Yesterday was the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, because on that day, February 11, 1858, our beautiful Mother Mary appeared to 14-year-old St. Bernadette Soubirous for the first time. Our Lady came back to see Bernadette (and Bernadette came to the grotto to see Our Lady) 17 more times, their final meeting there being on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. How’s that for ecumenism?
This feast is very dear to my heart because in high school I got to be Bernadette in The Song of Bernadette my senior year. Then a few months later, I visited the campus of Thomas Aquinas College, and the first Mass I attended there was on February 11, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Some years later, when St. Thomas and his college and Our Lady had changed me forever, my husband (yes, now I had a husband) interviewed for a teaching job at Christendom College on February 11. And then some years after that, I found in the Christendom College library a book (Celine’s Memoir of My Sister St. Thérèse) that led me to another book (Beyond East and West, by John C. H. Wu) that led me to another book (Forever Love by Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, P.I.M.E.) that led me to a wonderful Italian missionary priest (the same Fr NM, P.I.M.E.) who had “met” St. Thérèse when he served in his youth as an altar boy for Pope Pius XI at St. Thérèse’s beatification and canonization Masses in 1923 and 1925!
In short, I love this feast, and I love Our Lady of Lourdes and dear St. Bernadette, a little one if ever there was one. And so another little one, Servant of God Marcel Van by name, and I were chatting about Our Lady recently—not like an apparition nor even like a locution, but more like me opening Marcel’s book and him showing me something marvelous there—and here is what he showed me about Our Lady and the many Our Ladies, quite fitting now that we are in the octave of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Jesus spoke to Marcel on April 23, 1946 (Easter Tuesday that year), and He said, as Marcel recorded in Conversations with Jesus, Mary and Thérèse of the Child Jesus:
Why do I have to choose many apostles for the expansion of the reign of my Love? Because it is necessary that there should be some for every category of person. You, for example, you must use a certain manner of speaking, while another will have to use a different one, which responds to the feelings of his audience. (512)
Since Our Lady’s reign of Love is no different than her Son Jesus’ reign of Love—she is only and always about spreading His Love and bringing His Kingdom of Love to all souls (and all souls to it)—we can easily apply this idea to Mary too.
I have mentioned in a previous article on Catholic Exchange that I have friends who find Padre Pio a little scary, and I resolved never to give up on helping them see how un-scary he is, how very gentle and generous, how assuredly loving and mild. Similarly, like Padre Pio, sometimes certain Our Ladies can seem a bit scary. But, unlike with Padre Pio, I’ve sometimes felt that I need to let Our Lady of Fatima, for instance, fend for herself, with the help of course of St. Jacinta, St. Francisco, and their cousin Lucia—who helped me to fall in love with her beginning on another February 11.
Why this sudden disappearance of my previous compulsion to convince timid souls that Our Lady of Fatima was just as full of love and gentleness as the other Our Ladies? And yes, I do realize they are more or less the same one, single, uniquely wonderful, loving and lovable Mother of God. But isn’t it fun that she is so very multifarious?
I feel confident that Our Lady of Fatima will find her audience without my help because I’ve seen it happen (even in my own case), but more importantly, Jesus has already explained that He will provide for each soul just what that soul needs:
Why do I have to choose many apostles for the expansion of the reign of my Love? Because it is necessary that there should be some for every category of person.
This means Our Lady comes to us in many guises (and sometimes seeming disguises) so that she might “use a certain manner of speaking” to suit the needs of her children over here, while over there she “will have to use a different one, which responds to the feelings of her audience.”
Our Lord is so infinitely solicitous, so tenderly concerned with each of our souls and our feelings that He is determined, as is His beautiful Mother who in a certain sense taught Him these sweet manners, to come to us each in a way we can best recognize and receive Him.
And that makes sense because with the proliferation of Our Ladies, there is the perfect representation of our dear Mother to meet the needs of each of her children.
I have long found this to be true of St. Thérèse as well, for like St. Paul she was concerned to be all things to all men, and so there were times when, with her novices for instance, she would speak to one in an entirely different way than she spoke to another. Celine made sure to explain in the beginning of her Memoir of My Sister St. Thérèse that as Fr. Pichon (the Martin family’s spiritual director) used to say (and I think he followed St. John of the Cross in this), “There are as many differences between souls as between faces.” So Celine warned, wanting to share absolutely all Thérèse’s counsels to the novices but knowing these counsels differed depending on the recipient’s temperament and disposition, the reader should (in a familiar modern saying) “Take what you like and leave the rest.” Some counsels will suit and help one reader, while other counsels could be detrimental to that particular reader.
In the same way I think we ought to follow our natural attractions and not worry when one particular Our Lady speaks to our heart, and another doesn’t.
