion, or at least pause to reflect for an appropriate length of time, concluding with the Lord's Prayer, some legitimate form of the Profession of Faith, and the Jubilee prayer or some other Marian invocation.
C) The elderly, sick, and all those unable to leave home for a just cause, if they consciously reject all sin and have the intention to fulfil the above-mentioned conditions as soon as possible, are likewise able to obtain - at home or wherever they may be - a Plenary Indulgence, if, between the days of 2 and 11 February 2008, they complete a "spiritual visit" to the aforementioned places) in the desire of their heart, recite the prayers indicated above, and trustingly offer the pains and discomforts of their own lives to God through Mary.
In order that the Christian faithful may partake more readily of these heavenly gifts, priests who have received approval to hear confessions by the competent ecclesiastical authorities should welcome them with a willing and generous spirit and solemnly lead the recitation of public prayers to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God.
Notwithstanding anything to the contrary.
Given in Rome, at the Offices of the Apostolic Penitentiary, 21 November 2007, on the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Cardinal James Francis Stafford
Let us remember the 3 necessary conditions:
1) To be in grace at the moment of the good work (not being in mortal sin, for example, having missed Sunday Mass or Holy Days of Obligation, using contraceptives, not having confessed or received commuion for more than a year, etc.)
2) To confess from the heart (with true sorrow for one's sins, hate for even venial sin, intention of conversion and to aviod occasions for sin) and receive Communion within 15 days (8 before or 8 after the good work)
3) Pray at least an Our Father, Hail Mary, and a Glory Be for the intentions of the Holy Father. The ideal is to offer the indulgence for a soul in purgatory (where they suffer indescribably, almost as if in hell but with the hope of leaving one day) under the condition that, if another indulgence is not obtained later, it can be applied to oneself. Several saints, including St. Thomas, explain that it is more charitable to pray for a soul in purgatory than for one on earth, because in purgatory one cannot merit for oneself and moreover, upon leaving they pray for us before God. (See CCC 1471/98)
To gain a plenary indulgence one communion is necessary per indulgence while one confession can cover several indulgences. In this way, daily communion and confessing every two weeks makes it possible to gain a daily indulgence: in a year it would mean 365 souls freed from purgatory who will gratefully pray for you before God.
Some good pious actos which are indulgenced during the whole year:
Praying the Rosary in community, interiorly meditating and announcing each of the 5 mysteries without interruption and in a high voice.
Half hour of reading and meditation on the Gospel
Half hour of adoration/prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament or Tabernacle
The Way of the Cross while fulfilling the conditions for the indulgence, taking advantage of including these points of catechesis about indulgences. It could also be added that praying the Way of the Cross at 3:00PM grants special graces promissed by Christ by being the Hour of Mercy: "Nothing will be denied to the soul who asks by the merits of My Passion." (Diary of St. Faustina, 1320)
Apostolic Trip to Lourdes on the occassion of the 150th Anniversary of the Apparitions
(September 12-15, 2008)
I am going to Lourdes in order to find the love of our Mother
Benedict XVI: I was in Lourdes for the International Eucharistic Congress in 1981, after the attack on the Holy Father [John Paul II]. And Cardinal Gantin was the Holy Father's Delegate. It is a very beautiful memory for me.
The day of St Bernadette's Feast is also my birthday. This fact already makes me feel very close to the little Saint, this little girl, young, pure and humble, with whom our Virgin spoke. To encounter this reality, this presence of the Blessed Virgin in our times, to see the traces of this young girl who was a friend of the Virgin and moreover, to meet the Virgin, her Mother, is a very important event for me. I am going to Lourdes in order to find there the love of our Mother which is the true cure for all illnesses, all sorrows. I go to be in solidarity with all those who are suffering; I go in a sign of love for our Mother. This seems to me a very important sign for our epoch.
About our Lady and the Word (Sept. 12, 2008)
in Our Lady we have the finest example of fidelity to God’s word. Her great fidelity found fulfillment in the Incarnation; with absolute confidence, Mary can say: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word!” (Lk 1:38). Our evening prayer is about to take up the Magnificat, the song of her whom all generations will call blessed. Mary believed in the fulfillment of the words the Lord had spoken to her (cf. Lk 1:45); she hoped against all hope in the resurrection of her Son; and so great was her love for humanity that she was given to us as our Mother (cf. Jn 19:27). Thus we see that “Mary is completely at home with the word of God; with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God” (Deus Caritas Est, 41). To her, then, we can say with confidence: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom!” (Spe Salvi, 50). Amen.
