At Lourdes Is A Feeling Of Cleanliness And With One Glance Defeat Of A Demon
That Our Blessed Mother was immaculately conceived, that she was born without the taint of original sin, was confirmed during apparitions at the southern end of France in the range of mountains known as the Pyrenees. We can’t be sure we know all the details, for the seer, St. Bernadette Soubirous, was an intensely private person. But we do know the main part of her experience occurred between February and July of 1858, when Mary appeared 18 times to her.
This was in a small cave or grotto along the River Gave at the city of Lourdes. Bernadette was out looking for firewood with her sister and a neighborhood friend when the apparitions occurred. She was a humble girl and hailed from a destitute family that was so poor it could not even afford a house but had to find quarters in a donated hovel that once had been the local cachot or jail. So cramped were the quarters that for a time Bernadette was sent to live with a family that employed her as a shepherdess.
Most of you know the story but let’s meditate a moment on the extraordinary girl, this saint, named Bernadette. At 14 she was an attractive girl with soft, dark, sparkling eyes. She wasn’t the best student, but she was a bright girl with an aptitude for sewing, and she was very helpful to her mother, assisting her in the care of the younger children and always willing to run an errand. So lowly and ordinary was Bernadette that no one would have predicted the poor girl would find herself at the center of a momentous supernatural event, apparitions that were to become among the greatest in history, ranking right up there with Guadalupe.
There are several interesting aspects of the Lourdes apparitions that are not widely known. First is the fact that the region had a previous supernatural history. There had been reports of apparitions in the vicinity centuries before Bernadette’s own experiences (a mile from the grotto) and we don’t know the details but there was also an ancient prediction that one day a great wonder would be wrought in the area. Also intriguing is the fact that, like Catherine, Bernadette was given secrets. Many don’t know that secrets were involved at Lourdes but it’s true: At least three confidential messages were related to Bernadette, secrets she never revealed, saying they were not even for the Pope.
Bernadette was a very discreet seer, and she never sought to bring attention to herself. This in itself was a sign of authenticity, and so were her ecstasies, which transformed her face in a most beautiful way, eyes intent on the apparition in the grotto, lips moving wordlessly as she prayed the Rosary and communicated with her heavenly visitor. Mary came as a lovely white figure with blue sash and hands clasped in prayer. She was described by Bernadette as wearing the traditional dress of a local religious organization called the Children of Mary, indicating to us once again how she conforms her appearances with the local culture.
“There came out of the interior of the grotto a golden-colored cloud, and soon after a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen,” explained Bernadette. “She looked at me immediately, smiled at me and signed to me to advance, as if she had been my mother. All fear had left me but I seemed to know no longer where I was. I rubbed my eyes, I shut them, I opened them; but the Lady was still there continuing to smile at me and making me understand that I was not mistaken. Without thinking of what I was doing, I took my rosary in my hands and went on my knees. The Lady made a sign of approval with her head and herself took into her hands a rosary which hung on her right arm. When I attempted to begin the Rosary and tried to lift my hand to my forehead, my arm remained paralyzed, and it was only after the Lady had signed herself that I could do the same. The Lady left me to pray alone; she passed the beads of her rosary between her fingers but she said nothing; only at the end of each decade did she say the ‘Gloria’ with me.”
This is according to the records kept by a local Lourdes official. A later chronicler of the apparitions, Frances Parkinson Keyes, adds that the Beautiful Lady taught Bernadette a new prayer during the fifth apparition, which the girl continued to recite the rest of her life. Bernadette was also told to bring a blessed candle to the apparition, showing us the potency of this particular sacramental, which was also so important at places like Montserrat. There is an exquisite grace that flows from an anointed candle, bringing a church or home the touch of grace. (If we have a blessed candle we could use it this day during the prayers that follow today’s narrative.)
“Pray for sinners,” said the Virgin, underlining the serious nature of life and how we must always watch over our own conduct, as well as help other people by praying for their conversion. We are people of God, and when one sinner—just a single sinner—is brought back to the fold, the entire universe is positively affected.
“Penitence,” the Virgin had also said, indicating how important it is for all of us to meditate on our faults and atone for them while we’re still on earth. “Penitence, penitence.”
The more we purify ourselves during life—the more we pray and sacrifice is the message—the less time we will spend in Purgatory.
