|LOURDES AND ST. BERNADETTE
|Lourdes was in the same general
region as La Salette; Bernadette, like the children of La Salette spoke in a
"patois": Like Maximin and Melanie she could neither read nor write.
Unlike them, she was already an advanced contemplative when Our Lady appeared,
having cultivated the habit of praying always. In the fields she constantly said
her rosary over and over. She was the daughter of poor parents, who were very
devoted to one another. The improvident nature and erratic generosity of her
father kept the family in dire poverty at all times, but it did not affect in
any degree the love of husband for wife and vice versa. At the time Our Lady
appeared to Bernadette in the Grotto of Massabielle, Bernadette was fourteen
years old and living at home, which was part of an old abandoned jail. She was
the most innocent type of moral character, scrupulously honest, obedient, who
never committed a deliberate venial sin during her entire life.
On February 11, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, her sister, 'Toinette Soubirous, and a friend, Jean Abadie, were walking alongside a narrow stream, thirty or forty feet wide. It was a cold day, and they were about the business of gathering firewood for the hearth. Passing along the left bank of the stream, they came opposite the grotto of Massabielle, ("the rock"), at which point one of the girls suggested they take off shoes and stockings, wade across the stream and continue searching on the opposite side. Bernadette never seemed to enjoy good health and was reluctant to go wading in cold water, fearing an attack of asthma 'Toinette and Jean, having no such scruples, took off shoes and stockings to cross immediately. Bernadette asked Jean to take her on ha shoulders, but Jean refused bluntly, told Bernadette, "If you won't come, stay where you are."
Bernadette relates the incident:# "As we could not go any further, my two companions went through the water in front of the Grotto, so I was left alone on the other side. I asked the two others to help me throw stones into the water to see if I could cross without taking off my shoes and stockings, but it was no good. So I came back in front of the Grotto. Hardly had I taken off my first stocking when I heard a noise as if a sudden wind blew. I turned my head and looked at the meadow and I saw that the trees were still. I went on taking off my stockings and again I heard the same sound, and as I lifted up my head to look at the Grotto, I saw a Lady in white. I was a little frightened and, thinking it must be an illusion, I rubbed my eyes, but in vain. I still saw the Lady. Then I put my hand in my pocket and took out my rosary. I wanted to make the sign of the Cross but I could not lift my hand to my forehead. Then I was seized by a great fear. The Lady took up the rosary she held in her hands and she made the Sign of the Cross. I tried again to make it and this time I could. My great fear went as soon as I had made the Sign of the Cross. I knelt down and said the rosary before this beautiful Lady. When the rosary was ended she beckoned me to go nearer but I did not dare to. Then she disappeared. I set about taking off my other stocking so as to cross the narrow stream in front of the Grotto and went home." ("St. Bernadette," Aileen Mary Clegg, Cath. Truth Society, Dublin, by permission.)
Bernadette was questioned interminably on the apparitions at Massabielle. Another account quotes her words on another occasion in more detail: "I had just begun to take off my first stocking when suddenly I heard a great noise like the sound of a storm. I looked to the right, to the left, under the trees of the river, but nothing moved; I thought I was mistaken. I went on taking off my shoes and stockings, when I heard a fresh noise like the first. Then I was frightened and stood straight up. I lost all power of speech and thought, when, turning my head toward the grotto, I saw at one of the openings of the rock a bush, one only, moving as if it were very windy. Almost at the same time there came out of the interior of the grotto a golden colored cloud, and soon after a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen, came and placed herself at the entrance of the opening above the bush. She looked at me immediately, smiled at me and signed me to advance, as if she had been my mother. All fear had left me, but I seemed to know no longer where I was. I rubbed my eyes, I shut them, I opened them; but the Lady was still there continuing to smile at me and making me understand that I was not mistaken. Without thinking of what I was doing, I took my rosary in my hands and fell on my knees. The Lady made a sign of approval with her head and took into her hands a rosary which hung on Her right arm. When I attempted to begin the rosary and tried to lift my hand to my forehead, my arm remained paralyzed, and it was only after the Lady had signed herself that I could do the same. The Lady left me to pray all alone; she passed the beads of her rosary between her fingers but she said nothing; only at the end of each decade did She say the 'Gloria' with me.
"When the recitation of the rosary was finished, the Lady returned to the interior of the rock and the golden cloud disappeared with her."