Lourdes, After the Prayer of the Holy Rosary (Sept. 13, 2008)
THE KINDNESS OF OUR LADY
One hundred and fifty years ago, on 11 February 1858, in this place known as the Grotto of Massabielle, away from the town, a simple young girl from Lourdes, Bernadette Soubirous, saw a light, and in this light she saw a young l ady who was “beautiful, more beautiful than any other”. This woman addressed her with kindness and gentleness, with respect and trust: “She said vous to me”, Bernadette recounted, “Would you do me the kindness of coming here for a fortnight?” she asked her. “She was looking at me as one person who speaks to another.” It was in this conversation, in this dialogue marked by such delicacy, that the Lady instructed her to deliver certain very simple messages on prayer, penance and conversion. It is hardly surprising that Mary should be beautiful, given that—during the apparition of 25 March 1858—she reveals her name in this way: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Mary is the sign of the Victory of love
Let us now look at this “woman clothed with the sun” (Rev 12:1) as she is described for us in Scripture. The Most Holy Virgin Mary, the glorious woman of the Apocalypse, wears on her head a crown of twelve stars which represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the entire people of God, the whole communion of saints, while at her feet is the moon, image of death and mortality. Mary left death behind her; she is entirely re-clothed with life, the life of her Son, the risen Christ. She is thus the sign of the victory of love, of good and of God, giving our world the hope that it needs. This evening, let us turn our gaze towards Mary, so glorious and so human, allowing her to lead us towards God who is the victor.
Bernadette’s radiant face
Countless people have borne witness to this: when they encountered Bernadette’s radiant face, it left a deep impression on their hearts and minds. Whether it was during the apparitions themselves or while she was recounting them, her face was simply shining. Bernadette from that time on had the light of Massabielle dwelling within her. The daily life of the Soubirous family was nevertheless a tale of deprivation and sadness, sickness and incomprehension, rejection and poverty. Even if there was no lack of love and warmth in family relationships, life at the cachot was hard. Nevertheless, the shadows of the earth did not prevent the light of heaven from shining. “The light shines in the darkness …” (Jn 1:5).
Places of Apparitions: Schools of the Holy Rosary
By coming here to Lourdes on pilgrimage, we wish to enter, following in Bernadette’s footsteps, into this extraordinary closeness between heaven and earth, which never fails and never ceases to grow. In the course of the apparitions, it is notable that Bernadette prays the rosary under the gaze of Mary, who unites herself to her at the moment of the doxology. This fact confirms the profoundly theocentric character of the prayer of the rosary. When we pray it, Mary offers us her heart and her gaze in order to contemplate the life of her Son, Jesus Christ. My venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, came here to Lourdes on two occasions. In his life and ministry, we know how much his prayer relied upon the Virgin Mary’s intercession. Like many of his predecessors in the Chair of Peter, he also keenly encouraged the prayer of the rosary; one of the particular ways in which he did so was by enriching the Holy Rosary with the meditation of the Mysteries of Light. These are now represented on the façade of the Basilica in the new mosaics inaugurated last year. As with all the events in the life of Christ, “which she preserved and pondered in her heart” (Lk 2:19), Mary helps us to understand all the stages in his public ministry as integral to the revelation of God’s glory. May Lourdes, the land of light, continue to be a school for learning to pray the Rosary, which introduces the disciples of Jesus, under the gaze of his Mother, into an authentic and cordial dialogue with his Master!
The torchlight procession expresses the mystery of prayer
On Bernadette’s lips we hear the Virgin Mary asking us to come here in procession so as to pray with simplicity and fervour. The torchlight procession expresses the mystery of prayer in a form that our eyes of flesh can grasp: in the communion of the Church, which unites the elect in heaven with pilgrims on earth, the light of dialogue between man and his Lord blazes forth and a luminous path opens up in human history, even in its darkest moments. This procession is a time of great ecclesial joy, but also a time of seriousness: the intentions we bring emphasize our profound communion with all those who suffer. We think of innocent victims who suffer from violence, war, terrorism, and famine; those who bear the consequences of injustices, scourges and disasters, hatred and oppression; of attacks on their human dignity and fundamental rights; on their freedom
to act and think. We also think of those undergoing family problems or suffering caused by unemployment, illness, infirmity, loneliness, or their situation as immigrants. Nor must we forget those who suffer for the name of Christ and die for him.
