We live in a fast-paced, materialistic society. We can travel where we want, eat what we want when we want it, access information when we want—the list is almost endless. All of the services are designed for our convenience and fulfillment of desires. While these developments in our society are not intrinsically evil, given our human nature, we can easily become complacent in our lives, filling the spaces in our days with busyness and noise.
Contrast this lifestyle with St. Bernadette Soubirous. She grew up in poverty, plagued by illness and suffering. She struggled with learning because of her illness, even though she greatly desired to receive First Communion. And yet, the Blessed Mother appeared to her in the Grotto, beginning on February 11, 1858. The Blessed Mother chose to reveal to her the great dogma of the Immaculate Conception. What are the virtues that allowed St. Bernadette to receive the vision of the Blessed Mother? How can we imitate Bernadette in our lives, so that we can be open to the love of our Blessed Mother, through which she wishes to bestow her love of Christ on us?
In the Beatitudes, Christ proclaims to us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3, RSV-CE). Not only was Bernadette poor in spirit, but she was also physically poor. She did not have physical possessions to weigh her down and prevent her from giving herself entirely to the Lord. She did not even have perfect intellectual capacities to know the truths of the Faith, yet her love for God was sincere and deep. She did not simply pretend to love him with superficial love based on her great knowledge of him and his doctrines; rather, she loved purely and directly from her heart. The Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette because of her poverty of spirit, to help her prepare for receiving the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us, like Bernadette, not be attached to our material possessions so that, through Mary, we may focus more ardently on her Son and the eternal life that he offers to us.
Secondly, Bernadette revealed the virtue of deep humility and obedience. She did not ask for the gift of seeing the Blessed Mother, and she did not wish to draw attention to herself. Nevertheless, thousands of people would follow her to the Grotto, both faithful and non-believers alike. Moreover, she obeyed the Blessed Mother’s instructions with childlike humility. She ate the weeds so that the healing water might spring forth from the ground. She asked the parish priest that a chapel be built at the Grotto in honor of the Blessed Mother, and eventually, it was built. In a word, she exemplified Mary’s own fiat, her own yes to the will of God, in her humility to receive the gift that God bestowed on her. This is not to say that, if we are humble, we will necessarily see visions of the Blessed Mother. Rather, we ought to imitate Bernadette’s humility in her submission to the Blessed Mother’s wishes. In following Bernadette’s example, we will likewise be following the Blessed Mother’s example of perfect humility and obedience to the Father. For us, it could be as simple as submitting humbly to our daily activities, whether it be work, homeschooling our children, or preaching the Gospel. We can invoke St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes to help us be humble and obedient in our states in life, even when things become difficult or tiresome.
Third and finally, Bernadette exhibited great patience in times of suffering throughout her whole life. From the time she was a child, she lived in poverty, which brings its own trails and sufferings. She was stricken with asthma, which would often prevent her from sleeping and prevented her from being fully attentive to her studies. She endured the taunts of the people when she was seeing the visions of “the Lady,” and many times was questioned by those who did not believe, even the parish priest. And even when she entered the convent, many of the sisters did not treat her well but were jealous of her visions.
As Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salvi, suffering can be a great setting for learning hope (nos. 34-40). Thus, even though Bernadette suffered greatly, she was not without hope; moreover, she knew that the Blessed Mother would be waiting for her with Jesus in Heaven, and she did not have anything to fear from those who persecuted her or disliked her, nor did she need to have any anxiety about her physical suffering. We can learn much from this example of patience in suffering. How many of us become weary with a minor headache, or sad when someone speaks ill of us? How weak we can be when we have to undergo some form of suffering! Even though our sufferings may be very great, such as enduring a terminal disease, a serious injury, or the loss of a loved one, we can learn to be like Bernadette and face these with great hope and confidence in the Lord. This is the strength that she received from our Blessed Mother, and we can receive that same strength, if we ask for the Blessed Mother’s intercession.
In conclusion, Bernadette lived a Marian life, which is why (we might say) God privileged her with visions of the Blessed Mother. Bernadette lived in poverty, which only increased her faith in God. She was humble, because she submitted herself to God and to the Blessed Mother, and she did not wish to draw attention to herself. And finally, she suffered her illness and persecution with great patience; she lived in the hope that this life is not the end, but that she would one day enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us pray to St. Bernadette for her intercession, that we might have the grace to live like Mary in poverty, humility, and patience in suffering. Let us live like Mary in a society that is increasingly secularistic and materialistic, a society that seeks to impose itself on us and invade our Christian lives. Let us be in the world, but not of the world, living completely for the Kingdom of Heaven while still in this vale of tears.