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Saturday, September 4, 2010

St. Bernadette and the Immaculate Conception

by Lawrence Fox

While at work, I received a phone call from a concerned mother who confided that her child’s cognitive skills were
St. Bernadette
tested and the results were less than promising. “My child is several years behind a normal child of the same age and her condition may not improve,” she said.
What could I say? My response was honest: “Know that your child will never offend God the way I have offended God with all my intelligence.”

I then had the wits to say: “Give your child the Miraculous Medal and together develop a relationship with St. Bernadette, a young strong spirited girl who loved God with her whole heart, mind, and soul and whose obedience remains the instrument through which great comfort and healing are brought to many souls.”

Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we received from God. For Just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows (2 Corinthians 1:3-6).

St. Bernadette was born in Lourdes, France, on January 7, 1844. She was a deeply honest, strong spirited and hard working girl. Her father was a miller by trade but in order to remain employed worked at various odd jobs. Her mother worked doing laundry for neighbors and picking crops in order to manage additional support for the family of five children. As a very young girl, St. Bernadette cared for the smaller four children, and helped in their moral and religious training. St. Bernadette endured along with hard work, respiratory problems her whole life.

St. Bernadette as a young girl was gifted with several visions of "a “Beautiful Lady” as she relates in her memoirs at the rock of Massabeille beginning on February 11, 1858. St. Bernadette received persecutions and humiliations as a result of these visions. And as St. Margaret Mary of Alocoque explains: “In that great fear which I have always had of being deceived among the graces and favors I received from my sovereign Lord: here are the marks which He has given me whereby to know what comes from Him and comes from Satan, self-love or some other natural movement…these favors and particular graces will always be accompanied in me be some humiliation, contradiction or contempt from creatures.”

The servant is not above the master and St. Bernadette was misunderstood by neighbors and her family, who feared the local authorities: the impudent students of the French Revolution demanding “fraternity, liberty, & equality” for the atheistic masses but no room for God and His Catholic Church. St. Bernadette received a request from the "a “Beautiful Lady” to return to the rock of Massabeille every day for fifteen days.

During one of the visions, St. Bernadette requested from the “Beautiful Lady” – at the request of the Parish Priest Dean Peyramale – her name. The “Beautiful Lady” responded, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

This revelation was beyond the imagination of the young St. Bernadette, who never related to anyone that the “Beautiful Lady” was the Blessed Virgin Mary. It seems that the St. Bernadette was not sure who the “Beautiful Lady” was and the Blessed Virgin Mother never confided as much to her; instead allowed the Church judge the revelation to her.

Jesus prayed: “I thank you Heavenly Father for revealing these things to the little ones and keeping them from the wise and the learned.”

The Parish Priest Dean Peyramale, who was very skeptical of the authenticity and the holy origins of the visions, asked St. Bernadette if she understood the words or if she heard them from someone else in another conversation or alike. St. Bernadette responded with a negative on both counts: she did not know what they meant, and she had never heard the expression “Immaculate Conception.”

The priest’s doubts and resistance were removed and from that moment forward became her arch defender.

The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854 several years before the visions at Massabeille.

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege or almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human Race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin (Ineffabilis Deus).

The Blessed Virgin Mary waited for the Catholic Church to Proclaim the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Her actions are reminiscent of the disposition of St. John the Evangelist when running to the empty tomb of Jesus Christ - and although reaching it first - did not enter until Peter first entered.

John deferred to Peter out of Love for Jesus Christ the miracle of the resurrection and the empty tomb. John saw this deference in the Blessed Mother who sought to remain hidden within the Mystery and Glory of Her Son Jesus Christ. Now that the Bride of Christ (the Church) proclaimed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – the spouse of Mary – the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mary asked for permission to comfort the Church with a special vision to St. Bernadette and a continuous sacramental of healing.

The location of the visions is well known in Catholic circles as the Grotto in Lourdes, France. There remains in Lourdes, a spring of flowing water which is a sacramental of healing – as evidenced by many written testimonies of healings and the crutches and wheel chairs left behind at the site.

St. Bernadette entered the order of the Sisters of Charity, where she hoped to remain hidden from curious attention. St. Bernadette -- so it seems -- received the gift of prophecy and used this gift to encourage her fellow sisters. The Lord continued to prune and protect St. Bernadette through those He brought into her path, including those strict members of the order. Suffering and humiliation preserved St. Bernadette from the sin of pride - due to her many revelations - and increased in her the virtue of a single hearted love of God and neighbor – the whole of the Law.

To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-9).

St. Bernadette died on April 16, 1879. Her body placed in a casket, and buried near the chapel of St. Joseph in the convent grounds. When the casket was unearthed in 1908 as a result of a commission responsible for the examination of Bernadette's life and character, it was found to be intact and

uncorrupted. Pope Pius X conferred the title of Venerable upon her on August, 1913. Her beatification was completed on June 1925. Today, the un-corrupted body of St. Bernadette lies in a glass coffin within the convent Chapel.

St. Bernadette’s life and un-corrupted remains are God’s visible mark and declaration to the sanctity of the little saint, the historicity of the vision, and the infallibility of the Dogma concerning Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

St. Bernadette’s love of God and obedience to the requests of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are the instrument through which great comfort and healing are brought to many souls.

This brings me to another story as told by a Mr. Noah Lett on the Journey Home program on EWTN. In his story, Mr. Lett related how as a young child he was lead to a belief in God and His Son Jesus Christ. He advanced in grace and eventually became a clergyman within the Lutheran Church, and related that one day while entering through the doors of his rectory; he was translated to the tomb of St. Bernadette. Mr. Lett knew nothing about St. Bernadette. Standing before the un-corrupted body in the glass coffin in the convent chapel, he heard a voice ask the following question three times, “Noah what do you see?” Noah attempted to answer logically on two (2) occasions but remembers that on the 3rd count through a gift of knowledge responded: “I see that the sacraments of the Catholic Church give what they promise.” Mr. Noah Lett is now a Catholic and to hear him speak is a treasure to say the least.