The Heart of Mary: School of Prayer
Mary teaches us to pray, to make of our prayer an act of love for God and an act of fraternal charity. By praying with Mary, our heart welcomes those who suffer. How can our life not be transformed by this? Why should our whole life and being not become places of hospitality for our neighbours? Lourdes is a place of light because it is a place of communion, hope and conversion.
As night falls, Jesus says to us: “keep your lamps burning” (Lk 12:35); the lamp of faith, the lamp of prayer, the lamp of hope and love! This act of walking through the night, carrying the light, speaks powerfully to the depths of ourselves, touches our heart and says much more than any other word uttered or heard. This gesture itself summarizes our condition as Christians on a journey: we need light, and at the same time are called to be light. Sin makes us blind, it prevents us from putting ourselves forward as guides for our brothers and sisters, and it makes us unwilling to trust them to guide us. We need to be enlightened, and we repeat the prayer of blind Bartimaeus: “Master, let me receive my sight!” (Mk 10:51). Let me see my sin which holds me back, but above all, Lord, let me see your glory! We know that our prayer has already been granted and we give thanks because, as Saint Paul says in the Letter to the Ephesians, “Christ shall give you light” (5:14), and Saint Peter adds, “he called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet 2:9).
To us who are not the light, Christ can now say: “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14), entrusting us with the responsibility to cause the light of charity to shine. As the Apostle Saint John writes, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 Jn 2:10). To live Christian love, means at the same time to introduce God’s light into the world and to point out its true source. Saint Leo the Great writes: “Whoever, in fact, lives a holy and chaste life in the Church, whoever sets his mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (cf. Col 3:2), in a certain way resembles heavenly light; as long as he himself observes the brilliance of a holy life, he shows to many, like a star, the path that leads to God” (Sermon III:5).
In this shrine at Lourdes, to which the Christians of the whole world have turned their gaze since the Virgin Mary caused hope and love to shine here by giving pride of place to the sick, the poor and the little ones, we are invited to discover the simplicity of our vocation: it is enough to love.
The Cross Reveals the Whole Depth of Love
Tomorrow, the celebration of the exaltation of the Holy Cross brings us into the very heart of this mystery. At this vigil, our gaze is already turned towards the sign of the new covenant on which the whole life of Jesus converges. The cross is the supreme and perfect act of the love of Jesus, who lays down his life for his friends. “So must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). As proclaimed in the songs of the Suffering Servant, the death of Jesus is a death which becomes a light fo r the nations; it is a death which, in intimate association with the liturgy of atonement, brings reconciliation, it is a death which marks the end of death. From that day onwards, the Cross is a sign of hope, Jesus’ victory standard, “because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Through the Cross, our whole life gains light, strength and hope. The Cross reveals the whole depth of love contained in the original design of the Creator; through the Cross, all is healed and brought to completion. That is why life lived with faith in Christ dead and risen becomes light.
Witnesses to light
The apparitions were bathed in light and God chose to ignite in Bernadette’s gaze a flame which converted countless hearts. How many come here to see it with the hope—secretly perhaps—of receiving some miracle; then, on the return journey, having had a spiritual experience of life in the Church, they change their outlook upon God, upon others and upon themselves. A small flame called hope, compassion, tenderness now dwells within them. A quiet encounter with Bernadette and the Virgin Mary can change a person’s life, for they are here, in Massabielle, to lead us to Christ who is our life, our strength and our light. May the Virgin Mary and Saint Bernadette help you to live as children of light in order to testify, every day of your lives, that Christ is our light, our hope and our life!