The Lady had the appearance of "a young girl, sixteen, or seventeen years old. She wore a white dress drawn in at the waist by a blue ribbon whose ends hung down. On her head she wore a long white veil so as almost to cover her hair. Her feet were bare but nearly covered by the folds of ha dress, except at the tip where a yellow rose shone on each.
On her right arm she carried a rosary of white beads on a golden chain, shining like the roses on her feet."
In the beginning, as at Paris and La Salette, Our Lady first made friends with Bernadette and inspired confidence in her Identity. These parts of the talks of "The Lady" have never been made known. There was no way of Bernadette's knowing who "The Lady" was.
At first the girls and their families thought she must be a departed soul in need of prayers. No one saw "The Lady," however, save Bernadette and no one heard any of the conversations, although both Bernadette and The Lady spoke "out loud." "If you had stretched out your hand," Bernadette said to Jeanne Vedere, a friend at one of the apparitions, "you would have touched her. We were talking together, just as I am talking to you now. She was talking to me quite loudly, and I was talking out loud to her." Jeanne heard only a few unintelligible sounds.
From the opposite shore, 'Toinette and Jean Abadie watched Bernadette praying, having no idea that she was saying her rosary with a beautiful "Lady" from Heaven. 'Toinette said, "Look at Bernadette down there saying her prayers!"
"What a prig!" expostulated Jean. "She must be mad to be praying there. It's quite enough to have to say so many prayers in church. Let's leave her. She's good for nothing but saying her prayers."
Going back towards the grotto after looking for firewood, the two girls saw Bernadette still lost in prayer. They called to her three times but she seemed transfixed and did not reply.
They threw stones at her, one of which hit her on the shoulder without affecting her in the least. 'Toinette feared that Bernadette might be dead, but Jean reassured her that if Bernadette were dead, "she would have fallen down." While they were thus conjecturing, Bernadette suddenly came out of her ecstasy and was herself once again. She looked at 'Toinette and Jean across the narrow stream beside the grotto.
"What are you doing there?" demanded 'Toinette.
"Nothing," answered Bernadette.
"What a donkey you are to be praying there!" came the rejoinder.
"It's a good thing to pray anywhere," Bernadette countered.
Bernadette then waded into the stream, chiding her companions for "fibbing" to her that the water was cold—the other two girls had wrapped their feet in their skirts to warm them after fording the water. She said she found the water as warm as that which was heated at home for washing!
This brought forth an exclamation of wonder from Jean. Then Bernadette confided a question: "Did you see anything?" No, Jean and 'Toinette had seen nothing. What had Bernadette seen?
In that case, Bernadette hadn't seen anything either!
On the way home, however, Bernadette confided to her friends a secret, that she had seen "a Lady dressed in white with a blue waist-belt and a yellow rose on each foot."
The girls did not believe her, and at home discarded the condition on which they had been confided the "secret" and spoke of it. Thus the story of Lourdes became known. At first Mrs. Soubirous used the same remedy to dispel the "vision" as Mrs. das Dores of Fatima—"a good beating"!
Later seeing Bernadette's constancy, she was impressed and admonished her to pray about it. Mr. Soubirous shared his wife's skepticism, and if he did not administer physical punishment, was less sympathetic in other ways. At first, permission to return to the grotto was refused adamantly by the parents. In response to entreaty both by the children and neighbors, however, they relented.
Bernadette then led her friends with about twenty other children out to the grotto to await the next apparition. When "the Lady" appeared this time, Bernadette threw Holy Water into the grotto and the Lady smiled. The more Holy Water Bernadette threw in her direction the more the Lady smiled. This was reassuring to the crowd which had gathered, as well as to the children and their parents. Becoming frightened by a falling stone, the children tried to lift Bernadette up and carry her from the spot, but were unable to move her.
The crowds grew as the apparitions went on, until at the end there were as many as 20,000.
As public interest grew, speculation thrived as to the real nature of the visions. One popular version had it that the Lady must be a soul in Purgatory asking for prayers. After going to Mass at daybreak one morning, one of the ardent partisans of the soul-in-Purgatory hypothesis pressed Bernadette to offer pen and ink to the Lady with a request that she write down what she wished of the people, or at lest tell what was her motive in coming. It happened that Our Lady appeared to Bernadette that day, the third apparition of Lourdes. Bernadette obediently offered the pen, ink and paper to the Lady, but the Lady laughed! Bernadette had only an oral report: "The Lady laughed. Then she said, 'There is no need for me to write what I have to say. Will you do me the kindness to come here every day for fifteen days?' I promised, and then she said, 'I promise you happiness not in this world, but in the other.'"