Marcel, for instance, loved Our Lady of Perpetual Help, an Our Lady particularly confided to the Redemptorist Order to which he belonged. Thérèse loved Our Lady of the Smile—the representation of Our Lady in a family statue which Our Lady had used to smile upon her and cure her of her childhood illness. My Fr. Maestrini loved the image of Our Lady of Confidence, (whose bookmark fortuitously marks the page of Conversations from which I quoted Our Lord’s words about His needing different apostles, and which I’ve extended to different Our Ladies). Another friend wrote about her and her childhood best friend’s special connection to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
Being now in the shadow of Our Lady of Lourdes, liturgically speaking, it’s a perfect time to reflect with one of her children who felt the deep meaning of this particular Lady and Feast. St. Teresa of Jesus of the Andes lived in Chile and died exactly 100 years ago this past April. She was like her Carmelite sisters St. Thérèse and Elizabeth of the Trinity, and like little Marcel too, burning out young due to the ardor of their love for God and God’s love for them. Teresa was only in the Carmel for 9 months, entering eternal life when she was 19, but here is what she wrote as a high school girl of 17, words which sum up exactly the attraction of all Our Ladies.
From her Spiritual Diary:
Lourdes, Mary, Mother Full of Sweetness; February 12, 1917
The day before and yesterday we went to Lourdes [the Grotto of the Virgin of Lourdes in Santiago]. Lourdes! This word alone causes the deepest chords to vibrate in the Christian, the Catholic.
Lourdes! Who doesn’t feel moved when pronouncing that word! It means Heaven in this exile.
The word bears under its mantle of mystery whatever great things the Catholic heart is capable of feeling. Her name causes past memories to be taken away and deeply touches the intimate feelings of our soul. It contains joy, superhuman peace, whence the pilgrim, fatigued by the sorrowful journey of life, can find rest; can without fear put down his baggage, which is our human miseries, and open his mouth to receive the water of consolation and comfort. It is where the tears of the poor are mixed with the tears of the rich, where they meet only a Mother who is gazing on them and smiling on them. And in that celestial gaze and smile there gush forth sobs from all breasts so that their hearts are filled with happiness and they cannot pull themselves away. It makes them hope and love the eternal and the divine.
Yes, Mother, you are the celestial Madonna who guides us. You allow heavenly rays to fall from your maternal hands. I didn’t believe such happiness could exist on earth; yesterday my heart, while thirsting for it, found it. My soul was ecstatic at your virginal feet, listening to you. You were speaking and your maternal language was so tender. It was from heaven, almost divine.
In seeing you so pure, so tender, and so compassionate, who would not be encouraged to unburden his intimate sufferings to you? Who would not ask you to be his star on this stormy sea? Who is there who would not cry in your arms without instantly receiving your immaculate kisses of love and comfort? If he be a sinner, your caresses will soften him. If one of your devoted ones, your presence would enkindle the living flame of divine love. If he be poor, you with your powerful hand will aid him and show him his true homeland. If rich, you will sustain him with your breath against the dangers of his very agitated life. If one is in affliction, you with your tearful gaze will show him the cross and on it your Divine Son. Who will not find balm for his pains by considering the torments of Jesus and Mary? The sick man finds in your maternal heart the water of salvation that allows your enchanting smile to blossom forth, and makes him smile with love and happiness.
Yes, Mary, you are Mother of the entire universe. Your heart is filled with sweetness. At your feet let the priest prostrate himself with the same confidence as the virgin in order to find in your arms the fullness of your love. The rich as well as the poor can find in your heart their heaven. The afflicted as well as the happy can find on your mouth a celestial smile. The sick as well as the healthy can find caresses from your sweet hands. And, finally, sinners like myself find in you a protecting Mother who can crush beneath her immaculate feet the head of the dragon. And in your eyes I see mercy, pardon, and a shining lamp to keep me from falling into the muddy waters of sin.
Yes, my Mother. At Lourdes I found heaven. God was on the altar surrounded by angels and you, from the concave of the rock, offered Him the cries of the multitude kneeling before your altar. You asked Him to hear the supplications of the people banished in this valley of tears, while at the same time, together with their hymns, they were offering you their hearts full of love and gratitude.
I forgot to mention that as a girl I had the privilege of going with my father and brother to Lourdes in France. What struck me most was the little “house” of Bernadette and her family at the time of the apparitions. I put “house” in quotes because it was actually an abandoned prison, so damp and rank that it was considered too awful for prisoners. But the Soubirous family needed a place to live, and so they lived there. On the wall were stenciled (though there in French) these words of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world that He might shame the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world that He might shame the strong.
Being foolish and weak myself, like my brother Marcel Van, I’m charmed to think that God chooses the likes of me, of Marcel, of Bernadette, and no doubt of you too, as apostles who have the delight of receiving and sharing His message of love.
And since they really all are one single lovely Our Lady, why not allow the words of one, Our Lady of Guadalupe (the Lady of St. Joselito of the Cristeros whose feast is the day before Our Lady of Lourdes) suffice as our meditation every day? From Our Lady’s heart to ours, then:
Hear and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little one:
Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you.
Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance.
Am I not here who am your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of life?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle?
In the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else that you need?
Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.
Or as Jesus assured Marcel Van, and assures us through him:
Do not worry! Mary is very happy with us both!(Conversations, 386)
This article was adapted from a blog post at Miss Marcel’s Musings: suzieandres.com/blog