The story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous is well known throughout the Church because of her remarkable connection to the Marian apparitions at Lourdes. St. Bernadette was a young, simple, and impoverished girl who was chosen by Our Lord and Our Lady to witness a miracle. Today marks the anniversary of her death. She died on April 16, 1879. She died devoting her personal suffering to Christ and with these words on her lips: “Blessed Mary, Mother of God, pray for me! A poor sinner, a poor sinner—“. She was canonized in 1933. Her rather recent canonization means that she is a great saint to learn from in our current era. There are many things to learn from the life of this great saint, but today we will focus on these examples: child-like wonder and obedience, trust, and perseverance.
Child-like Wonder and Obedience
St. Bernadette grew up in humble circumstances marred by poverty. In fact, at the time the apparitions of Our Lady began, she and her family dwelt in a one room basement residence that had previously been a jail. She spent much of her life suffering from chronic breathing problems and was never physically strong. She had great faith, however, and worked hard to receive her first Holy Communion when many did not take her desires seriously. Her dedication to her faith would prove invaluable when the extraordinary events that began on February 11, 1858 changed her life forever.
On that cold morning in 1858, Bernadette, along with her sister Toinette Marie and a family friend, Marie Abadie, were sent to the river to collect driftwood and branches to be used by the families for firewood. When they reached an area known as Massabeille, Toinette and Marie went to wade across the river while the weaker Bernadette stayed behind. It was as Bernadette stood alone by the river that she heard a noise that resembled a strong rush of wind. She began to move towards a grotto area in the rock and it was there that she saw a beautiful young girl who had placed herself in the niche of a rock. Bernadette watched the luminous girl in fear and wonder. She was dressed in white, wearing a girdle of blue, a long white veil with golden roses gleaming from her bare feet. When the young girl smiled at Bernadette her initial fear vanished and she sank to her knees in reverence.
Two things are striking about Bernadette’s response: she responds in wonder and reverence. In this initial meeting it was not entirely clear to Bernadette who this woman was and she referred to her as the Lady; however, her response is to give herself totally over to the Lady. Bernadette began to pray a Rosary in what can only be described as child-like faith and obedience. Something deep inside of her compelled her to respond in this manner. Rather than leaving in fear or disbelief, she stayed with the beautiful Lady and prayed with her. There was no analyzing and insecurity that describes our own age so well. Bernadette knew that something amazing was happening and she entered into the wonder and beauty of it all completely.
This is how we should be living our own lives each day. It can be difficult in our busy schedules and with our obsession with smartphones, but God calls each one of us to wonder and be obedient to Him as a child would be to their own mother and father. It is to answer the deepest recesses of who we are created to be. Living our lives in wonder of God helps us to become more fully human. The closer we draw to God the more human we become in our conformation to the Blessed Trinity. When we focus on wonder, we are able to see God working in our lives through our loved ones, the Mass, and Creation.
Bernadette’s initial reaction to the first apparition was one of total trust. She knelt in prayer before the Lady with no fear and a total dependence that what was happening was good. After her initial experience she shared with her family what had transpired and was barred from returning. In fact, Bernadette was persecuted by family, friends, citizens, clergy, and religious. It did not matter to Bernadette and she trusted completely in her requirement to return to Massabeille to see the Lady. It was never her desire to disobey her parents, but she understood that she had a higher calling to respond to in her obedience. In total there were 18 apparitions that took place near Lourdes.
Throughout the span of the apparitions St. Bernadette put her total trust in Our Lady, even though she did not even know who the apparition was, and it was not until the 17th apparition that Our Lady revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception. She made this pronouncement four years after the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated by the Church. It was St. Bernadette’s trust that allowed her to push for a church to be built at the site and that a miraculous spring was revealed. She followed the instructions of Our Lady, even when others would not listen. This is a very valuable lesson for us today.
There will be times in our own lives when we will be reviled, hated, persecuted, and falsely accused. The Church, just like Our Lord, has always been under attack. In those moments we must trust in Christ and focus on our eschatological end, which is Heaven. We do not always understand how Christ is working in our own lives, but we must trust that it is for our good and sanctification. Look to the example of St. Bernadette in those moments of persecution.
St. Bernadette’s story is one of perseverance. She wanted a church built at the site of the apparitions because it had been commanded by the Lady. She fought until the authorities relinquished. She dug in the dirt when told to do so by Our Lady and revealed a miraculous spring even to the point of looking foolish or crazy. She continued to go to the site whenever Our Lady had told her to do so, even when many people tried to keep her from going. She fixed her eyes on truth and gave herself wholly over to the miraculous workings going on in her life.
The vast majority of us will not experience something as awe-inspiring as a Marian apparition. God predominately works through secondary causes and only uses miracles at times when He ordains to reveal Himself more clearly. We can, however, look to St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes as inspiration for persevering in our own lives. Perhaps someone is sick, lost a job, a child has fallen way from the faith, or is afflicted in some other way. St. Bernadette, who suffered as we do, can help each one of us to focus on Christ, to pray when we fall, and ask for the strength and grace to make it to the end. St. Bernadette, just as Our Lord had done, persevered until the job was finished.
St. Bernadette died on April 16th uttering the words of intercession to Our Lady and seeking the mercy of God. She persevered even in her final moments of suffering and death. This is what each one of us is called to do to the very end. So let us fix our eyes on Heaven, and in doing so, hope in our eternal reward. St. Bernadette, ora pro nobis.