Saint Bernadette of Lourdes

Yesterday, April 16, was the feast day of Saint Bernadette on the new calendar. This was the day that she died, her birthday into heaven. The old feast day for this most blessed saint was the eighteenth of February, for it was on that day in 1858, that Our Lady first spoke to her in the grotto at Lourdes. Bernadette revealed that the “very beautiful lady” told her then that “she could not promise to make me happy in this world, only in the next.” The Blessed Virgin had appeared to the fourteen year-old saint twice during the preceding week without speaking any words. In all, Our Lady appeared to Bernadette eighteen times, and, on the last apparition, she promised to return once more to the grotto but she did not say when. That visitation has not yet occurred. The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is February 11.

Reading a couple of brief posts about the saint today, I was reminded that Mary confided a secret to Saint Bernadette, which the mystic visionary took with her to the grave. I suppose it is alright to wonder what that was. I can only assume that if it had to do with the Church universal that it was complementary to the secrets Our Lady gave fourteen years before to the two seers of LaSalette and would give at Fatima in 1917. Bernadette (Sister Marie Bernard) died a Sister of Charity at the Order’s mother house in Nevers, in 1879, at the age of thirty-five. Her body is still incorrupt. One of the things that convinced the parish priest of Lourdes early on that Bernadette Soubirous’ visions were authentic was when she, an uneducated and illiterate girl with only a basic knowledge of the catechism, told the skeptical priest that the beautiful young Lady in white said that she was The Immaculate Conception. That dogma had been defined only four years prior to the apparition and the expression of the truth in these exact words would not have been familiar to the simple mind of Bernadette. An excellent biography of the saint is that by Abbé Francois Trochu, published by TAN. There is another I am not familiar with, Bernadette Speaks: A Life of St. Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words, by Rene Laurentin.

Bernadette Soubirous was not canonized because Our Lady appeared to her, nor for the cures occurring at the miraculous spring at the grotto shrine, but for her humility, patience in suffering, and holiness of life. She is the patron saint of the sick, of the family, and of holy poverty.

In the convent at Nevers, Saint Bernadette received abundant humiliations, both from the outside (from her unsympathetic superior), and from within her soul due to the insatiable curiosity of distinguished visitors whose prestige gained them interviews with the sister who spoke with the Mother of God. So taxed was her humility and so weak had she become due to all these visitations that several times she tried to escape and hide in some corner of the convent grounds. And although she knew that thousands were coming in her own lifetime to Lourdes to be cured in the miraculous water of their ailments, she could not have known that after her death the holy grotto would be a place of pilgrimage for five million people every year.

Well, I may get some flack from some sunshine readers for posting this heavy quotation of our beloved Saint Bernadette. When I read it, however, I could not suppress a chuckled grin on account of its rugged, unaffected honesty. But, she meant what she said. And she is a saint whom Our Lady loves in a very tender way. Some may find her humility overly pessimistic. The more I read about this exquisite girl, of her hard life, her strength, and serious nature, the more I was reminded of Blessed Jacinta who, though much younger, was also educated in the school of hard work and poverty. The saints all had this gift of balance with the opposite extremes that come with the true religion as lived in this vale of tears: of joy and sorrow, of anxiety and hope, and of strength and weakness.

“They think I’m a saint,” Sister Mary Bernard once complained, “When I’m dead they’ll come and touch holy pictures and rosaries to me, and all the while I’ll be getting boiled on a grill in purgatory.”

Or, ponder this self-abasing profession from melancholic Saint Vincent Ferrer, whose face in the painting I am looking at is so severe, and so he was — to himself, if not to his penitents: “I am a plague-spot in soul and body,” he wrote. “Everything in me reeks of corruption because of the abomination of my sins and injustice.” Non la gusta? Now, be it noted, that this great sinner cherished his spiritual children, cured thousands, converted thousands, and raised forty people from the dead. That’s right! Forty!

On the other hand we have Saint Philip Neri, who loved being thought the fool, and whose heart beat with such furious joy that his presence in a church would cause the walls to shake. I cannot imagine this particular saint without a smile on his face to match his imperturbability of spirit.

With saints such as these reflecting the reality of our wounded nature in its pathos and makarios (passion and blessedness) we can more readily appreciate why our liturgy interrupts the pentitence of Lent with a Laetare Sunday and the more mild penitential season of Advent with a Gaudete Sunday. It is wonderful to be Catholic and to know the true God, His justice and mercy, and His only-begotten Son, is it not?.