Lourdes, Homily of HH Benedict XVI on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Apparitions of Our Lady
Sept. 14, 2008
We are at the feet of the Immaculate Virgin, eager to learn
“Go and tell the priests that people should come here in procession, and that a chapel should be built here.” This is the message Bernadette received from the “beautiful lady” in the apparition of 2 March 1858. For 150 years, pilgrims have never ceased to come to the grotto of Massabielle to hear the message of conversion and hope which is addressed to them. And we have done the same; here we are this morning at the feet of Mary, the Immaculate Virgin, eager to learn from her alongside little Bernadette. You have come in large numbers to make this Jubilee pilgrimage with me and to entrust your families, your relatives and friends, and all your intentions to Our Lady.
Mary entrusts to us the Mystery of Her Son: His Cross
“What a great thing it is to possess the Cross! He who possesses it possesses a treasure” (Saint Andrew of Crete, Homily X on the Exaltation of the Cross, PG 97, 1020). On this day when the Church’s liturgy celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Gospel you have just heard reminds us of the meaning of this great mystery:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that men might be saved (cf. Jn 3:16). The Son of God became vulnerable, assuming the condition of a slave, obedient even to death, death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:8). By his Cross we are saved. The instrument of torture which, on Good Friday, manifested God’s judgement on the world, has become a source of life, pardon, mercy, a sign of reconciliation and peace. “In order to be healed from sin, gaze upon Christ crucified!” said Saint Augustine (Treatise on Saint John, XII, 11). By raising our eyes towards the Crucified one, we adore him who came to take upon himself the sin of the world and to give us eternal life. And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified one for mankind, for every man and woman. She invites us to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew. On this wood Jesus reveals to us his sovereign majesty, he reveals to us that he is exalted in glory. Yes, “Come, let us adore him!” In our midst is he who loved us even to giving his life for us, he who invites every human being to draw near to him with trust.
Our Lady teaches Bernadette to always make the sign of the Cross
This is the great mystery that Mary also entrusts to us this morning, inviting us to turn towards her Son. In fact, it is significant that, during the first apparition to Bernadette, Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross. More than a simple sign, it is an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God’s love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes. She invites all people of good will, all those who suffer in heart or body, to raise their eyes towards the Cross of Jesus, so as to discover there the source of life, the source of salvation.
The Church has received the mission of showing all people this loving face of God, manifested in Jesus Christ. Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards Christ. It is he who will make us free to love as he loves us, and to build a reconciled world. For on this Cross, Jesus took upon himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ. We entrust all this to Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, present at the foot of the Cross.
Embark on a journey of faith and conversion
In order to welcome into our lives this glorious Cross, the celebration of the Jubilee of Our Lady’s apparitions in Lourdes urges us to embark upon a journey of faith and conversion. Today, Mary comes to meet us, so as to show us the way towards a renewal of life for our communities and for each one of us. By welcoming her Son, whom she presents to us, we are plunged into a living stream in which the faith can rediscover new vigour, in which the Church can be strengthened so as to proclaim the mystery of Christ ever more boldly. Jesus, born of Mary, is the Son of God, the sole Saviour of all people, living and acting in his Church and in the world. The Church is sent everywhere in the world to proclaim this unique message and to invite people to receive it through an authentic conversion of heart. This mission, entrusted by Jesus to his disciples, receives here, on the occasion of this Jubilee, a breath of new life. After the example of the great evangelizers from your country, may the missionary spirit which animated so many men and women from France over the centuries, continue to be your pride and your commitment!
A genuine catechesis that is being proposed to us in this way, under Mary’s gaze.
When we follow the Jubilee Way in the footsteps of Bernadette, we are reminded of the heart of the message of Lourdes. Bernadette is the eldest daughter of a very poor family, with neither knowledge nor power, and in poor health. Mary chose her to transmit her message of conversion, prayer and penance, which fully accord with words of Jesus: “What you have hidden from the wise and understanding, you have revealed to babes” (Mt 11:25). On their spiritual journey, Christians too are called to render fruitful the grace of their Baptism, to nourish themselves with the Eucharist, to draw strength from prayer so as to bear witness and to express solidarity with all their fellow human beings (cf. Homage to the Virgin Mary, Piazza di Spagna, 8 December 2007). It is therefore a genuine catechesis that is being proposed to us in this way, under Mary’s gaze. Let us allow her to instruct us too, and to guide us along the path that leads to the Kingdom of her Son!
