Lourdes, 1858: If I Should Ever Forget You....
There is a quotation in Sacred Scripture regarding Jerusalem that reads: "JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM, IF I SHOULD EVER FORGET YOU . . ."
There are many holy places that this passage would apply to including Jerusalem. But for us, when we hear this passage, our minds race to that mystical place where honor is given to Our Lord Jesus through His Mother Mary, her shrine at Lourdes in France.
LOURDES, LOURDES, IF I SHOULD EVER FORGET YOU....
Lourdes is such a tribute to, and affirmation of, the love and care, the concern, patience, and attention that is showered on us by our Heavenly Family. It is also a magnificent prayer of faith the world has been given in the the desire of Our Sweet Mary, Bernadette's Aquero (Dear One), to take care of our physical and spiritual needs. The natural question we are asked after we have visited Lourdes is, "DID YOU SEE ANY MIRACLES, ANY CURES IN LOURDES?"
Praise you, Jesus, we have seen so many miracles, so many gifts from Son to Mother, and Mother to children. Lourdes is the Wedding Feast of Cana, multiplied a thousand fold. We can just picture Jesus and Mary up in heaven. "Mother, it's not my problem", and Mary, just smiling, saying to us "Do whatever He tells you". Miracles abound in Lourdes.
We have SEEN MIRACLES in Lourdes. We have seen CURES in Lourdes. In order for us to witness to the physical cures the Lord has given us at Lourdes, we have a man in our little Parish church who was cured of terminal lung cancer in the baths in Lourdes.
There is also a doctor in our village, who was a very unhappy man. He found early in his career that he didn't like dealing with people. He gave up his general practice to become an anesthesiologist, so that he wouldn't be required to have personal contact with patients. He had a son who was a member of our Junior Legion of Mary. The father did everything to block the boy from coming to our meetings. Either he would not bring him to our home on the evenings of the meetings, or he would bring him late, and pick him up early. The doctor was very angry with the Church.
The children of the Legion grew up. Many of them moved away. Our Junior Legion of Mary was disbanded. But one day, some years later, the doctor's son called us on the telephone, and asked us to pray for his father, who had a brain tumor. He said to us "Jesus and Mary listen to your prayers." We told the boy we were on our way to Lourdes; we would pray at the shrine, and go into the baths for his father's cure.
At Lourdes, Penny went into the baths for this doctor. Normally, the women only sit down in the baths, while the men are completely submerged. Without Penny saying a word to the volunteers, they submerged her, so that the back of her head was in the water, the same place where the doctor had the tumor.
Our daughter, Sister Clare, called us the following day, to ask what we had done the previous day. She said the doctor had called, to say he had experienced a burning sensation in the back of his head, followed by a renewal of energy.
That was in 1981. The doctor still has the tumor, but it has been in remission since that day Penny went into the baths. He has made a pilgrimage of Thanksgiving to Lourdes, as well as to Knock. He has had a complete conversion. Today, he embraces the Church passionately. He said to us on one occasion, "I'm thankful for my cure. But if I should lose my new relationship with Jesus and Mary, I would rather die."
He is now the unofficial doctor for our local seminary. He begs for free medicine, lab work, and xrays for the seminarians. The rector of the seminary told us recently that Dr. Bill has saved the seminary nearly a million dollars in medical expense over the last 6 years. So we can say with certainty that cures and miracles occur at Lourdes.
But physical healings are not the greatest miracle of Lourdes. What is the Miracle there? Is it solely in the fact that the Mother of God came here to visit a young, uneducated girl? Is the miracle the many cures that have taken place here? Is it the Spring, the miraculous waters that have poured out for the last 130 years, and show no signs of letting up?
Indeed, all these things are miracles, gifts from Our Lord Jesus through His Mother, His loving, giving Mother. But I believe that these were just the beginnings of a greater miracle, a catalyst of the real miracle, the ongoing miracle, the miracle of Church. The word Catholic stands out like a neon light in Lourdes. At any given time, tens of thousands of Catholics from hundreds of points on the earth can be found here, praising God, loving His beautiful Mother, and saying, "YES, LORD, THANK YOU LORD, I BELIEVE. I TRUST YOU WITH MY LIFE".
We're told that in France, the eldest daughter of the Church, less than 5% of the Catholic population go to Church and receive the Sacraments. We're not about to argue these statistics, but if they're true, all these people must be at Lourdes each time we visit there. We have seen Faith in Lourdes, that if, spread over the entire world, would be strong enough to give us peace forever.
What Is It All About? What Happened in Lourdes?
Why did Mary come? What was so important at this time in history, in this country? It's easy in retrospect to understand the need for divine intervention in 1858. The Church had gone through one of its worst periods possible in Europe. It had not quite recovered from the French Revolution. New governments, new revolutions attacked the Church and the people. In 1848, the Archbishop of Paris was murdered when yet another revolution took place in France. It then spread itself to Rome. The Pope's Prime Minister was murdered. The Papal Palace was attacked. Many were wounded or killed. It became violent to the point of driving Pope Pius IX out of the Vatican State. Belief and trust in the promise of Jesus waned badly. It seemed as if the Church was tolling its death knell. Louis Napoleon brought his French troops to the aid of the Church temporarily, and the Pope was able to return to Rome. But the calm was shortlived. The war clouds loomed over the horizon again. Satan poised his troops in preparation for the final destruction of the Church.
In 1854, in the midst of this, and in the face of massive opposition, one of Mary's staunchest supporters, Pope Pius IX proclaimed to the world what had been believed down through the centuries, but had never been made a Dogma of the Church. THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION was declared fact, and all Catholics were required to believe this. There had been a popular heresy spreading throughout Europe at this time, Pantheism, which claimed that man was equal with God. By this proclamation, Our Lord Jesus through the Pope declared that with the exception of Jesus, only Mary was conceived without Original Sin. The rest of the human race are heirs of Adam and Eve, and all that goes with it.