Aside from Father Peyramalle's ultimatum to the police, the clergy maintained an attitude of cold and prudent reserve to the happenings at the grotto of Massabielle. They were precipitated into the drama, however, by Our Lady herself, when during the eleventh apparition she directed Bernadette: "Go to the priests and tell them to build a chapel here."
Bernadette had no desire to approach the parish priest. She did so only because she considered herself obliged in obedience to do as the Lady requested. Estrade, the intellectual skeptic who after being converted became a staunch advocate of Bernadette, described the meeting of Father Peyramalle and Bernadette as follows:
"Father Peyramalle was in the garden, saying his office. At the sound of the gate opening he looked up and saw a girl coming shyly towards him. When the child was near he stopped his prayers and asked her who she was and what she wanted.
"'I am Bernadette Soubirous,' she answered timidly.
"'Ah! So it's you!' replied the priest, frowning, and looking her over from head to foot. 'I've been hearing queer stories about you, my girl. Come in.'
"Once in the parlor Father Peyramalle turned to her. 'Well, now, what is it you want?'
"Bernadette, standing there and blushing a little answered, 'The Lady at the Grotto told me to tell the priests that she wants a chapel at Massabielle, so that's why I've come.'
"'Who is this Lady you are talking about?' replied the parish priest.
"'It's a more beautiful Lady who appears to me on the rock; you know her?'
"'Yes, but who is she? Does she belong to Lourdes? Do you know her?'
"‘She isn't from Lourdes. I don't know her.'
"‘And you take messages like this from someone you don't know?'
"‘Oh! Father, this Lady isn't like anyone else!'
"‘What do you mean?'
"'I mean she's as beautiful as I think people in Heaven are.'
"The priest pretended to shrug his shoulders. He was, in reality, trying to hide his feelings.
"‘And you've never asked the Lady her name?'
"‘Yes, but when I do, she smiles and doesn't answer.'
"‘Is she dumb, then?'
"‘Tell me how you came to know her.'
"'No, because she talks to me every day. If she were dumb, she couldn't have told me to come to you.'
"Bernadette, in her gentle persuasive voice, told the story of the first apparition. The priest watched her carefully and did not lose a word. He saw at once that her tale was as clear, as pure ant as limpid as a spring gushing from a rock. Not only did he realize that the child was speaking the truth, but he was compelled to acknowledge that, uneducated as she was, she could not have imagined the events she was describing. His prejudices fell one by one. By the time the girl had answered all his questions, he was almost won over. None the less, he wisely hid what he thought, and went on talking in the same rough fashion as before.
"‘And you think the Lady who appears to you has bidden you tell the priests she wants a chapel at Massabielle.'
"‘But don't you see that this Lady only wants to mock at you and make fun of you? If a lady in the town had sent you on such an errand, would you have listened to her?'
"'Oh! Father, there's a great difference between such ladies and the Lady I see!'
"‘I wonder if there's such a difference as you think! Here's a Lady without a name, who comes from no one knows where, who stands barefoot on a rock and you take her seriously! My child, I fear one thing and that's that you are being deceived.'
"Bernadette bent her head and did not answer.
"There was a moment's silence during which the priest got up and began striding up and down the room. He stopped at last in front of Bernadette and said, 'You must answer the Lady who sent you that the parish priest doesn't have dealings with people he doesn't know—that, before everything else, he insists that she muse tell her name, and, further, she must prove she had a right to it. If this Lady has a right to a chapel she will understand what I mean; if she doesn't, you can tell her she must not send any more messages to the presbytery.'
"Without showing any sign, either of approval or disapproval, Bernadette lifted her serene gaze to the priest's face, made her little curtsey, and went away."
Nothing was done.
On March 2, at the fourteenth apparition, Our Lady repeated her request for a chapel, adding that she wish processions to come there!
Once again the curè was approached. This time he was angry.
"You are telling me lies!" he exclaimed. "How on earth can we make a procession for her!" Walking angrily up and down his room he went on, "It's a bad business having a family like yours at Lourdes. You turn the town upside down and do nothing but make people run after you. I know what we'll do! We'll give you a candle! Then you can be in the procession. They'll follow you! You don't need priests!"