She is beauty transfigured, the image of the new humanity
In the course of her catechesis, the “beautiful lady” reveals her name to Bernadette: “I am the Imm aculate Conception”. Mary thereby discloses the extraordinary grace that she has received from God, that of having been conceived without sin, for “he has looked on his servant in her lowliness” (cf. Lk 1:48). Mary is the woman from this earth who gave herself totally to God, and who received the privilege of giving human life to his eternal Son. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me” (Lk 1:38). She is beauty transfigured, the image of the new humanity. By presenting herself in this way, in utter dependence upon God, Mary expresses in reality an attitude of total freedom, based upon the full recognition of her true dignity. This privilege concerns us too, for it discloses to us our own dignity as men and women, admittedly marked by sin, but saved in hope, a hope which allows us to face our daily life. This is the path which Mary opens up for man. To give oneself fully to God is to find the path of true freedom. For by turning towards God, man becomes himself. He rediscovers his original vocation as a person created in his image and likeness.
Mary comes to teach us to pray with a humble heart
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the primary purpose of the shrine at Lourdes is to be a place of encounter with God in prayer and a place of service to our brothers and sisters, notably through the welcome given to the sick, the poor and all who suffer. In this place, Mary comes to us as a mother, always open to the needs of her children. Through the light which streams from her face, God’s mercy is made manifest. Let us allow ourselves to be touched by her gaze, which tells us that we are all loved by God and never abandoned by him! Mary comes to remind us that prayer which is humble and intense, trusting and persevering, must have a central place in our Christian lives. Prayer is indispensable if we are to receive Christ’s power. “People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone” (Deus Caritas Est, 36). To allow oneself to become absorbed by activity runs the risk of depriving prayer of its specifically Christian character and its true efficacy. The prayer of the Rosary, so dear to Bernadette and to Lourdes pilgrims, concentrates within itself the depths of the Gospel message. It introduces us to contemplation of the face of Christ. From this prayer of the humble, we can draw an abundance of graces.
Our Mother also wants to tell you that not one of you is indifferent in God’s eyes.
The presence of young people at Lourdes is also an important element. Dear friends, gathered this morning around the World Youth Day Cross: when Mary received the angel’s visit, she was a young girl from Nazareth leading the simple and courageous life typical of the women of her village. And if God’s gaze focused particularly upon her, trusting in her, Mary wants to tell you once more that not one of you is indifferent in God’s eyes. He directs his loving gaze upon each one of you and he calls you to a life that is happy and full of meaning. Do not allow yourselves to be discouraged by difficulties! Mary was disturbed by the message of the angel who came to tell her that she would become the Mother of the Saviour. She was conscious of her frailty in the face of God’s omnipotence. Nevertheless, she said “yes”, without hesitating. And thanks to her yes, salvation came into the world, thereby changing the history of mankind. For your part, dear young people, do not be afraid to say yes to the Lord’s summons when he invites you to walk in his footsteps. Respond generously to the Lord! Only he can fulfill the deepest aspirations of your heart. You have come to Lourdes in great numbers for attentive and generous service to the sick and to the other pilgrims, setting out in this way to follow Christ the servant. Serving our brothers and sisters opens our hearts and makes us available. In the silence of prayer, be prepared to confide in Mary, who spoke to Bernadette in a spirit of respect and trust towards her. May Mary help those who are called to marriage to discover the beauty of a genuine and profound love, lived as a reciprocal and faithful gift! To those among you whom he calls to follow him in the priesthood or the religious life, I would like to reiterate all the joy that is to be had through giving one’s life totally for the service of God and others. May Christian families and communities be places where solid vocations can come to birth and grow, for the service of the Church and the world!
Mary's Message is a message of hope
Mary’s message is a message of hope for all men and women of our day, whatever their country of origin. I like to invoke Mary as the star of hope (Spe Salvi, 50). On the paths of our lives, so often shrouded in darkness, she is a beacon of hope who enlightens us and gives direction to our journey. Through her “yes”, through the generous gift of herself, she has opened up to God the gates of our world and our history. And she invites us to live like her in invincible hope, refusing to believe those who claim that we are trapped in the fatal power of destiny. She accompanies us with her maternal presence amid the events of our personal lives, our family lives, and our national lives. Happy are those men and women who place their trust in him who, at the very moment when he was offering his life for our salvation, gave us his Mother to be our own!
