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Monday, August 27, 2012

Lourdes: The History.


So much for doing a series on Lourdes in a timely fashion. I feel that I at least need to write something else on my beautiful trip. Honestly, I’ve tried putting into words my experiences, but they always seem to fall short.

This may not be the most coherent or well-written piece, but I'm trying to get back on the horse. Bear with me.

The best way to explain my time in France is through a song that I often hear at mass. Remember, I’m Catholic, so our songs might be a little less known or thrilling, but this one always hit a chord.

“Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”

I arrived in Lourdes not knowing what to expect. I won’t lie when I say that I do better abroad than I do here in the states. Let’s be honest, I have nothing to lose with perfect strangers. My heart doesn’t feel that it needs to put up walls or that I need to be something that I’m not. It simply does what it chooses, and leaves all filters behind.  I’m a happier person with strangers, because I don’t feel that I’m confined in their judgments, though I’m sure judgments are passed constantly…but it hurts more when it’s by the people who are supposedly closest to you.

I digress.

Lourdes was a place where all people had to check their pride, selfishness, and lack of faith at the door. No one cared if you had been to church in the past year, not one person sat pondering on whether or not your beliefs matched up with theirs.

It was a safe and sanctified space for healing.

“We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav’lers on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.”

At first, I was exhausted. I didn’t know how I would be able to handle jet lag, and days that began at 7am and ended around 1am. I was worried that my prayer life would not be strong enough for those around me. That I would get bored or restless.

I guess, I got cold feet. I didn’t think I was worthy of being on a pilgrimage of this capacity.

I was happily surprised to find once my week began, I had no time to sit in worry. I was constantly moving and going and meeting new people.

If you have never heard of Lourdes, then here’s the shortest way to explain what it is. As a Roman Catholic, I have a strong devotion to many saints. Some saints were martyred, others led simple and humbling lives…but each saint had some sort of thing they were best known for. Saints are important to Catholics because they too were just like us. Humans, struggling to achieve the likeness of Christ in their daily routines…trying to be the best versions of themselves possible.

For St. Bernadette, her life exemplified humility and obedience—and most of you know from reading my blog that those two are tough ones for me.

St. Bernadette was a very sick young girl. She contracted cholera, which impacted her health until she died at thirty-four. She struggled with asthma, bad fevers and a plethora of things I can’t recall. Her physical illness kept her from attending school, where should would have learned French. Because the Catechism of the church was not translated into the language of Lourdes, but rather only said in French, she was unable to receive the sacraments of the church she loved so much.

Her life seemed bleak, yet she was known to always have a smile on her face.

 At the age of 14 Bernadette went out in search for firewood with her cousins. As they arrived at the river, her cousins ran across the water with no thought, but Bernadette didn’t want to get her only pair of socks wet, in fear of becoming ill. She told her cousins to run ahead and that she would find them after she crossed the river herself. She sat, loosening her shoes and at once she heard strong winds, coming from every direction. When she looked around, everything was still. Before her, in a grotto next to the river, a stunning woman stood, holding the rosary. Thus began Bernadette’s visions. This woman, who she would come to see quite often, would smile at her, but say nothing. When Bernadette would question her, ask her who she was, the lady would simply begin the rosary in French. Because Berndatte had simply memorized the rosary, she couldn’t understand the prayers she was praying.

‘Hail Mary…full of grace the Lord is with thee…’

Bernadette felt so at peace in the presence of this woman that she continued to visit the grotto each day in hopes of seeing her. Soon hoards of people began following her, and though they could not see this vision she proclaimed was visiting her, they saw and felt the change in Bernadette’s spirit when these visions began.

The woman asked Bernadette to do many things, to kiss the dirt ground for sinners, that a chapel should be built on the site where they spoke—many requests, but still no one knew who this woman was, and the lady would not answer.

The local priest did not believe this girl, and was often found scolding her for leading the Lord’s flock away from the church, but Bernadette persisted on begging him to advocate a chapel to be built on the very spot the woman had first appeared to her.

On March 25, 1858, the feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette’s sixteenth apparition, the woman finally revealed herself saying ‘I am the immaculate conception.’ Bernadette did not understand what she meant, but ran straight to the church to tell the priest what the lady had said.

One of the many miracles that the apparitions brought was that of the direct demand from the Blessed Mother telling Bernadette to drink of the spring. Bernadette did not understand, as there were no springs in Lourdes, but immediately she felt water beneath. Within a day there was a flowing stream, and soon after people began reporting miraculous healings after drinking the water.

The visions lessened over time, and St. Bernadette left Lourdes to go into the convent. Her greatest desire was to keep pilgrim’s eyes on the Blessed Mother and Our Lord rather than on her.

Lourdes has become the healing center for the Christian world, people of every stage of life and every denomination come in hopes of emotional and physical healing. It is a Catholic shrine, but there is something so much more universal about this holy site.

It’s a place for all to hope for something greater.

Since 1854, the spring has been redirected into bathes where people may come and immerse themselves in the healing waters.

My job in service of Mary on the pilgrimage was to help people undress, and enter the bathes.

The reason I have taken so long in writing this, is not because of a writing block…but rather because my experiences were so mystical and rejuvenating. I met so many wonderful people. There was so much faith, hope and love in such a small area.

I won’t go into further detail about my work in the bathes yet, but I will end this post with a story I heard while on the trip that I thought really captured the message of Lourdes.

‘There is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mother that sits in front of the church. Did you notice that she is looking directly at the basilica, rather than away from it? It’s said that when the statue was first placed in that spot, the artist had her looking away from the church. Each morning, the people of Lourdes would find that she had been turned around to face the church. They kept trying to turn her back to the original position to make it more aesthetically pleasing. One night the Blessed Mother appeared to the artist in a dream, and spoke firmly “Do not turn my back on my son”…and so the artist made she was always looking at the church, at her son…the son of man.”

This trip was about throwing oneself into His arms, because the work we do...regardless of how amazing and beautiful, is meant to glorify Him, not us. 

Yeah, yeah. Who knows if the story is true…but it’s got a nice sentiment, no?

More to follow.

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