February 11th is the Marian Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. This apparition was so important, and is so special that our Church has dedicated an entire feast day to it. Our Lady appeared to a sickly child of poor parents, and their faith was barely lukewarm.
“On Thursday, 11 February 1858, fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw a beautiful young girl in a niche at a rocky outcrop called Massabielle, about a half mile outside the town. She was near a wild rose bush and surrounded by a brilliant light and a golden cloud, smiling, with her arms extended towards Bernadette, who took out her rosary beads.
When she had finished praying the rosary the apparition beckoned to her, but Bernadette did not move and the girl smiled at her before disappearing. She later described how she had seen a young girl of about her own age and height, clothed in a brilliant and unearthly white robe, with a blue girdle around her waist and a white veil on her head.
This was the beginning of a whole sequence of apparitions, eighteen in all, which occurred during the spring and early summer of 1858. Mary first spoke to Bernadette on 18 February when she asked her if she would come to the grotto for a fortnight. Thursday, 25 February, saw a crowd of about three hundred, and the discovery that was to make Lourdes famous, that of the miraculous spring in the grotto.
During subsequent apparitions Mary asked for a chapel and processions, but Fr. Peyramale, the local parish priest, insisted that the Lady would have to reveal her name before anything could be done about such matters. Early on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette made her way to the grotto, where the beautiful Lady was already waiting for her. Bernadette asked the Lady her name and after joining her hands at the breast and looking up to heaven she said, "I am the Immaculate Conception."
Bernadette hurried off toward the presbytery, repeating the Lady's strange words, so as not to forget them. She met Fr. Peyramale and left him dumbfounded with the words, "I am the Immaculate Conception." He realized that the Lady had indeed answered his request for her name. Although the message of Lourdes was now complete, Bernadette again saw Mary on the Wednesday after Easter, April 7, remaining in an ecstasy for about three quarters of an hour.
Bishop Laurence set up a Canonical Commission into the apparitions and their cause on July 28. This body first interviewed Bernadette in mid-November, and was impressed by her testimony and by a growing number of cures. It was not until January 1862 though, nearly four years after the apparitions, that the bishop delivered his verdict on Lourdes in a pastoral letter, a verdict that silenced those hostile to Bernadette.
"We adjudge that the Immaculate Mary, Mother of God, really appeared to Bernadette Soubirous on February 11th, 1858, and subsequent days, eighteen times in all, in the Grotto of Massabielle, near the town of Lourdes: that this apparition possesses all the marks of truth, and that the faithful are justified in believing it certain. We humbly submit our judgement to the judgement of the Supreme Pontiff to whom is committed the Government of the whole Church.” —From Theotokos http://www.theotokos.org.uk/pages/approved/appariti/lourdes.html
There are a beautiful set of tie-ins with Mary’s life and Mary’s apparition to St. Bernadette. At the moment of incarnation, Mary was about fifteen, which is the same age as St. Bernadette during the apparitions. Mary was a descendent of the great line of David, but her family was poor and had no earthly treasures. Likewise, St. Bernadette was from a great family well-known in Lourdes, but they were living in poverty at the time of the apparitions. Both lived in small towns (Lourdes and Nazareth). Nathaniel said: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46) and a local politician doubted that anything could come from St. Bernadette’s family, the Soubirous home.
Mary’s apparition to St. Bernadette shows us that you don’t need to come from a rich background, or even the holiest of backgrounds, to be important in the eyes of her and our Lord. Every one of us deserves a relationship with Mary and with her Son, our Lord, and we should strive to attain and sustain one.
Reflection question 1: What part of St. Bernadette’s apparitions speak to your soul the most?
Reflection question 2: St. Bernadette was so great at following directions and having the faith to spread Mary’s words and desires. What could Mary be trying to tell you, or desire for you to do?
Act: Spend time in contemplation. Think of your own faith journey. How far have you come, and how much farther do you have to grow? What can you do to give Mary your yes?