Dear Brothers and Sisters, in this land of France, the Mother of the Lord is venerated in countless shrines which thereby manifest the faith handed down from generation to generation. Celebrated in her Assumption, she is your country’s beloved patroness. May she always be honoured fervently in each of your families, in your religious communities and in your parishes! May Mary watch over all the inhabitants of your beautiful country and over the pilgrims who have come in such numbers from other countries to celebrate this Jubilee! May she be for all people the Mother who surrounds her children in their joys and their trials!
Lourdes, September 14, 2008
To renew our availability by contemplating our Lady´s fiat
Every day, praying the Angelus gives us the opportunity to meditate for a few moments, in the midst of all our activities, on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. At noon, when the first hours of the day are already beginning to weigh us down with fatigue, our availability and our generosity are renewed by the contemplation of Mary’s “yes”. This clear and unreserved “yes” is rooted in the mystery of Mary’s freedom, a total and entire freedom before God, completely separated from any complicity with sin, thanks to the privilege of her Immaculate Conception.
The Purity of Our Lady brings her Infinitely Closer to Our Hearts
This privilege given to Mary, which sets her apart from our common condition, does not distance her from us, but on the contrary, it brings her closer. While sin divides, separating us from one another, Mary’s purity makes her infinitely close to our hearts, attentive to each of us and desirous of our true good. You see it here in Lourdes, as in all Marian shrines; immense crowds come thronging to Mary’s feet to entrust to her their most intimate thoughts, their most heartfelt wishes. That which many, either because of embarrassment or modesty, do not confide to their nearest and dearest, they confide to her who is all pure, to her Immaculate Heart: with simplicity, without frills, in truth. Before Mary, by virtue of her very purity, man does not hesitate to reveal his weakness, to express his questions and his doubts, to formulate his most secret hopes and desires. The Virgin Mary’s maternal love disarms all pride; it renders man capable of seeing himself as he is, and it inspires in him the desire to be converted so as to give glory to God.
Thus, Mary shows us the right way to come to the Lord. She teaches us to approach him in truth and simplicity. Thanks to her, we discover that the Christian faith is not a burden: it is like a wing which enables us to fly higher, so as to take refuge in God’s embrace.
In Mary, the Church can already contemplate what she is called to become.
The life and faith of believers make it clear that the grace of the Immaculate Conception given to Mary is not merely a personal grace, but a grace for all, a grace given to the entire people of God. In Mary, the Church can already contemplate what she is called to become. Every believer can contemplate, here and now, the perfect fulfilment of his or her own vocation. May each of you always remain full of thanksgiving for what the Lord has chosen to reveal of his plan of salvation through the mystery of Mary: a mystery in which we are involved most intimately since, from the height of the Cross which we celebrate and exalt today, it is revealed to us through the words of Jesus himself that his Mother is our Mother. Inasmuch as we are sons and daughters of Mary, we can profit from all the graces given to her; the incomparable dignity that came to her through her Immaculate Conception shines brightly over us, her children.
You ‘are the true fount of hope’
Here, close to the grotto, and in intimate communion with all the pilgrims present in Marian shrines and with all the sick in body and soul who are seeking relief, we bless the Lord for Mary’s presence among her people, and to her we address our prayer in faith: “Holy Mary, you showed yourself here one hundred and fifty years ago to the young Bernadette, you ‘are the true fount of hope’ (Dante, Paradiso, XXXIII:12).
Faithful pilgrims who have gathered here from every part of the world, we come once more to draw faith and comfort, joy and love, security and peace, from the source of your Immaculate Heart. Monstra Te esse Matrem.
Show yourself a Mother for us all, O Mary! And give us Christ, the hope of the world! Amen.
Esplanade in front of the Basilica of Notre-Dame du Rosaire, Lourdes
15 September 2008
Let us contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for sinners
Yesterday we celebrated the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our salvation, which reveals the mercy of our God in all its fullness. The Cross is truly the place where God’s compassion for our world is perfectly manifested. Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for sinners. As Saint Bernard declares, the Mother of Christ entered into the Passion of her Son through her compassion (cf. Homily for Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption). At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her mother’s heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried over the tortured body of her Son. Her self-restraint, however, prevents us from plumbing the depths of her grief; the full extent of her suffering is merely suggested by the traditional symbol of the seven swords. As in the case of her Son Jesus, one might say that she too was led to perfection through this suffering (cf. Heb 2:10), so as to make her capable of receiving the new spiritual mission that her Son entrusts to her immediately before “giving up his spirit” (cf. Jn 19:30): that of becoming the mother of Christ in his members. In that hour, through the figure of the beloved disciple, Jesus presents each of his disciples to his Mother when he says to her: Behold your Son (cf. Jn 19:26-27).
