Every year, more than three million pilgrims visit the small French town of Lourdes to pray for healing and grace. Lourdes is perhaps the most famous and beloved Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, and it continues to inspire and strengthen those who visit. Many come to seek healing and solace from Our Lady, who appeared to Saint Bernadette more than 150 years ago.
The Story of Lourdes
The small town of Lourdes lies nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Bernadette’s family was exceedingly poor, and her parents could barely make ends meet. In February 1858, Bernadette, her sister, and a friend went to collect firewood. Bernadette reached the rock of Massabielle alone. At the site of the grotto, she heard a gentle rustle in a rosebush and saw a vision of a beautiful lady in a blue cloak. The lady had her arms stretched out and smiled. Faithfully, Bernadette began to recite the rosary.
When her sister and friend reached her and realized what had happened, they forced Bernadette to return home and tell her parents. Perturbed, Bernadette’s parents forbid her to return to the grotto. However, Bernadette persisted and continued to beg for permission. As word of the apparition spread, Bernadette’s parents finally relented.
On her return, Our Lady urged Bernadette to meet her each day for 15 days. She implored Bernadette to pray and do penance. In early March, Our Lady charged Bernadette with the construction of a basilica at the site of the apparitions.
During the subsequent months, Our Lady appeared a further three times and, at that point, crowds were gathering at the site each day. The local Bishop established a commission to examine reported cures and, in 1862, Our Lady’s apparitions to Bernadette were validated. A crypt was constructed above the grotto and was inaugurated in 1866.
Bernadette wasn’t comfortable with all the attention she was receiving following the 18 apparitions, and she decided to join the Sisters of Charity and Instruction of Nevers. Despite her continued ill health, Bernadette worked in the infirmary and led a life dedicated to prayer and service. Sadly, Bernadette finally succumbed to her ill health and died at the young age of 35.
The Healing Waters of Lourdes
During her apparition on 25 February 1858, Our Lady told Bernadette:
“Go drink at the spring and wash yourself there.”
Countless people have received Our Lady’s healing grace by drinking from this spring. Officially, 50 miracles have occurred and people who were not fully cured have been strengthened to endure their personal suffering.
The Lessons of Saint Bernadette
Perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn from Bernadette is to accept our suffering gracefully, as she so bravely did.
Bernadette’s entire life was one of suffering and pain. Sickly and feeble as a child, Bernadette suffered from ill health throughout her life. When asked why she didn’t seek healing from Our Lady for herself, Bernadette answered:
“You see, my business is to be ill,” and she went on to explain: “Why must we suffer? Because here below, pure Love cannot exist without suffering. O Jesus, Jesus, I no longer feel my cross when I think of yours.”
Bernadette endured her suffering graciously by placing it alongside Christ’s pain. She was willing to share in Jesus’ suffering, strongly believing that, by doing so, love would grow. Strong in her resolve to place love at the center of her life, Bernadette viewed her suffering as an opportunity to express her love for Christ and lighten His cross.
Through prayer, contemplation, and selfless service to others, Bernadette put her own needs aside and was willing to make sacrifices. Within her own suffering, she found the solace of the love of Christ and, thus, triumphed over pain.
The Stations of the Cross – How We Can Follow Bernadette’s Example
Each and every person who undertakes the journey to Lourdes seeks healing of one form or another. Many find inspiration and solace when praying the Stations of the Cross along the Way of the Cross near the grotto. In Lourdes, one Way of the Cross leads along the hillside, while there is also a Way for disabled pilgrims close by.
When reflecting on the Stations of the Cross, we partake in Christ’s suffering and seek the strength to cope with our own pain. Every single person has a cross to bear; however, when we follow Bernadette’s example, we can perhaps find the strength to accept our suffering more graciously. She inspires us to endure and focus on love rather than pain. Even when no miraculous healing occurs, pilgrims receive the loving support of Our Lady and can subsequently bear their suffering more easily.
A Word on Suffering
Undoubtedly, few of us possess Bernadette’s holy grace, patience, and acceptance; most of us try to escape our own suffering rather than embrace it, like Bernadette. While God keeps us safe in his care, he often has us experience pain we would rather not feel. The question of why God allows suffering all over the world has never been fully answered, and it continuous to challenge our faith.
Particularly, the suffering of innocent people, the seemingly needless suffering of many, and the anguish visited upon some through the cruelty of others often do not make sense. We fail to understand, and we are unwilling to accept such pain.
Perhaps we ought to do both: ask for healing and support, while also graciously accepting our fate.
Bernadette considered her own pain as an opportunity to get closer to Christ, to show her love, and to offer support. We all have learned lessons during difficult times, and we need to remain strong in our faith, even when we hurt and don’t understand.
The lesson we can learn from Bernadette is to pray and focus on the love of God and embrace our own cross for the sake of Christ.
Saint Bernadette’s Prayer on Suffering
Let’s be inspired by Saint Bernadette’s Prayer:
“Let the crucifix be not only in my eyes and on my breast, but in my heart.
O Jesus! Release all my affections and draw them upwards.
Let my crucified heart sink forever into Thine and bury itself in the mysterious wound made by the entry of the lance.”
Even if we can only apply an ounce of Bernadette’s grace, we might be able to cope with our pain and suffering more easily. Perhaps, we need to trust God to know what’s best for us, even when we are in pain.