As the Virgin Mary had done at many other apparitions, including ones that were now taking place as far away as South America, she revealed to Bernadette the site for a miraculous spring, and the waters from this well would eventually lead to dramatic and scientifically-documented cures. The Church is extremely careful in accepting any claim of the supernatural, and in the case of healing, it demands the most stringent proof, not only in the way of medical records but in the fact that before an illness can be accepted as proof, it must be an illness that is incurable and could not have gone into remission on its own.
In dozens and hundreds of cases, Lourdes has been able to meet the standard. Paralytics. The blind. Those with severe respiratory disorders or cancer. This causes us to again reflect on the fact that God—the Holy Spirit—can cure anyone He wants to cure. All disease is subject to supernatural intervention. Nothing can defy the Holy Spirit. When God wants us healed, we are cured. Thus, no one is without hope no matter what the circumstances. We already saw this at Saragossa, where a leg was regenerated, and Lourdes has provided many more instances.
God is a healing God, but it must be in accordance with His will. Sometimes God wills that we suffer in order to correct some aspect of our personality or in order for us to spiritually advance. Many times the struggle and sacrifice of ill health are part of God’s inscrutable and mysterious plan. Or such tribulation may be needed to purify us. These are things we will not know until the day of reckoning.
We do know that anything physical is subject to the Lord’s power, and He has given many powers of healing to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who heals us of both physical and spiritual darkness. We mention “darkness” because we see in the New Testament how Jesus healed people by first casting out evil spirits. Such spirits can cause many infirmities of mind and body, but they greatly fear the Virgin Mary. She has been granted special power against them. When we have Mary, we have not only the greatest mother but also the strongest of protectors.
The protection places us under that white veil. It was white at Lourdes to emphasize purity. Mary is the ultimate in a holy person. The lesson of sanctity was the one most simply and powerfully conveyed. At Lourdes, Mary is immaculate, and those who follow her are shielded from temptation. Those who follow her are cleansed. It’s no idle fact that during the apparitions Bernadette was transformed into radiant beauty. But to enjoy such light we must do our part in detaching from the things of this world. Mary wants detachment. She told Bernadette she could not promise happiness in this world, but only in the next.
“This is the Mother of Angels,” said Bernadette. “There can be nothing for me on this earth.”
Thus we contemplate the importance of always keeping in mind that earth is a passing place, a temporary place, and while we are here we are on testing ground. We are in exile. This is perhaps the chief message of apparitions through history. God exists and wants us to keep our eyes on the eternal. The Lord is dismayed when we are too focused on the things and creatures of this world. All of life is supposed to be a preparation for Heaven. No matter how successful a person may outwardly seem, if it’s material success it cannot lead to true contentment. Earth is not our final destination. And no matter how hard we try, we can never find an earthly utopia. When we are materialistic or lustful, when the physical—the flesh—dictates our lives, we fail miserably.
“Detach, detach, detach” was as much the message from Lourdes as “penitence, penitence, penitence.” Indeed in many ways they are the same message. For when we get caught up in the things of this world, we need to repent. When we are selfish, we need to confess. When we think chiefly of ourselves we are in need of improvement.
Earthly recognition is nice, but we should never seek it. We should not even want it. God knows the good we do. We do not need to advertise it. While there are times that recognition serves a purpose, that purpose should never be a selfish or aggrandizing purpose. It should never be to feed the ego and make us feel self-important. Those who yearn for prominence in the eyes of men risk losing prominence in the eyes of Christ. Poor are those who need fame, riches, and self-satisfaction.
To shed the material is to take a step toward the kind of beauty exhibited at Lourdes. Indeed, in many ways Lourdes was Mary’s most beautiful and delicate appearance. Her wish for a church at this site led to construction of towering and finely chiseled structures, as beautiful as anywhere in the world, and the graces have continued to flow from the grotto, especially the graces of health and well-being. Our Blessed Mother has a special maternal touch at Lourdes.
Lourdes was also an apparition that underscored the importance of discernment. We must always discern what is good and what is not good, whether it be a private matter in everyday life or whether it be the report of a new apparition. There are many reports in our own day, just as there were many back in the days of Lourdes. Although it is not widely known, the fact is that at the same time Bernadette was experiencing her apparitions, others from the vicinity also claimed to see the Virgin. There was a flurry of seers. They came out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, most were false visionaries. All but one of these other alleged seers were rejected by the bishop. There were dozens who seemed self-deceived or deceived by demons that sought to mock, confuse, and dilute the legitimate apparitions seen by Bernadette. There were so many false seers that they nearly caused the entire situation—including Bernadette’s apparitions—to be formally condemned!
