My dear young friends,
The month of February usually contains two feasts that have always meant a great deal to me. They are the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and Ash Wednesday. The major reason for my delight in the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is that on February 11, 1961, I made my first vows as a Marianist Brother. February 11 is the day on which the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes occurs. Despite the fact that Ash Wednesday falls on March 1 this year, we can say that the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is always celebrated on the threshold of Lent every year. There are two virtues that I would put forth for your consideration this February of 2017. The two virtues are simplicity and obedience to God’s will.
In 1858, a young girl of fourteen named Bernadette Soubirous was gathering wood for the stove in her home. She came from a very poor family who lived in what was, at that time, an extremely poor village – Lourdes, France. Lourdes was unattractive and uninspiring. Over the course of three months, Mary appeared to this poor, simple girl eighteen times. At one point, Mary told Bernadette to drink and wash in a spring. But there was no spring to be seen. Bernadette scratched at the ground, and a flow of water began that has reached the volume of 20,000 gallons per day in our time.
Along with several other Brothers and many students from CHS and KMHS, I have been to the baths at Lourdes. The experience is deeply spiritual. Although some cures in the famous waters of Lourdes have been recognized by the Church, these miracles are few compared to the millions of people who visit Lourdes every year. I have always been impressed by the fact that Bernadette was a simple, illiterate peasant girl who was chosen to meet Mary and to convey her wishes to the local bishop. This fact is true about many of the apparitions of Mary. Recall the three peasant children of Fatima or St. Juan Diego of Guadalupe.
I am not saying that we have to be poor peasants to meet God. NO! What is needed is a simple and uncomplicated faith. After all, according to all the great theologians of the Church, simplicity is an attribute of God. God is simplicity.
As I mentioned earlier, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is always on the threshold of Lent and includes a number of Lenten themes. The Gospel for Ash Wednesday opens with a call to repentance: “Repent and believe the Good News.” This is the symbolism of the Lenten ashes, and it was echoed at Lourdes when the Blessed Virgin ask for prayer and penance. Lourdes is a place of repentance in the sense of turning around, being converted anew, taking one’s baptismal promises seriously. Repentance means relying on God and not on oneself, accepting that heaven is all around us. The doors are wide open, and the Father is waiting if only we turn and look at Him. In Bernadette’s call to repentance, in which she was repeating the words of the Blessed Mother, there was always a note of freedom and joy. The Father and Our Heavenly Mother Mary are always ready to welcome us.
The second theme linking Lourdes to Lent is that of forgiveness. Lent is a time when we prepare once more to renew baptismal promises and be immersed in the font, dying and rising with Christ to new life. Many come to the waters of Lourdes not just for physical cures, but for the grace and strength to bear pain. This is the most common result of a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Anytime I have been to Lourdes with students and/or teachers, every person there has made this observation: “These people did not come to be cured, did they?” To those who have faith in the power of God and the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother, the authenticated cases of healing are indeed marvels. But, in the long run, all those miraculous healings of bodies do not astound us as much as the changes that take place in the hearts and minds of all the people. This resignation can only come from a simple and steadfast life of prayer and obedience.
We all long for wholeness, for the old wounds and sores of sin to be healed, and for life to flow through us anew. One of the lessons of Lourdes is that it is in giving to others, those who are less fortunate than ourselves, that we come to wholeness. It is by generously reaching out, not by looking at our own sickness, that we discover life and hope once more. Mary at Lourdes is mother to the sick and the needy, mother to each one of us who looks to her with confidence. We have to trust that love is truly stronger than all our physical or spiritual evil. It is never too late to turn to Mary’s Son and repent.
May you be blessed in all of your efforts to come close to Mary and Jesus this February, 2017.
Ad Jesum per Mariam! – To Jesus through Mary!
Bro. David Bruner, S.M.