Today marks a feast day in the Church that gives much solace and hope to my heart. It is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is the day we commemorate the Virgin Mary’s first appearance to young Bernadette Soubirous in the village of Lourdes, France in 1858.
St. Bernadette’s Special Mission of Healing
The story goes that young Bernadette was the eldest of nine children. Her family was very poor—so poor, in fact, that their only housing was the cellar of the former jail in Lourdes.
It is believed that the Virgin Mary first appeared to Bernadette while she was out gathering firewood for her family on February 11th, 1858. The Blessed Mother was clothed in a white gown and blue sash with yellow roses at her feet. She continued her appearances to the young girl for a number of days, only confirming her identity during the sixteenth visit.
Our Lady prayed the Rosary with Bernadette, implored her to tell the clergy to build a chapel there at the Grotto of Massabielle, and to pray and make sacrifices for the sake of all sinners. In one conversation, Our Lady implored Bernadette to scratch into the soil near the river, and from that place a spring of water flowed. Since the first apparitions, close to 70 instances of healing have been meticulously documented by those who bathed in the water of that same spring.
On that Same Riverbank
A century and a half after the first vision, I was one of those pilgrims who came seeking healing. At the time of my pilgrimage, my heart was filled with brokenness: a romantic relationship had just ended and my father was in the end stages of Alzheimer’s. I felt an acute ache for healing in my heart like I had never felt before. I was not like the usual Lourdes seekers—those with cancers, paralysis, or or other physical infirmities—but I needed healing, too.
And so, outside the grotto and on the banks of St. Bernadette’s river, I prayed for myself and my fellow pilgrims. Over, and over, and over again. Waiting for a miracle.
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We Don’t Get to Choose Our Healing Timeline
When I look back on that time in Lourdes, I can’t say that I was healed of those things that very day. In fact, I didn’t have any say in the timeline of my heart’s healing. I came back to the U.S. with my still-broken heart and had to continue to move forward with my work, home, and family life.
But I do know that during my time at Lourdes and after, I was heard, loved, and cherished. I know that Our Lady was there as my Mother. She was tending to my broken heart and reminding me of the hope that her Son promised. I know that she came alongside me and held me close, just as she did for St. Bernadette. In time, I found the healing I so desired.
Finding Joy in the Healing He Chooses
Yes, Our Lord healed me, but in far greater and better ways than I ever could have hoped for myself. Through much prayer and counsel, I’ve found deeper relationship wounds in need of healing and have made the space in my life to work through them. I’ve grieved the death of my dad and know that this, too, is being worked out in my heart.
I smile because I know I am not one of the “official” 66 miracles at Lourdes, but I still count myself among them! I’ve found peace in the love He has for me as a Father and in my identity as His beloved. Healing is daily work, and I trust that it is being done, even though I’m no longer on those riverbanks.
“I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next…”
On the third appearance of Our Lady to St. Bernadette on February 18th, she uttered a promise that gives me much hope. She said:
I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next.
Our Lady’s words remind our hearts that our earthly lives can be hard. Sometimes we have to really be on the lookout for joy, don’t we? Even St. Bernadette suffered great rejection at the hands of those who did not believe in the apparitions. She was never cured of the tuberculosis of the bone that eventually took her life at the age of 34.
She wasn’t healed in the way that perhaps most would have wanted, but in a much deeper way. St. Bernadette knew the Lord loved her and that she was a precious, chosen sheep. Her healing and her joy was found in her beautiful unity with the Father in Heaven.
Our Lady of Lourdes Gives Me Healing and Hope
When my life is hard, or when those in my family struggle, I remember the story of St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes. I take comfort that Mary intercedes for me whenever I ask her to do so, knowing that she desires healing for you just as she does for me.
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Karen Schultz is a regular contributor to the BIS blog and a devotion writer. She hails from the Land of 10,000 lakes, where she is often found in or near one of them. As a doula, lactation educator, and FertilityCare Practitioner, she finds joy in helping women to embrace the gift of their bodies. Downtime is found in quiet adoration chapels, farmers markets and gardens, listening to bluegrass music, and embracing the diversity of Minnesota’s seasons. You can find out more about her here.