This Wednesday, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. We have the pleasure of having Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P., lead us in the Shrine of St. Jude’s novena for Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr. Reginald began the novena with a reflection on the virtue of mercy, which he defined as “compassion for another’s distress coupled with a practical will to relieve it.” The Incarnation is the greatest example of mercy, for it is through the humanity of Christ that we experience salvation. This mercy comes to life through the cooperation of Mary. In the Incarnation, God’s mercy was made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary through her “yes” to God’s will. For this reason, in the hymn “Hail Holy Queen,” we call Mary “Mother of Mercy.” For those of us who come to the novena with particular needs and intentions, we ask Our Lady to turn her eyes of mercy on us, and show us her son, Jesus.
This theme of mercy is rooted in the very apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes. On February 11, 1858, Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen-year-old peasant girl, at a cave in Massabielle, France. Identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin urged Bernadette to live a life of prayer and penance for world peace and spiritual healing. Though many, including her parents, did not initially believe Bernadette’s fantastic story, the miraculous nature of her vision soon became undeniable. Very quickly, the focus of the pilgrims who traveled to the grotto to see where Mary appeared centered on the spring of water that Bernadette unearthed at the Lady’s promptings. Though at first the spring waters ran muddy, it soon became evident that some who washed in its waters were cured of various maladies. Word spread like fire and, though at first the Church was circumspect with regard to these miraculous reports, the scientific community verified the veracity of many of these claims of cure. With joy the Church approved the apparitions and today Our Lady’s grotto in Lourdes is one of the most visited Marian sites, attracting 6 million pilgrims annually.
Pope Pius XII wrote a beautiful encyclical in which he powerfully articulates how we can learn from and be healed through her intercession. In the school of Mary one can learn to live, not only to give Christ to the world, but also to await with faith the hour of Jesus, and to remain with Mary at the foot of the cross. Go to her, you who are crushed by material misery, defenseless against the hardships of life and the indifference of men. Go to her, you who are assailed by sorrows and moral trials. Go to her, beloved invalids and infirm, you who are sincerely welcomed and honored at Lourdes as the suffering members of our Lord. Go to her and receive peace of heart, strength for your daily duties, joy for the sacrifice you offer. (Le Pelerinage de Lourdes)
One does not have to travel to France to be touched by the compassion of Our Lady who appeared to St. Bernadette. Here we honor Our Lady at our Lourdes Grotto. Now situated in the parking lot, the Grotto was originally part of St. Rose Academy and resided in a garden cloister area used by our Dominican Sisters of San Raphael. When the Academy came down in the Loma Prieta quake, the Grotto remained in place and today serves as a focal point of prayer and devotion. No matter the time of day, the Grotto always draws devotees who come to call upon Our Lady for her powerful intercession. I think of the countless prayers, rosaries and sacrifices offered at the foot of the Grotto (even in the most inclement weather), and know that many a pilgrim has experienced the peace and comfort of the Blessed Virgin at this special shrine. For those who have visited the Grotto, you have experienced its comfort. For those who have not, I invite you to make a visit. Our Lady awaits!
Since she who we name as our “Mother of Mercy” experienced suffering in her own life, she is always eager to give us the mercy of her Son in our own trials and tribulations. Even if you have not joined us for the novena, I invite you to come to the celebration of this feast at the 5:30 p.m. Mass on Wednesday. May Our Lady of Lourdes enlighten our path, touch our hearts and lead us to the embrace of her Son!
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.