Bernadette protested that she did not ask anyone to follow her; the people followed her of themselves. Besides, she had told no one about the Lady's request for processions except the curè.
"Keep her at home!" Father Peyramalle admonished her family. "Don't let her stir out!"
Turning to Bernadette, he continued: "You didn't see anything! A Lady can't come out of a cleft! You can't tell me her name!' There can't possibly be anything there!"
In the account of a relative present at the scene, "Bernadette was afraid of him. She wrapped herself up in her capulet and kept as still as a mouse. He had a very loud voice. He kept walking up and down and shouting, 'Did anyone ever hear such a tale! A Lady! A procession!' "
Father Peyramalle concluded the stormy interview with a decisive step: "Let us go straight to the point. If your Lady is she whose name you leave me to guess, I will show her a way to make herself recognized and to give authority to her messages. She appears at the Grotto, you say, above a wild rose-bush. Well, ask her for me to make the rose-bush flower suddenly one of these days in front of everyone. On the morning you come to tell me that this prodigy has taken place, I will believe what you say and I promise to go with you to Massabielle."
When it became known that Bernadette would deliver such an ultimatum as this from the priest of Lourdes to the Queen of Heaven, the crowd swelled to twenty thousand. The scene was an uncanny precursor of the event which was to take place at Fatima, Portugal, fifty-nine years later. The crowd was augmented by a military garrison, horse and foot brigades from Tarbes, the Mayor, his Chief of Police, etc. Bernadette had to be led through the dense multitude crowding even the slopes of the Grotto itself, her escort was a soldier with drawn sword.
Bernadette delivered the cure's demand to the Lady, and the Lady only smiled in answer. She gave no clue to her identity, and the crowd was sorely chagrined. On the vigil of the feast of the Annunciation, March 24, 1858, Bernadette again felt the interior "call" to the Grotto, and she hurried to Massabielle to see the Lady once more.
"She was there," Bernadette recounted the occasion. "I asked her to forgive me for coming late. Always kind and gracious, she made a sign to me with her head to tell me that I need not make excuses. Then I spoke to her of all my love, all my reverence and the happiness I had in seeing her again. After having poured out my heart to her, I took up my rosary. Whilst I was praying, the thought of asking her name came before my mind with such persistence that I could think of nothing else. I feared to be presumptuous in repeating a question she had always refused to answer and yet something compelled me to speak.
"At last, under an irresistible impulse, the words fell from my mouth, and I begged the Lady to tell me who she was. The Lady did as she had always done before; she bowed her head and smiled but she did not reply. I cannot say why, but I felt bolder and asked her again to be so kind as to tell me her name; however, she only bowed and smiled as before, still keeping silence. Then once more, for the third time, clasping my hands and acknowledging myself unworthy of the favor I was seeking of her, I again made my request.
"The Lady was standing above the rose-tree, in a position very similar to that shown in the miraculous medal. At my third request her face became very serious and she seemed to bow down in an attitude of humility. Then she joined her hands and raised them to her breast . . . She looked up to heaven . . . then slowly opening her hands and leaning forward towards me, she said to me in a voice vibrating with emotion, 'I Am The Immaculate Conception (Que Soy Era Immaculate Councepcion).'"
Immediately Our Lady vanished.
Bernadette repeated the words all the way home, in order not to forget them, and hurried to relay the message to Pere Peyrarnalle. His reception of her was no more cordial than usual. "Have you any money to pay for the chapel?" he asked. "No, Father," answered Bernadette.
"Neither have I. Tell the Lady to give you some!"
Nevertheless Our Lady got her "Chapel"; and Father Peyramalle built it. It is today one of the greatest and most beautiful basilicas in the modern world.
The last vision Bernadette had of the "beautiful Lady" took place on July 16, 1858, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It took place while the Grotto was boarded up, officially closed to the public, and while Bernadette was pressed by her adversaries, unbelievers and scoffers on every side. This unusual vision lasted for a good fifteen minutes. It was the last of Lourdes; it was to be another forecast of the great climax to the Marian age fifty-nine years later.