This proclamation caused more problems than it meant to solve. Rumbling went on inside the Church, and outside in Protestant circles. It was outrageous, they said, to give this singular honor to a woman. Shades of Lucifer! He, the once favored angel of God, made this same statement when told that a woman would be Queen of Heaven and Earth, of all the Angels and the Saints. His pride couldn't take this. He and his band of angels revolted against God and Heaven. The cry of Micael, (Who is Like God?) reverberated the Heavens. With Michael the Archangel at the helm, the loyal angels of God cast Lucifer and his pack down into the black hole of hell. Lucifer has hated the name of Mary since that time. Under the influence of Satan, the enemies of the Church claimed Mary was from Adam as we all are; that she came into the world with the same stain of sin that everyone else was born with. "It was one thing for the peasants, the uninformed, to believe in this superstition", they ranted. "How could the Church make this farce into dogma?"
Our Lady of Patience, my Mary, who has never given up on us in 2,000 years, waited. One year went by. The situation was bad. Two years went by. Not much change took place in the attitudes of her children towards the new Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The third year passed. But still she waited. And then she did the predictable. She found a remote town of no great importance, and within that speck on the earth, she chose a simple child of the poorest family in the region, and led her to a garbage dump. From that vantage point she was to send out a message to the world for all time, loud and clear, confirmation of Pope Pius' IX dogma, in the statement she made in the 16th Apparition on the Feast of the Annunciation, QUE SOY ERA IMMACULADA CONCEPCIOU
I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
She even spoke the words in a local patois, or dialect, rather than the language of the country, to a child who had no idea what the words meant.
But wait, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Whenever we talk of Lourdes, we get so excited that we go off in many directions. We have to go back to the beginning, to that cold winter day in February, 1858, when my Mary blessed this hamlet with her presence. In 1858, Lourdes was not on the map. It was a sleepy little village nestled in the Pyrenees mountains in the south of France. Lourdes is not known for its great weather. Even now the temperature is cooler, and the area more prone to rain than the rest of southern France. This particular winter of 1858 was bitter, especially for the Soubirous family. Their life had been difficult for many years.
The father, Francois Soubirous, was a "good old boy"; he had a great need for acceptance. In the early days of his marriage to Louise, they had a Mill, the Boly Mill, where St. Bernadette was born. They had a modest business, and their life was good. But when Francois went to the local cafe, he had to buy drinks for everyone. When people bought flour from their mill, any hard luck story would be good enough for Francois to extend credit to them. When they didn't pay their bills, he understood their sad story. But his creditors didn't understand his sad stories, and so, in short order, he lost his business and the mill.
By the year 1856, his family had been dishonored to the point of being forced to live in a oneroom former prison in Lourdes, called The Cachot (the Cell, or Lock up). The reason it was no longer used as a prison was because it was considered below human living standards. Into this hovel, Francois and Louise Soubirous, and their four children moved. Le Cachot is approximately 15 by 20 feet. These are intolerable living conditions for 6 people. (To explain violence in Ghetto situations, scientific experiments have been done on laboratory rats in cramped quarters. It is a scientific fact that when they are placed into these crowded conditions, they fight with and eventually kill each other.) Yet the cousin of the Soubirous family, named Sajous, who lived above them, testified that he never once heard them quarrel.
To add to their disgrace, Francois was put in prison on suspicion of having stolen some flour from a local mill, where he had worked temporarily. The only evidence against him was that his living conditions were so bad he became the most logical suspect. It was so logical to the local police, that although Francois had never been accused of a crime before, they put him in jail. The Soubirous' lived below the poverty level. In those days, there was no welfare, but if there had been, they would have been prime candidates. When the father worked, he received wages slightly less than what was paid to hire out a horse. Louise did domestic work, but between the two of them, they could not bring in enough money to support their family. Yet, somehow they survived.
Into this background, we bring Bernadette Soubirous, an illiterate, extremely unhealthy little 14 year old girl. We sometimes think it's a shame that she was involved with the apparitions at Lourdes. She is such a pillar of strength, such a dynamic saint on her own, without the gift of the great privilege she was given. Or maybe it was because of the apparitions by Our Lady. However, it's important to point out that Mary has appeared to many people over the centuries, and very few of them have become saints. During the time of Bernadette, there were the two children from La Sallette, whose lives would never have been considered exemplary, in light of the fact that the Mother of God had come to them. The children of Pontmain, Beauraing or Banneux are not being considered for any special praises by the Church. But then there is Bernadette, special Bernadette.
Our Lady picks the people whom she graces with her presence very carefully. On the surface, most of the time, there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for her choices. One of the feelings most frequently expressed regarding a visionary is WHY HIM, WHY HER, WHY THEM? While it's true in the case of Bernadette that we may never have heard of her without the apparitions, she would always have been a strong defender of the faith in her own simple way, would have led a holy life, and would have been a saint, even if she were never canonized.
Bernadette was always a good girl, a holy girl, a humble girl. For someone as famous as she became, she had no exaggerated impressions of her self worth. When asked how she felt about receiving such a special gift from Our Lady, she made the statement "What do you think of me? Don't I realize that the Blessed Virgin chose me because I was the most ignorant? If she had found anyone more ignorant than myself, she would have chosen her." In another instance, she said of herself, "The Blessed Virgin used me like a broom. What do you do with a broom when you have finished sweeping? You put it back in its place, behind the door."
Bob and Penny Lord, "The Many Faces of Mary."