Monday, February 11, 2008

The Song of Bernadette

As previously noted, today marks the 150th anniversary of the first apparition of a Lady dressed in white to a young girl in the Pyrenees.

Arguably the most famous and internationally-beloved Marian shrine, celebrations of the Lourdes Sesquicentennial are taking place the world over, but none larger than the 70,000-plus who converged on the Grotto of Massabielle earlier today.

At the Grotto of America, Jim Martin SJ reflects....
It has become fashionable in recent years, especially after Vatican II, to downplay the miraculous, the supernatural or the otherworldly aspects of our Catholic faith--at least among a few Catholics. And so Lourdes can be a difficult thing for some Catholics to grasp. Apparitions? Voices? Miracles? Are these things, people ask me, consistent with a mature faith?

I've never had that problem. Or those questions. I consider myself a rational person, and a fairly well educated Catholic, who is also not a literalist in any way when it comes to things like, say, Scripture. But, in my theological worldview, I've always believed that we need to be exceedingly careful about saying what God can and cannot do, and how God does and does not act. Or, worse, how God should act or not act.

That's one of the things that landed the scribes and the Pharisees in so much trouble.

For me the story of the apparitions of Mary to St. Bernadette are easy to believe. If God can create the world and raise his son from the dead, then something like Lourdes is rather simple by comparison, I would think. And having visited Lourdes several times, I'm even more convinced.

If that type of logic doesn't appeal to you, then consider the sworn testimonies of the doctors who attest to the 67 miraculous cures of the pilgrims who have been travelling there since 1858. (Quite a few of these doctors are not Catholic, by the way.) Or read the story of Bernadette Soubirous, the unlettered girl who was chosen for these visions. (Franz Werfel's "The Song of Bernadette" is a good place to start. Father Rene Laurentin's biographies and collections of her letters are even better.) Wholly uninterested during her life in fame or even fortune (quite a feat for someone so poor), she simply told what she had seen in the Grotto. And she was forced to do so over and over, even after she entered the convent.

Or, better yet, go to Lourdes. See the pilgrims. Listen to their prayers. Plunge yourself into the cold clear spring water that still flows from the fountain that Bernadette uncovered, at the behest of "the beautiful lady."

And then see if you can convince yourself that something miraculous did not happen there.
In December, a new set of mosaics depicting the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary were unveiled on the facade of the shrine basilica....

And in summer 2004, on the final trek of his 27-year global pilgrimage, John Paul II traveled to the "Shrine of the Sick," where he offered a special prayer at the close of that evening's candlelight vigil:

Hail Mary, poor and humble Woman,
Blessed by the Most High!
Virgin of hope, dawn of a new era,
We join in your song of praise,
to celebrate the Lord’s mercy,
to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom
and the full liberation of humanity.

Hail Mary, lowly handmaid of the Lord,
Glorious Mother of Christ!
Faithful Virgin, holy dwelling-place of the Word,
Teach us to persevere in listening to the Word,
and to be docile to the voice of the Spirit,
attentive to his promptings in the depths of our conscience
and to his manifestations in the events of history.

Hail Mary, Woman of sorrows,
Mother of the living!
Virgin spouse beneath the Cross, the new Eve,
Be our guide along the paths of the world.
Teach us to experience and to spread the love of Christ,
to stand with you before the innumerable crosses
on which your Son is still crucified.

Hail Mary, woman of faith,
First of the disciples!
Virgin Mother of the Church, help us always
to account for the hope that is in us,
with trust in human goodness and the Father’s love.
Teach us to build up the world beginning from within:
in the depths of silence and prayer,
in the joy of fraternal love,
in the unique fruitfulness of the Cross.

Holy Mary, Mother of believers,
Our Lady of Lourdes,
pray for us.
Earlier on that night, weighed down by illness, the Pope of Peace spoke thus (emphases original):
To you, dear brothers and sisters, I entrust a particular intention for our prayer this evening: join me in imploring the Virgin Mary to obtain for our world the longed-for gift of peace.

May forgiveness and brotherly love take root in human hearts. May every weapon be laid down, and all hatred and violence put aside.

May everyone see in his neighbour not an enemy to be fought, but a brother to be accepted and loved, so that we may join in building a better world.
Tip to the Bench.