Mary's tears transformed into a smile
Today Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.
The psalmist, seeing from afar this maternal bond which unites the Mother of Christ with the people of faith, prophesies regarding the Virgin Mary that “the richest of the people … will seek your smile” (Ps 44:13). In this way, prompted by the inspired word of Scripture, Christians have always sought the smile of Our Lady, this smile which medieval artists were able to represent with such marvellous skill and to show to advantage. This smile of Mary is for all; but it is directed quite particularly to those who suffer, so
that they can find comfort and solace therein. To seek Mary’s smile is not an act of devotional or outmoded sentimentality, but rather the proper expression of the living and profoundly human relationship which binds us to her whom Christ gave us as our Mother.
Our Lady taught bernadette to contemplate her smile
To wish to contemplate this smile of the Virgin, does not mean letting oneself be led by an uncontrolled imagination. Scripture itself discloses it to us through the lips of Mary when she sings the Magnificat: “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit exults in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:46-47). When the Virgin Mary gives thanks to the Lord, she calls us to witness. Mary shares, as if by anticipation, with us, her future children, the joy that dwells in her heart, so that it can become ours. Every time we recite the Magnificat, we become witnesses of her smile. Here in Lourdes, in the course of the apparition of Wednesday 3 March 1858, Bernadette contemplated this smile of Mary in a most particular way. It was the first response that the Beautiful Lady gave to the young visionary who wanted to know who she was. Before introducing herself, some days later, as “the Immaculate Conception”, Mary first taught Bernadette to know her smile, this being the most appropriate point of entry into the revelation of her mystery.
Her smile is a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope.
In the smile of the most eminent of all creatures, looking down on us, is reflected our dignity as children of God, that dignity which never abandons the sick person. This smile, a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope. Unfortunately we know only too well: the endurance of suffering can upset life’s most stable equilibrium; it can shake the firmest foundations of confidence, and sometimes even leads people to despair of the meaning and value of life. There are struggles that we cannot sustain alone, without the help of divine grace. When speech can no longer find the right words, the need arises for a loving presence: we seek then the closeness not only of those who share the same blood or are linked to us by friendship, but also the closeness of those who are intimately bound to us by faith. Who could be more intimate to us than Christ and his holy Mother, the Immaculate One? More than any others, they are capable of understanding us and grasping how hard we have to fight against evil and suffering. The Letter to the Hebrews says of Christ that he “is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses; for in every respect he has been tempted as we are” (cf. Heb 4:15). I would like to say, humbly, to those who suffer and to those who struggle and are tempted to turn their backs on life: turn towards Mary! Within the smile of the Virgin lies mysteriously hidden the strength to fight against sickness and for life. With her, equally, is found the grace to accept without fear or bitterness to leave this world at the hour chosen by God.
How true was the insight of that great French spiritual writer, Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, who in L’ âme de tout apostolat, proposed to the devout Christian to gaze frequently “into the eyes of the Virgin Mary”! Yes, to seek the smile of the Virgin Mary is not a pious infantilism, it is the aspiration, as Psalm 44 says, of those who are “the richest of the people” (verse 13). “The richest”, that is to say, in the order of faith, those who have attained the highest degree of spiritual maturity and know precisely how to acknowledge their weakness and their poverty before God. In the very simple manifestation of tenderness that we call a smile, we grasp that our sole wealth is the love God bears us, which passes through the heart of her who became our Mother. To seek this smile, is first of all to have grasped the gratuitousness of love; it is also to be able to elicit this smile through our efforts to live according to the word of her Beloved Son, just as a child seeks to elicit its mother’s smile by doing what pleases her. And we know what pleases Mary, thanks to the words she spoke to the servants at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (cf. Jn 2:5).
