Remembering St. Bernadette on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes
by Goldee Salcedo Garcia
I fell in love with Our Lady of Lourdes after my first visit to the Grotto in 2014.
Since then, Lourdes has been my favorite pilgrim site and has held a special place in my heart. I have visited 3 times and I can never get enough of it.
As soon as I leave Lourdes, I long for the day when I can come back to visit again. I find that there is a different sense of calm and renewal of spirit that takes place there, a different sense of connection to our Blessed Mother, a different level of awareness of happiness in my faith, that I do not find elsewhere.
We have St. Bernadette to thank for this beautiful experience that so many of us pilgrims have benefitted from and keep coming back to for over a century now.
Here are some lessons I have learned from the story of St. Bernadette:
1. Have COURAGE
At the young age of 14 years old, St. Bernadette had the courage to share her experience of a beautiful woman appearing to her and saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception". Her testimony was deemed incontestable and many believed that the beautiful woman was the Blessed Virgin Mary. This supported the church dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which was defined by Pope Pius IX just 4 years before St. Bernadette's visions.
2. Be OBEDIENT
Despite all her physical ailments, being a frail and sickly child (she had cholera when she was a toddler and asthma throughout her life), and becoming a public spectacle, she followed the instructions of our Blessed Mother throughout the period of the apparitions. She said yes when the Blessed Virgin asked her to go to the Grotto for a fortnight; she said the Rosary with her; she kissed the ground as an act of penance for sinners; she did not let up drinking of the spring despite finding only a little muddy water and only being able to drink on her fourth attempt; she ate the bitter herbs near the spring; she gave the Blessed Mother's instructions for people to go there in procession and for a chapel to be built there. Today, about 8 million pilgrims visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes every year and the procession is held daily.
3. Be HUMBLE
She never made the apparitions about herself - she never blessed the rosaries that were thrust on her, she never sold medals nor images of herself - she simply did as she was asked of the Blessed Virgin and gave precise accounts of her experiences. It has been reported that when she was asked about the apparitions she replied, "The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again." She regarded herself as a tool and she knew when her mission in Lourdes was finished. She hid herself from the world to keep the focus on our Blessed Mother and her message.
4. Live a life of PRAYER and SACRIFICE
In her letter to Pope Pius IX, St. Bernadette says, "My weapons are prayer and sacrifice, which I will grip firmly to my dying breath." She dedicated her life to the work of prayer, praying for sinners as Our Lady had instructed her, and to caring for the sick, despite her own illness and ailments.
5. Live a life of FAITH
She held on to the words of the Blessed Mother to her, "I cannot promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next." She fixed her eyes on the crucifix, where she found her strength, and lived her life in complete abandonment to the Lord. In her notes, she wrote, "To live for God only, for God everywhere, for God always."
When she got older, St. Bernadette refused to revisit Lourdes to avail of the miraculous waters that she had (literally) unearthed and which so many others have benefited from. The first miracle happened on March 1, 1858 when a woman plunged her dislocated arm into the water and her arm and hand regained movement. There have been so many other miraculous accounts since then. To this day, people flock to the baths at Lourdes, drink from the fountains and take home containers of the waters from the spring. According to scientific research the water is only pure and potable, there is nothing extraordinary about the water. If that's true, what then is the secret ingredient that makes the water miraculous and has provided healing for so many believers all these years? St. Bernadette said, "One must have faith and pray; the water will have no virtue without faith."
As we celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes today, February 11, let us remember her words to St. Bernadette: "Penance, penance, penance. Pray for sinners."
Let us follow in St. Bernadette's example and focus our happiness on the next life and our hearts towards God and towards our brothers and sisters.
Goldee Salcedo Garcia, with her husband Nico Garcia, leads the Family and Life Ministry at St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish in Magallanes, Makati.