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February 11, 2018: The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner

Happy 150th Anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes!  On February 11, 1858 Bernadette Soubirous encountered an apparition of the Virgin Mary at the famous Grotto of Massabielle, France.  Considering the power and significance of Lourdes as a site of prayer and pilgrimage, it is extraordinary that Mary spoke very little to Bernadette.  In fact, over the course of eighteen days of appearance, the Lady of the Grotto made eight simple statements.  On this momentous anniversary, I offer a brief reflection on each of them.

1.“It is not necessary.” These are the first words of Mary to Bernadette, which she spoke on the third day of apparition.  After the first day of miraculous encounter, Bernadette brought holy water and sprinkled it on the Lady, testing to see if she were a devil in disguise.  On her third venture to the Grotto, in hopes of hearing the Lady speak (and fearing that her lack of schooling would limit her ability to remember the message), Bernadette brings paper and pen.  When Bernadette offers the writing implements, Mary tells her that they are not necessary, because the core of the “message” is not about writing down spiritual principles, but about entering into a heart-to-heart encounter.  This is a good reminder to us that faith is not just assenting to a list of rules and commandments.  It is entering into a living relationship of friendship.

2. “Would you have the graciousness to come here for fifteen days?” Mary’s request for Bernadette to return to the Grotto over the course of two weeks is a template for the spiritual life.  Faith takes time to grow and develop in our lives.  The healing that Mary wants to effect at Lourdes can only be received by those who are willing to come back habitually to the encounter of prayer.

3. “I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next.” These words echo the Gospel message.  Faith does not bring us happiness in the form of earthly pleasure, possessions, power or prestige but the confidence that, when we trust in God, we will enter into that heavenly “place prepared for us.”  

4. “Pray for sinners.” The invitation to prayer is common to Marian apparitions and is a reminder that without prayer, which is simply talking to God like a friend, we cannot grow or be strengthened in the spiritual life.

5. “Penance! Penance! Penance! Kiss the ground as a penance for sinners.” Although the idea of penance can be maligned as zealous actions which stem from “Catholic guilt,” Mary’s exhortation to do works of penance underline their necessity for faith.  If we want to receive God’s grace, we have to be free of whatever forms of selfishness and sin wound us and impede our ability to trust.  Works of penance opens us to receive God’s healing and gives us strength to love with renewed vigor.

6. “Go dig.  Drink at the spring and wash yourself in it.” The healing effects of Lourdes water is well known.  The origins of this spring flow from Mary’s instruction to dig.  Remember, in Bernadette’s time the Grotto was not the pristine beautiful place of prayer it is today.  Nor was it a natural rose garden.  The Grotto was dirty, damp and was nicknamed the “pigs’ shelter” because that was where the pigs feeding in the area usually took shelter.  Further, when Bernadette begins to dig, it is not clear where the spring was.  Initially all she achieved to create is a slimy, muddy rut.  It is only after a series of days that the springs of Lourdes, as we know them, begin to flow freely.  Mary’s instruction to Bernadette reminds us that God’s healing can come from unexpected places and often does not happen all at once, but only through patience and perseverance.

7. “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Mary identifies herself to Bernadette using a title that the Church had formally recognized only four years earlier. The power of this identification is rooted in the mystery of Mary’s unique relationship to the Trinity.  Mary did not say that she was immaculately conceived, but that she is the Immaculate Conception.  Mary’s “yes” to the Father’s invitation at the Annunciation and her openness to the Holy Spirit burst forth with the fruit of Christ in her womb.  If we too want Christ to come alive in our lives, let us have recourse to the intercession and guidance of our Immaculate Mother.

8. “You will tell the priests to process [to the Grotto] and have a chapel built here.” Coming full circle, Mary concludes her requests to Bernadette by insisting that the Grotto be a permanent place of God’s healing.  Just as Mary’s first words to put away pen and paper signal that her goal was to create a living encounter with God’s healing, so too we too can personally experience God’s grace and healing by visiting that same place Mary appeared to Bernadette.  On this 150th Anniversary of Lourdes, I invite you may make your own “pilgrimage” to our Grotto (just outside the Lady Chapel) which stands out as a place of prayer and a reminder of God’s love and healing.

- Fr. Michael Hurley, Pastor


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