I would like to introduce you to a young woman who helped The Virgin Mary change the world! Her story can be told again and again, and you will never lose interest because it speaks to each of our hearts about all of our lives and our devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. Her name is Bernadette Soubirous, the Saint of Lourdes, and her story is our story as our prayers and devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes deepens and grows. When Bernadette was a child, the Grotto at Lourdes was a dirty, muddy, and damp place. There is a big difference between this unattended Grotto and the visions of the beautiful Virgin Mary, the “Immaculate Conception.” But this is where the story becomes our story! If you consider the stories in the Gospel, people encounter Jesus, the Son of God, amidst the poverty, illness, and sometimes tragedies of daily life. AND – so do we!
When we are suffering with pain or illness, there is Jesus and Mary. When we are feeling loneliness and self-pity, there is Jesus and Mary. When we are surrounded by those who don’t seem to care, there is Jesus and Mary. Mary shows us that it is often in the experiences of life that we want to avoid that Jesus is there to comfort us and help us through. Mary, through St. Bernadette, tells us again the story of where God is found – amidst our suffering and pain – there is God!
The first time Mary spoke to Bernadette
On February 18th, during the third apparition, the Virgin Lady of Lourdes spoke to Bernadette for the first time. Our Lady of Lourdes said to her, “what I have to say to you does not have to be written down.” What Mary is saying to Bernadette is that she wished to speak with Bernadette in a loving way, from Our Lady’s heart to Bernadette’s heart – person to person, woman to woman. From the very beginning of the apparitions, Bernadette was invited by Mary to open her heart to Our Lady’s deep love.
The second time Our Lady of Lourdes spoke to Bernadette
The second statement of Our Lady of Lourdes to Bernadette was this, “Would you be so kind as to come here for fifteen days?” Can you hear the respect and kindness in the Virgin Mary’s voice? Can you feel the gentleness and softness in Mary’s request? Bernadette was addressed with respect and kindness. She immediately felt loved and respected as a person. The story is relating to each of us, the respect and dignity we are owed and the respect and kindness we owe to others as human beings created and loved by God.
The third time Our Lady of Lourdes spoke to Bernadette
Our Lady said: “I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other.” In the Gospel, Jesus invites us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes we are confused as to what that means. As Jesus told Pilate, my Kingdom is not of this world. Then where is it? What is it? Jesus told us many times, “God is Love, and whoever abides in Love, lives in God.” “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name – I AM THERE.” Jesus is inviting us to discover “another world” – the Kingdom of God – within our world. This Kingdom is so often, as I said, where we don’t want it to be, among the poor, the dirty, the outcast of society. Our Lady is pointing out to us that we will find God in many places – especially in places where we don’t look for him! Like the cold, damp Grotto at Lourdes where the beautiful Virgin Mary appeared, and transformed what was ugly and abandoned into a beautiful spot of prayer and miracles.
And her story ends
Bernadette suffered very much at the end of her life. She suffered from tuberculosis and developed abscesses in her ears, making her completely deaf. But if you didn’t see her sore-ridden body, you would never know she was sick. Bernadette was always joyful and filled with God’s grace and love for others. Sister Death began to approach Bernadette during Holy Week of 1879. On April 16th, 1879 she asked her sisters in the community to pray the rosary with her.
Her story ends and ours continues
At the end of the last Hail Mary, Bernadette smiled as if she was again seeing Our Lady of Lourdes in the Grotto. Her last words were the conclusion of the Hail Mary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…” Bernadette Soubirous, saint, and special friend of Our Lady of Lourdes, went to meet the Virgin Mary at the end of her prayer. Her body was placed in the small Chapel situated in the center of the convent’s garden. Bernadette was canonized on December 8th, 1933. We celebrate her feast day on the day she went to meet her beautiful friend, the Virgin Mary, April 16th. Saint Bernadette’s body can still be seen incorrupt in the convent chapel in the glass casket where she appears to be asleep. This wonderful woman has brought her story and message of the Virgin Mary to generations of believers and now rests in the arms of her dear friend, Our Lady of Lourdes.
Bernadette’s story is our story. We are called to find God all around us and in all people we meet. We can often find God in those we know and love, but it is also our obligation to find God in the poor and helpless of our world.
Our Lady of Lourdes calls each of us to pray to her, to pray the Rosary for our world, but Mary also calls us to help change the world by our generosity to those who have nothing.
The Franciscan Friars are following Mary’s call to help change the world by our prayers and service to the poor. We need you to help us change the world through your financial support and prayers for the work of the Franciscan Friars.
Please help us follow the message of Our Lady of Lourdes and bring hope and respect to the poor and helpless children, women and men we assist with food, formula, diapers, shelter and simple Franciscan Love. We need you now more than ever to feed, shelter and clothe the poor who have nothing and need our help.
St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes have told us their story of love, respect and finding God around us. Please be a part of Our Lady’s story, the story of Lourdes, and help us with your generosity and love to find God in the poor around us. Our Lady of Lourdes Novena will be celebrated at Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, NJ starting on February 2nd and ending with a Mass on February 11th . May Our Lady of Lourdes bless you with peace, joy and love.