In her declaration of identity as The Immaculate Conception Our Lady illumined the immense panorama of her Marian Age with her most ancient and most brilliant light. Like the sun rising over the world in the latter days at Lourdes, her proclamation spanned the entire life of man in its meaning and import. At Paris through St. Catherine Laboure, Mary Immaculate cast the first glow of her Immaculate radiance over the world, sending out the herald of the Miraculous Medal to every corner of darkness to prepare her coming in the fullness of her supernatural splendor. La Salette was like the day break, announcing to men to put away the things of night and prepare through prayer and penance for the coming of Heaven's Queen to earth. Heaven's climax came at Lourdes with the Personal proclamation of The Immaculate Conception, by Mary Immaculate herself! Earth's climax was to come at Fatima when Heaven's Queen would announce to earth God's Will that we come back to Him through her Immaculate Heart.
The sound of Mary's words at Lourdes had "gone forth to the ends of the earth." They re-echoed the words of the vicar of her Divine Son. For she spoke these words only four years after Pius IX had declared infallibly the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. As if to ratify and to glory in the highest office of her race, Mary spoke as if in gratification of the Pope's proclamation of her unique prerogative, given to her by Him whose office Pius IX filled, and used to glorify His Mother.
The words to which attach the property of infallibility in the proclamation of Pius IX are: "We declare, pronounce and define that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of Her Conception was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, by the singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, and that this doctrine was revealed by God, and therefore, must be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."
The Supreme Pontiff and highest teaching authority of Jesus Christ went on immediately to an act of personal abasement, after a paternal warning against rash judgment and the spirit of contrariety; his proclamation was filled with the rising spirit of the Marian Age, and struck a note of prophetic insight into what will be the greatest fruit of the final triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:
"Hence, if anyone shall dare—which God forbid—to think otherwise than as has been defined by Us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment, and that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith, and has defected from the unity of the Church....
"Our speech overflows with joy, and Our tongue with exultation. We give, and We shall continue to give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ Our Lord, because through His singular favor He has granted Us, unworthy though We be, to decree, and offer this honor and glory and praise to His Most Holy Mother. All fair and immaculate, she has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world. She is the praise of the Prophets and Apostles, the honor of the Martyrs, the crown and joy of all the Saints. She is the safest refuge and the most trustworthy helper of all who are in danger. With her Only-begotten Son She is the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix in the whole world. She is the most excellent glory, ornament and impregnable stronghold of the Holy Church. For She has destroyed all heresies and snatched the faithful peoples and nations from all sorts of very great calamities. She has delivered Us, too, from so many threatening dangers. We have, therefore, a very certain hope and complete confidence that this Most Blessed Virgin will effect by her most powerful patronage that all difficulties be removed and all errors dissipated, so that Our Holy Mother the Catholic Church may flourish daily more and more throughout all nations and countries, and may reign 'from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth' (Ps. 71:8), and may enjoy genuine peace, tranquillity and liberty. She will also obtain pardon for the sinner, health for the sick, strength of heart for the weak, consolation for the afflicted, help for those in danger. She will remove spiritual blindness from all who are in error, so that they may return to the path of truth and justice, and that there may be one flock and one shepherd."
In the babble of meeting halls, amid the din of barricades and riots in the streets, one thing was forgotten. Hardly anyone, Christian, liberal or Marxist, seemed to revert to it: "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof . . . and all they that dwell therein." The "haves" were bent on possessing the earth (or rather retaining possession of it); the "have-nots" were as determined to wrest it from them. On the one side there was pride, greed and oppression; on the other, envy, murder and rapine. The masses of people were like sheep caught in between two armies in no man's land, browbeaten by their "betters" ant threatened by their "liberators." In bewilderment some turned to the Church, some to the revolutionaries, and some to themselves alone.
Into such a world of broken spirits and confused minds again came the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was her third major visit. She came neither to the one embattled camp nor to the other; nor even to the princes of the Church. She went directly to the great masses of people, the poor, weak, the oppressed of this world. To one of the least of them she gave her message of the only effective and large-scale remedy for the social, spiritual and personal deliverance of all. It was the old condition of God for mercy to man: "Penance, penance, penance." Penance and prayer.
At La Salette Our Lady gave an injunction to the children to make known her message to "My people." If "My people" would not submit, there would follow dire chastisements. Her people did not submit and the chastisements came. One, however, remained for the twentieth century. Now, apparently they were beyond large scale submission of themselves, and Our Lady asked for prayer for sinners. In place of the outrages of pride and arrogance of both warring factions of the world, threatening to pull the social order down about them, she asked, acts of humility and trust. In place of the abandonment to reason as a god of human destiny, she demanded a wholehearted abandonment of faith and trust in the One True God.