Fortunately Bernadette’s experiences survived, but we thus see the danger of falsity.
Too often the enemy can take the form of an angel of light, deceiving even priests and promoting what seems like the Virgin’s cause.
The Church is wise and knows this. It has much experience with mysticism. It must always be obeyed in such discernments, for its officials have been chosen by the Holy Spirit.
Only through the Holy Spirit, only through prayer, fasting, and obedience, and only when we have peace in our hearts can we begin the process of discernment.
More than anything, there is a feeling of cleanliness and love attached to Lourdes, and with love comes grace and healing. Our Blessed Mother invites us to love as she loves, and to become white as she is radiant white. The way of graces was wide open because of Bernadette’s pure lowliness. She not only handled everything with humility, but also became, like St. Catherine, a holy nun. And in death her body remains remarkably incorrupt as a sign of the apparition. It can be visited in the city of Nevers.
This is in a nation where traditional Christianity had been attacked as flagrantly as any time since pagan Rome. “Revolutionaries” had destroyed shrines, desecrated chalices, and murdered priests and nuns across this nation, but in the wake of that debacle God had raised up one of the greatest of all shrines and one of the greatest of all nuns.
We clearly see how where evil exists, grace and Heavenly aid also abound.
So does courage. Bernadette had plenty of that also. As would later happen at places like Fatima, she was treated mercilessly by certain local authorities (who threatened to imprison her if she didn’t renounce her claims), and her own family doubted her. Yet it was also obvious that Bernadette was not going to back down. She was fervently dedicated to the lady she was seeing, and she was clearly not seeking to be the center of attention, often going to the grotto at times of the day when she hoped no one would notice her. She also had to contend with those who feared the apparition was an evil spirit or a soul from Purgatory. These were legitimate concerns. There are indeed times when purgatorial souls “haunt” us (seeking our prayers), and there are also many deceptions by evil spirits. But the apparitions seen by Bernadette had all the earmarks of heavenly visits, and Mary had clearly come to banish the demonic spirit. At one point Bernadette had heard a demonic voice near the river urging her to flee the apparitions and when such noise came another time it was described as a sound like galloping horses, loud and obnoxious. The voice was terrifying but Bernadette raised her arms up to the Blessed Mother and, according to Werfel, Mary’s countenance became stern “as though she too had still to wage battles and vanquish her enemies. With wrinkled brow she looked attentively at the river, as though to tame it with her radiant blue eyes. The uproar yielded at once. The hoarse voices crashed into silence. The immemorial rumbling and foaming of the Gave came to the lady’s heel like a daunted wolf.”
With a simple glance the Virgin dispels our demons.
The very locale of Lourdes may once have been the place of a pagan cult. The caverns in this area had been known for their sacrificial altars. That was why Massabielle, the vicinity of the grotto, was of ill-repute. And that was why the Virgin was coming: once more to purify it, to redeem it as at Tepeyac Hill, to take territory back from the devil.
Do we conduct ourselves likewise? Do we venture onto enemy territory and call down God’s blessing? Do we reach out to those who don’t know God—who don’t know Mary—and attempt to bring them back?
Just as Saragossa emphasized the importance of evangelization, Lourdes had an underlying message of deliverance. We must all work at purging evil. It is the removal of evil that yields the fertility of healing. To fix a wound we must first purge the infection. The Mother of God has been given a special role in this regard. When we call upon her, especially through the Rosary, there is a miraculous feeling of cleanliness. She is a spirit who can heal because she is pure.
And so we pray
O Jesus, Who empowered Your mother to make the momentous appearance at Lourdes, Who gave her the gift of healing, Who sent her as the immaculate woman against the filth of this world, cleanse our own beings and let us know what we need to do and pray to be worthy of similar grace and healing miracles. Especially teach us to properly recite that special gift You have given us through Mary, the Rosary.
Lord Jesus, You are the ultimate physician, You are the One from Whom the Holy Spirit flows. Dear Lord, please look into our bodies and heal any infirmities that afflict us or that may afflict us in the future. Guard us especially against the scourges of cancer and heart disease, which currently take so many lives. Deliver us from genetic disease. Deliver us from disease caused by our food or water or surroundings. By sin or stress. By bacteria. By viruses. Heal our bodies of any hidden or known disorders and do the same, we implore You, great Physician, great Deliverer, for every member of our families and all our friends and acquaintances.
