Our daughter was christened, after her birth, with water from the healing shrine of Lourdes in France. Nancy's parched lips were moistened with that same water as I read to her on her death bed. Lourdes is very much within my heart and while I may never have the pleasure of going there it, somehow, came to me.
In 1858 St. Mary appeared to a little French peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, at a natural grotto near Lourdes. I quote from a wonderful book now (I apologize that I cannot recall the name of that book but it most likely was Walsh's excellent anthology on the subject of Marian apparitions):
"Bernadette had gone with her sister and a friend to gather wood. The other two girls had run on, leaving her to follow as best she could. [The book tells us about Bernadette's first vision] ... Instead, Mary chose Bernadette Soubirous, a poor, sickly, uneducated peasant girl, who at the age of fourteen she did not even know her catechism [i.e., she was slow].
Suddenly as she stooped over to take off her shoes before crossing the little millstream, there was a noise like a violent wind. Startled, Bernadette looked up and saw a golden cloud emerge from the grotto on the other side of the stream. This was followed by a beautiful Lady.
'She looked at me immediately', said Bernadette later, 'smiled at me and motioned to me to advance, as if she had been my mother. All fear left me; 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 know that I was not mistaken'"
Bernadette then began to pray her rosary while St. Mary let her own rosary glide through her hands.
"'She joined only in the reciting of the Gloria [the Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen]. It would be noted that she would not pray the Lord's Prayer for she was from Paradise where there is no sin and so no occasion to ask God to forgive us our trespasses and naturally she would not, in her Virgin's modesty, pray the Hail Mary's.
At St. Mary's third appearance she asked Bernadette: "Will you do me the kindness of coming here every day for two weeks?" Bernadette said she would come. Then the Lady said, "I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the next!"
During the course of these visitations Bernadette suffered much from the atheists who governed France at that time, from her very unsympathetic priest, and from her parents who feared for her sanity. Even so, the little girl was faithful in her visits during which St. Mary called for real repentance on the part of the people, revealed the healing spring of water at which so many medically verified healings have taken place (some of them extremely dramatic, to say the least), and with great emotion she revealed her mystical identity as the cosmic event that changed world history. Looking down in great modesty she said: "I am the Immaculate Conception." We, of course, understand that she was referring of the eternal significance of the birth of Christ and that He was sinless and assumed our Humanity in her womb in order to redeem our Humanity in Himself.
Sadly the parish priest and Rome assumed that St. Mary was calling
attention to her own sanctity, which she most definitively was not! The
Pope had recently promulgated a new doctrine that hopelessly split
Christian reunion with the Protestants wherein he proclaimed that the
Mother of our Lord was born without sin and was without sin all the days
of her mortal life. This, he said, because Roman Catholicism, the great
church that it is, has made Christ so remote to her members that they
substitute Mary as more approachable. There are those within that
church who want the Pope to proclaim her co-redemptrix (joint Redeemer
with Christ). How sad this must make the dear Mother of our Lord -- but
she must continue, regardless, visiting this world and warning us to
come back to Christ for the end may well be close.
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