At Lourdes, Our Lady's words in the beginning were the exact antithesis of the promises of the false prophets of the world: "I do not promise you happiness in this world," she said to Bernadette, "but in the other." In the beginning, as in the beginning of every one of her visits, Our Lady reserved her social message for the later phase; the early stages were devoted to making friends and inspiring confidence. At La Salette she combined the three phases of her mission— initial, transition, and final—in one apparition lasting about half an hour; at Lourdes there were to be nineteen visits (not eighteen) spread over the period of February 11th to July 16, 1858. In the beginning she spoke to Catherine Laboure of personal things; so now again with Bernadette.
The second stage, or social phase, of Lourdes began on the First Sunday of Lent, 1858, at the sixth apparition. Our Lady looked away from Bernadette out into the crowd, casting a glance on every face. Her face was sad and sorrowful. Looking at Bernadette again, she said plaintively, "Pray for sinners."
During the ninth apparition of Thursday, February 25, 1858, Our Lady asked the act of faith and abandonment of reason in favor of faith, and act which she has required of every one of Her ambassadors. She told Bernadette to "go and wash and drink in the spring." There was no spring! Bernadette looked helplessly about for one, but to no avail. Then she turned toward the grotto again, beseeching Our Lady to indicate further what she might mean. Receiving an answer from "the Lady" in the Grotto, Bernadette turned back and climbed to the back of the cave and knelt down on the ground. There, at a sandy place she dug out a hole with her hands in the ground. There was no spring there, until Bernadette had dug down for some time; then water gushed forth, slowly at first, oozing up and turning the soil to mud.
Our Lady had said to wash and drink. Bernadette scooped up the muddy water and smeared it over her face. The crowd gathered about the grotto, which had been growing at each one of the apparitions, gasped. Then they saw Bernadette drink of the muddy liquid. They were in dismay, for most of them believed in her. Our Lady required a further act of faith and humility; she asked that Bernadette eat some leaves nearby, and in response she plucked a few and ate them. The crowd thought her mad.
Streaked and dripping with muddy water, Bernadette wandered back to her former place before the grotto, the crowd in consternation, believers confounded, unbelievers louder than ever in their ridicule. There Bernadette cleaned her face (probably in the stream) and resumed her contemplation of "The Lady."
The "miraculous spring" was soon to become famous. It dawned on some of the spectators that it was indeed marvelous that Bernadette had found one at all! The spring had not been there before; Bernadette had climbed to the spot in a kind of stupor and begun to dig at just the right spot at just the right time to uncover the spring! By the next day the spring was a thin stream trickling down the side of the bank and into the River Gave. Louis Bourriette, a blind stonecutter, bathed his eyes in the spring, and as a reward for his faith received the first favor of Our Lady of Lourdes. His sight returned. A mother in desperation plunged her dying baby, for whom hope had been given up by the physicians, into the spring. It was restored to full health and vigor. The incredulity of the crowd vanished; the people became reverent.
Our Lady had now prepared for the social phase of her message. For this she commanded Bernadette to perform another act of humility and penance "for sinners," and the crowd followed the girl's example. It was during the tenth apparition of February 26th, that Our Lady cried out "Penance! Penance! Penance!"
"Kiss the ground for sinners," Our Lady said. Bending low, Bernadette did so. She knelt at the foot of the grotto, sloping into the river, and then made her way up, on her knees, kissing the ground as she went. The people followed her example in kissing the ground, and as she motioned to the crowd many of them followed her up the slope on their knees, kissing the ground for sinners as they went. This happened subsequently many times. At Our Lady's behest they were setting an example of prayer and humility which could save Europe if applied to the social problems of the time, which, after all, are only a collection of personal problems, in the final analysis.
Our Lady provided from the very beginning that the terms on which the world could accept the message of Lourdes should prevail. The evidence would be reasonable from the very outset, and available to all men of good or ill will for inspection, as they might choose.
Mary rendered Bernadette invulnerable to all valid criticism. Early in the apparitions the police official of Lourdes, M. Jacomet, became interested in the case because of the crowds frequenting the grotto of Massabielle, where Our Lady appeared. He subjected Bernadette to an investigation which became a "third degree" when she could not be "broken down." The same devices of falsification, supposition, contradiction, etc., were used as at La Salette, with the same results.