From Mary’s heart there springs up a gratuitous love
Mary’s smile is a spring of living water. “He who believes in me”, says Jesus, “out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38). Mary is the one who believed and, from her womb, rivers of living water have flowed forth to irrigate human history. The spring that Mary pointed out to Bernadette here in Lourdes is the humble sign of this spiritual reality. From her believing heart, from her maternal heart, flows living water which purifies and heals. By immersing themselves in the baths at Lourdes, so many people have discovered and experienced the gentle maternal love of the Virgin Mary, becoming attached to her in order to bind themselves more closely to the Lord! In the liturgical sequence of this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary is honoured with the title of Fons amoris, “fount of love”. From Mary’s heart, there springs up a gratuitous love which calls forth a response of filial love, called to ever greater refinement. Like every mother, and better than every mother, Mary is the teacher of love. That is why so many sick people come here to Lourdes, to quench their thirst at the “spring of love” and to let themselves be led to the sole source of salvation, her son Jesus the Saviour.
Our Lady teaches Bernardette how to suffer
Christ imparts his salvation by means of the sacraments, and especially in the case of those suffering from sickness or disability, by means of the grace of the sacrament of the sick. For each individual, suffering is always something alien. It can never be tamed. That is why it is hard to bear, and harder still – as certain great witnesses of Christ’s holiness have done – to welcome it as a significant element in our vocation, or to accept, as Bernadette expressed it, to “suffer everything in silence in order to please Jesus”. To be able to say that, it is necessary to have travelled a long way already in union with Jesus. Here and now, though, it is possible to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, as manifested through the grace of the sacrament of the sick. Bernadette herself, in the course of a life that was often marked by sickness, received this sacrament four times. The grace of this sacrament consists in welcoming Christ the healer into ourselves. However, Christ is not a healer in the manner of the world. In order to heal us, he does not remain outside the suffering that is experienced; he eases it by coming to dwell within the one stricken by illness, to bear it and live it with him. Christ’s presence comes to break the isolation which pain induces. Man no longer bears his burden alone: as a suffering member of Christ, he is conformed to Christ in his self-offering to the Father, and he participates, in him, in the coming to birth of the new creation. Without the Lord’s help, the yoke of sickness and suffering weighs down on us cruelly. By receiving the sacrament of the sick, we seek to carry no other yoke that that of Christ, strengthened through his promise to us that his yoke will be easy to carry and his burden light (cf. Mt 11:30). I invite those who are to receive the sacrament of the sick during this Mass to enter into a hope of this kind.
Mary the figure in whom the entire mystery of the Church is typified
The Second Vatican Council presented Mary as the figure in whom the entire mystery of the Church is typified (cf. Lumen Gentium, 63-65). Her personal journey outlines the profile of the Church, which is called to be just as attentive to those who suffer as she herself was. I extend an affectionate greeting to those working in the areas of public health and nursing, as well as those who, in different ways, in hospitals and other institutions, are contributing to the care of the sick with competence and generosity. Equally, I should like to say to all the hospitaliers, the brancardiers and the carers who come from every diocese in France and from further afield, and who throughout the year attend the sick who come on pilgrimage to Lourdes, how much their service is appreciated. They are the arms of the servant Church. Finally, I wish to encourage those who, in the name of their faith, receive and visit the sick, especially in hospital infirmaries, in parishes or, as here, at shrines. May you always sense in this important and delicate mission the effective and fraternal support of your communities! In this regard, I particularly greet and thank my brothers in the Episcopate, the French Bishops, Bishops and priests from afar, and all who serve the sick and suffering throughout the world. Thank you for your ministry close to our suffering Lord.
Our Lady teaches us to serve in charity
The service of charity that you offer is a Marian service. Mary entrusts her smile to you, so that you yourselves may become, in faithfulness to her son, springs of living water. Whatever you do, you do in the name of the Church, of which Mary is the purest image. May you carry her smile to everyone!
To conclude, I wish to join in the prayer of the pilgrims and the sick, and to pray with you a passage from the prayer to Mary that has been proposed for this Jubilee celebration:
because you chose Bernadette in her lowliness, because you are the morning star, the gate of heaven
and the first creature to experience the resurrection, Our Lady of Lourdes”, with our brothers and sisters
whose hearts and bodies are in pain, we pray to you!"