Lord Jesus, at Lourdes there have been countless cures. Sick people bathe in the water and are inexplicably healed, the blind able to see, the lame to walk. Heal us of any major illness we suffer and of any illness that may one day pose a threat, especially any illness that comes due to our sinfulness or the presence of evil spirits. Dear Christ! Chase from our midst all evil! Send Your mother always to quickly expel darkness as she so quickly and easily dispelled evil at the River Gave.
O Mother of Lourdes, O sweet Virgin, O beautiful Woman, please touch us with your motherly touch and cause balance and healing, health and wholeness, to pervade our physical beings. If it be God’s Will let us live long lives serving the Lord, O Blessed Virgin. Let us be here to help others in this place of exile. Grant us longevity to transform this pagan earth.
O Mary, in a new and special way let us feel your sweetness and peace during the Rosary. Come to us as you came to Bernadette. And teach us how to detach from the material things of this world.
Response: pray for us
O Virgin, who was bathed in white at the grotto in
O Virgin, who withstood all attempts of the evil one,
O Virgin, who comes to heal,
O Virgin, who raises truth from a sea of falsity,
Pray for us.
Prayer for specific healing
Virgin Mary, please heal anything that may be wrong in our systems. Sweet Virgin, please heal anything that needs healing in our skeletal systems, in our immune systems, in our circulatory systems, in our brains and nervous systems, in our eyes and ears, in our noses and sinus systems, in our mouths and throats, in our skin and tissue, in our muscles, in our joints, in our hearts, in our lungs, in our stomachs, in the pancreas and thyroid, in our kidneys, in our livers, in our reproductive organs, in our intestines and all other tissues and organs: Heal us, sweet Virgin, through the graces allotted to you by your Son.
Prayer by Abbe H. Perreyve
O Most Holy Virgin, do not—in the midst of thy greatness—forget our earthly sorrows. Cast down thy tender look upon those who suffer, who struggle against difficulties, and who cease not wetting their lips in the bitter draughts of this life. Have pity—I beseech thee—on those who, although united in love, have been cruelly parted, and take pity on the lonely-hearted. Grant us thy help in our unbelief, and have compassion on those most dear to us. Compassionate those who mourn, who pray, who tremble, and grant all hope and peace.
Be blessed, O most pure Virgin, for having vouchsafed to manifest your shining with life, sweetness, and beauty, in the grotto of Lourdes, saying to the child, St. Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” A thousand times we congratulate you upon your Immaculate Conception. And now, O ever Immaculate Virgin, mother of mercy, health of the sick, refuge of sinners, comforter of the afflicted, you know our wants, our troubles, our sufferings. Deign to cast upon us a look of mercy. By appearing in the grotto of Lourdes, you were pleased to make it a privileged sanctuary, whence you dispense your favors, and already many have obtained the cure of their infirmities, both spiritual and physical. We come, therefore, with the most unbound confidence to implore your maternal intercession. Obtain for us, O loving mother, the granting of our request (here state request). Through gratitude for your favors we will endeavor to imitate your virtues that we may one day share your glory. Our Lady of Lourdes, mother of Christ, you had influence with your divine Son while upon earth. You have the same influence now in Heaven. Pray for us; obtain for us from your divine Son our special requests if it be the divine Will. Amen.
O Mary, great and humble queen, heal us in body and spirit!
Lady of Lourdes, you learned from Jesus the love God has for the world. Pray for us, that we may be fully open to that healing love. Amen.
Prayer of St. Alphonsus
O Queen of paradise, who reignest above all choir of angels, and who art the nearest of all creatures to God, I, a miserable sinner, salute thee from the valley of tears, and beseech thee to turn thy compassionate eyes toward me, for whichever side they turn they dispense graces.
V: The angel spoke God’s message to Mary
R: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
(Hail Mary, full of grace. . .)
V: “I am the lowly servant of the Lord:
R: Let it be done to me according to your word.”
(Hail Mary. . .)
V: And the Word became flesh
R: and dwelt amongst us.
(Hail Mary. . .)
V: Pray for us, holy Mother of God,
R: That we may become worthy of the promises of
Let us pray: Lord, fill our hearts with Your grace: once, through the message of an angel, You revealed to us the incarnation of Your Son; now, through His suffering and death, lead us to the glory of His resurrection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Mother, you can go anywhere and the stain of sin touches you not. Let us call upon you at the first hint of pride or lust and keep our every thought charitable and pure!
(Recitation of the Rosary and singing of the song “Immaculate Mary”)
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