Why do we need Lourdes?

Of all of the Marian shrines in the world, Notre Dame de Lourdes in France is most associated with healing.


Bernadette Soubirous and the Lady

On February 11, 1858, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous went to Massabielle on the banks of the river and saw a lady dressed in white in a grotto. She saw her a few more times before the lady asked her to return every night for a fortnight, and Bernadette complied. One of the evenings, in front of almost 300 people, Bernadette began to dig in the ground like a dog. She pulled herbs out of the ground and ate them like a goat.

Later, she said that the lady had asked her to drink of the (nonexistent) spring and eat the bitter herbs she found growing out of the ground.

I always wonder, “Why is this happening? What’s the point?”

Centuries later, more than million people visit Lourdes every year, seeking healing from the miraculous waters that bubble up from the hole that Bernadette dug. Of the approximately 7,000 unexplained cures reported from Lourdes, 69 have officially been recognized as miracles (read about them here). No one could have foreseen that. Except for Mary. (Read about the apparitions here or watch The Song of Bernadette.)

When someone asked Bernadette why she ate the bitter herbs, she said it was a penance for sinners.

Why is This Happening? What’s the Point?

When people are sick or when their loved ones fall ill, they often ask the same question I asked of Bernadette’s mysterious actions: “Why is this happening? What is the point?”

This weekend, God introduced a little suffering into my life, and to be honest, I asked those two questions.

Originally, this blog was supposed to be a virtual visit to Lourdes. I was going to tell you about this awesome Kickstarter project I’d launched last week, in the hopes of raising money to produce a series on the California Missions in time for the canonization of Bl. Junipero Serra.

Then, life took an unexpected turn. I spent this past weekend in the hospital with my husband.

Then I made a decision.

I explained it all in this video:

and this blog post.

Father Bartunek, in his introduction to the Anointing of the Sick retreat guide, reminds us that:

Sickness and death were not part of God’s original plan for the human family; they were consequences of original sin. And when the moment comes for us, or for those whom we love, we face a critical choice:

Will we allow illness and suffering to lead us to “anguish, self-absorption…despair, and revolt against God”? Or will we allow these moments to make us “more mature” so that we can “discern…what is not essential” and “turn toward that which is”? (cf. CCC 1501)

Vicki Burbach quotes from The Sinner’s Guide:

The just, knowing that God is their Father and the Physician of their souls, submissively and generously accept as the cure for their infirmities the bitter chalice of suffering. They look on tribulation as a file in the hands of their Maker to remove the rust of sin from their souls, and to restore them to their original purity and brightness.  — The Sinner’s Guide (Chapter 21, Paragraph 1)

and this jewel from The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur:

Lord, be Thou blessed for my present suffering, because I dare to hope that it is the gentle answer of Thy Heart. I offer it all to Thee, all of it: sufferings of body, heart, and soul, all my privations, my interior desolation, my great spiritual solitude. Use these humble offerings for the intentions and substitutions Thou knowest, for souls, and for the Church. Accept a tithe of it in expiation of my sins and for the work of reparation that Thou does entrust to souls that are dearest to Thee. — The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, p. 137-138 (The Journal: 1911-1914, July 16, 1913)

One of the readings from last week’s In Conversation with God dealt with the co-redemptive value of pain and sickness. The great thing about the reading is that it explains how we can move past the “What is this happening?” part and get on toward making our suffering useful:

In order to benefit from this wealth of grace that reaches us in one way or another, we need a long-term preparation, by practicing daily a holy detachment from self, so that we are prepared to bear sickness or misfortune gracefully if Our Lord permits them. Begin now to make use of everyday opportunities such as foregoing cheerfully something you may have to do without, putting up uncomplainingly with small recurring pains, practicing little voluntary mortifications and putting into practice the Christian virtues. [St J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 124]

Fernandez, Francis (2011-12-04). In Conversation with God – Volume 3 Part 1: Weeks 1 – 6 in Ordinary Time (Kindle Locations 2950-2958). Scepter UK Ltd. Kindle Edition (bold emphasis mine).

Today, as Lent nears and my pilgrimage of life takes a sharp and unexpected turn, I’m going to do my best to incorporate this kind of endurance training in my spiritual life. It’s not going to be easy. I think I’ll start by reading and putting into practice Dan Burke’s fantastic post on The 7 Habits of People Who Place Radical Trust in God

But before I go, let me get back to the question that started off this post: Why DO we need Lourdes?

We need Lourdes because it brings us hope. And when you’re suffering, there’s nothing better to lift your spirits.

We need Lourdes because, by going there and using its miraculous waters, we show God that we believe as the Leper said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”

We need Lourdes because, sometimes, God wills to heal our hearts, but not our bodies. When we turn to the Mother of God and ask for her prayers, we will grow in faith, hope, and love, and eventually grow in the ability to trust in the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.

We need Lourdes because, as this beautiful song puts so eloquently, “There is a reason for it all.” Even when we don’t know what it is.

Please keep us in your prayers.

Art: Lourdes Basilica, Milorad Pavlek, 2005; all Wikimedia Commons. Other images and video: copyright The Faithful Traveler, LLC, all rights reserved, used with permission.

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