My wife stood by the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette on one of her pilgrimages, and all she could think about was this was the place that Noah Lett had stood when he was bi-located from his Lutheran rectory to France.

Going back to the episode of the mother’s young child, we know that through Baptism, confession, and reception of Holy Communion her child lives as a temple of God’s Holy Spirit, a precious stone in the edifice which Almighty God is erecting upon the foundation of the Apostles, with Jesus being the corner stone.

The sacraments of the Catholic Church give what they promise for they were instituted by Jesus Christ and administered by the Catholic Church His Bride, which shares with all her children the Promises of Jesus Christ.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the Name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you and know that I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28: 19-20).

And Jesus breathed upon them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit, the sins you forgive are forgiven and the sins you retain are retained” (John 20:22).

“Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6: 54).

We see as in a mirror darkly, the mind of God who reveals His providence, His justice, mercy, and goodness over all of creation at every moment in time and eternity. God in his infinite Wisdom deigns to dwell in such little souls - which the Worldly Wise can only measure, quantify, and then categorize. “God confuses the proud in their deepest thoughts,” said Mary to Elizabeth.

We know that God bring all things to good for those who love him. This truth is born out in the lives of the saints, which all of us by God’s grace regardless of our physical capabilities or limitations are called to imitate.

The story of St. Bernadette is beautifully presented by three (3) movies that I am aware of:

• Song of Bernadette

• Bernadette distributed by Ignatius Press

• Passion of Bernadette distributed by Ignatius Press

Rent and enjoy them and see that God is truly glorified in His saints.

Beautiful comment on this piece:

by "Grace:"

I was very surprised recently when a friend, whom I know to be very devoted to Mary, told me that she doesn’t care much about apparitions.  Even allowing that she may have overstated, it still shocked me that a serious Catholic might not have some attention to spare for all the earthly visitations that Our Blessed Mother has been making during the long centuries since she was assumed into Heaven.  Is it because my friend is a cradle Catholic?  Perhaps.  Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe---these were part of the air one breathed growing up, at least for older Catholics.  Apparitions, for them, might seem ordinary, nothing to get excited about.  But that was not the case for me.  As a little Protestant girl growing up in the 50’s and early 60’s, I heard no rumor of these amazing appearances of the Mother of Jesus, except for one--Lourdes.  The father of a friend of mine had built a small Lourdes grotto for his daughter in their back yard, and she had ornamented it in a lovely fashion with flowers and moss and shells.  I was enchanted by it, and secretly envious, wishing that my church was one that encouraged backyard construction projects.  Not long afterwards I saw a movie about Lourdes on TV—the Song of Bernadette—and learned a little about the event that had inspired the miniature grotto. But apart from the movie I never heard anyone talk about Lourdes or its meaning, and was not entirely sure what to think about the matter.  I was aware that Hollywood often exaggerated things, or distorted them; perhaps the whole thing had been made up.  I heard little more about Marian apparitions until I became a Catholic at the age of 23. 

At last I was free to learn about our Blessed Mother and take full delight in every Marian shrine I came across, free to cherish a devotion to her as Our Lady of Lourdes, free to honor her under any or all of her many titles.  My childhood instincts had been right on the money; it was entirely appropriate to be envious of my little Catholic friend.  In addition to a very cool yard ornament, she had had access to a wealth of spiritual riches such as I had never dreamed of.  Among them was the knowledge that the Mother of Jesus had been coming to earth to visit her children and to instruct them in the paths of holiness.  Of course, not everyone got to see her, but enough people encountered the visible proofs of her manifestations so as to leave no reasonable doubt.  The spring at Lourdes has provided miraculous cures for untold numbers of people, the miraculous tilma of Juan Diego may still be seen in Mexico, and over 70,000 people, atheists and skeptics included, saw the miracle of the sun at Fatima in 1917.  I learned that the list of apparitions goes on and on, showing her great love for us as our spiritual mother.  This is all part of the Evangelium.  God is our Father, Jesus is our brother, and He  gave us Mary to be our spiritual mother as He was dying on the cross, which means the Church is really one big family, and we are all the adopted children of God.  Spectacularly good news.  

Why, then, do we so seldom hear about apparitions at church?  Yes, I know they are “optional” and add nothing to the deposit of faith, but they help demonstrate it.  How better to demonstrate the Communion of the Saints, one of the articles of the Apostle’s Creed, than by having Our Blessed Mother come to earth and beg us to turn to her Son for our salvation?

And yet the Church’s ministers rarely talk about the apparitions, and few people outside the church know about them anymore.  This is a tragedy.  I think the apparitions have a great, untapped potential to bring people to Jesus Christ, which is, after all, Our Lady’s aim in visiting us.  So, if we want to take part in the New Evangelization, we should talk more about the Marian apparitions, not attempt to downplay them, as some people have done, with the mistaken idea that we shouldn’t “offend” people by mentioning the Blessed Virgin.  That is why I am so grateful to Lawrence Fox for his fine piece on Bernadette and Lourdes, which I have read several times.  Lay Catholics can accomplish a lot of good by using the social media to increase knowledge of Marian apparitions, not for their own sake, but because they have been the conduit of God’s grace for so many people.   From Lawrence I learned about Noah Lett, another Protestant who was converted by an encounter with St. Bernadette and the miracle of Lourdes.  Thank you, Lawrence!  

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading this beautiful story of faith of St. Bernadette. Thank you so much. God bless.