Bernadette of Lourdes

Following the recent virtual pilgrimage to Lourdes, this is an introduction to the person who started it all off.

Bernadette is a hidden saint. She came into the limelight for a short five-month period of the Apparitions between February and July 1858. During this time in prayer, obedience and service she did everything that she was asked to do by Our Lady and then she disappeared.

As a pilgrim to Lourdes you have to be a little bit inquisitive to find out about Bernadette as there are very few signs of her. You will see statues of Our Lady and amazing basilicas, but Bernadette is more obscure.

Why is this? The relative obscurity of Bernadette is a sign of one of her greatest qualities which is her humility and self-effacing nature. While she was visited by the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ in 18 apparitions, surely one of the highest honours that a human being can receive, she absolutely refused all praise, she rejected any financial gifts and her one ambition in life was to give herself in love through Mary to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bernadette was a light that shone in the darkness. When she saw the vision of Our Lady in the Grotto her face was transformed, as one of the bystanders said, from lead into gold. This light radiated onto all of the bystanders and was the essential proof that her vision was real. From that light came a movement of people to obey the words of Our Lady, to come in procession, to bathe in the waters, to do penance and to enter into the heart of Jesus Christ. From that light came renewal of the church and a revival of popular faith in a time of scientific challenge.

How was it possible for a 14-year-old girl to be such a vehicle of God’s plan? Her story is one of grace that was showered upon her and her willing acceptance to be part of that plan. The light of intelligence shone through an illiterate and unschooled girl who was never once lost for a response faced with questioning from the authorities and people of influence. Profoundly convinced of the reality of what she had experienced she bore witness in her words and her actions. The words of Saint Paul come to mind when he said “your grace is sufficient for me“.  She was a weakly girl, small in stature no more than 4’6” high, who suffered from asthma, had been terribly weakened through an episode of cholera when she was 10 years old, and humanly speaking was very vulnerable. But this never stopped her. Her courage was seen in very moving form in her life as a nun when on at least three occasions she was given extreme unction and was on the point of death, each time recovering until finally she died aged 35 of tuberculosis of the knee.

Even in death Bernadette was separated from her beloved Lourdes and her cherished Grotto. Her earthly remains were exhumed in the canonisation process and they now remain incorrupt in a glass case in the convent of St Gildard where she lived as a nun in her religious life. In this chapel you feel the same sense of peace that you experience when you are sitting in front of the grotto of Lourdes.

Other than accounts of the Apparitions, letters to her family and one beautiful hymn to our Lady, Bernadette never wrote anything. She didn’t found a religious order, she didn’t act as a missionary nor did she die as a martyr. But Bernadette is a hero of the church and rightly a saint. She shows the power of God made perfect in human weakness. She is a light to a world that worships power, fame and riches. She is the saint of the poor in spirit. She is a model for ordinary people in ordinary lives doing extraordinary things through the grace of God.

Categories LCSB | Tags: | Posted on July 31, 2020

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