Holy and Immaculate: Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes

Isaiah 66:10-14c; John 2:1-11

Between 1830 and 1858 the Blessed Mother made three separate visits to France. First in Paris to Sr. Catherine Laboure, whence came the Miraculous Medal and the prayer, “Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Next she appeared to two shepherd children near La Salette in the French Alps, where she pleaded for a return to prayer and the Sacraments. Finally and most famously she appeared 18 times to the young teenager Marie-Bernarde Soubirous, also known as Bernadette, near Lourdes in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

In all these we see that Mary appeared not to the powerful or influential but to the lowly – mostly, to children. Simple, honest, and unsophisticated, they were not interested in either notoriety or personal gain. Indeed Bernadette in her typical, straightforward fashion said, “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.” Hardly the words of someone looking to sell the book and movie rights.

Not that she couldn’t have used the money. Those such as Bernadette were not only innocents but familiar with suffering, people who understood poverty of spirit and body. In fact, she first met Our Lady while gathering sticks so that her family, mostly children who would not survive to adulthood, could have some heat in what they called home but everyone else called a musty, abandoned prison block.

But as Mary knows, home is where the heart is and the heart of the Soubirous family was faith in Christ. Although the prosperity and wealth of nations spoken of in the first reading (Isaiah 66:12) eluded them, spiritual wealth was theirs in abundance. On hearing of the mystical vision in the grotto, Bernadette’s father said to his family, “Let us pray.” He knew that, whether a heavenly vision or one from the lower depths, their only recourse was to fall to their knees. Perhaps this is why Bernadette was chosen; she like Mary was raised from birth to understand that true wealth, true prosperity, comes only from the hand of God.

This was the same God who said, As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you (Isaiah 66:13), who gave Bernadette visions of his mother, and who defined comfort in her words, “I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the next.” It is true that Bernadette, who suffered terrible pain in her body in the later years of her short life, never sought the healing waters that Christ gave the world in that little grotto. She knew that Mary had given her the only promise of happiness that means anything: Eternal union with God. This is why Mary constantly urges meditation on the gospel of Christ through the rosary, why she begs the conversion of sinners, and especially why she asks that chapels be built, for there her Son dwells in the complete sacramental fullness of his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

virgin-1615390_1920At every apparition Mary is highly honored and rightly so for she is as she said, the Immaculate Conception. But the honor we give her goes far beyond her identity to the two-fold reality behind it. First, Mary points us to Christ. Through the grace bestowed on her by the will of God and her total abandonment to it, Mary has perfectly heeded her own advice: Do whatever he tells you (John 2:5). In this, she is the first and best example of a Christian. Second, Mary points to our own destiny. Like her, we are asked to abandon our will to his, be perfect as the Father is perfect (Matthew 5:28), and so be presented to him holy and immaculate (Colossians 1:22). For this we need neither the water of Lourdes nor the water turned to wine, but that which wells up to eternal life (John 4:14), our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose love wine becomes the blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).

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