M. Jacomet dismissed Bernadette summarily, with an injunction to her father to forbid her any further visits to Massabielle. Present at the investigation was a M. Estrade, an intellectual who denied the possibility of the apparitions, but was struck by the sincerity of this fourteen year old girl. He, therefore, adduced the possibility of hallucination. When this was disproved he became one of Bernadette's most ardent defenders. The girl was accused of insanity. Thereupon she was examined by a commission of doctors, unbelievers, who denied the possibility of the supernatural. They, determined as they were to discredit the entire affair, could say not more than that it was "possible" that Bernadette was suffering from a hallucination, "in one respect," and that to the crowd she "may have seemed" to be in ecstasy! The Procurator of the town then proclaimed that anyone spreading reports of the apparitions would be imprisoned for "lying"! Such is the "liberal" interpretation of freedom of speech!
The grotto was cleared of all religious articles on the ground that the reports of the apparitions were "discrediting true religion." After the articles were distributed to their owners at the town hall, they were quickly replaced at the grotto!
Next it was planned to arrest Bernadette and imprison her, a threat which failed to materialize at Lourdes, but which actually did come to pass at Fatima. At Lourdes the public authority feared to imprison Bernadette "because of the people." It was known that the clergy would have no part of the apparitions; hence the mayor of Lourdes approached the Abbe Peyramalle to prepare the way for his plan. The abbe's reaction was completely unexpected: "Your doctors have not found a trace of mental trouble," he said. "You dare not even make a definite statement, and your conclusions are purely suppositions. I know what my duty as parish priest is. You may go, therefore, and tell the Prefect for me that the police will find me on this poor family's threshold and they will have to throw me down and pass over my body before they touch a hair of the little girl's head."
The attempt to imprison her and prove her mad was dropped. The grotto was barricaded later in a last desperate attempt to put an end to the matter. Bernadette, with a touch of prophecy, said that the boards would not remain there. "Will they fall down?" her best friend asked. "No, they will be taken down by the same men who put them up," Bernadette said.
The people appealed to the emperor, Napoleon III, who ordered the barricades removed and the grotto reopened; the boards were then taken down by the same men who had Put them up.
The later charge that the clergy had instigated the entire affair was made ridiculous by the fact that the clergy refused to have any part in the apparitions until their hand was forced by Bernadette, at the bidding of "The Lady" herself. The coolness of the clergy to the entire business was the reason that Father Peyramale was approached by the civil officials, anxious to find some basis for effectually discouraging the crowds from visiting the grotto.
One of the doctors who set out to "expose" Bernadette as a case of neurasthenia, Dr. Donzous, is source for the following statement. While Bernadette was in one of the ecstasies he witnessed a candle flame applied to her hand for fifteen minutes without burning the hand. He describes it thus: "Though fanned by a fairly strong breeze the flame produced no effect on the skin which it was touching. Astonished at this strange fact I forbade any one to interfere, and taking my watch in my hand I studied the phenomenon attentively for a quarter of an hour. At the end of this time Bernadette, still in her ecstasy, advanced to the upper part of the Grotto, separating her hands. The flame thus ceased to touch her left hand.
"Bernadette finished her prayer and the splendor of the transfiguration left her face. She rose and was about to quit the Grotto when I asked her to show me her left hand. I examined it most carefully, but could not find the least trace of burning anywhere on it. I then asked the person who was holding the candle to light it again and give it to me. I put it several times in succession under Bernadette's left hand but she drew it away quickly, saying, 'you're burning me.' I record this fact just as I have seen it without attempting to explain it."
The last proof Our Lady gave the world at Lourdes for the truth of Her message was the spectacle of miracles, which continue even to this day. Call upon whatever "explanations" they will—auto-suggestion, hypnosis, etc.,—the scientists have never been able to explain (or duplicate) the instantaneous replacement of an inch of bone, the instantaneous cure of cancer, tuberculosis, withered muscles, etc. No one has ever hypnotized himself out of a broken back, or auto-suggested the replacement of an inch of missing bone, nor cured his own cancer, tuberculosis, blindness, etc. It just doesn't happen!
The case of Pierre de Rudder has been widely publicized—it was one of the most extraordinary. De Rudder's leg had been crushed by a tree, and when he was extricated, the leg was broken in two places. The bones were sticking through the skin in the compound fracture, and his leg became infected. De Rudder was told it would have to be amputated. He refused. For some time later he used crutches to get about, but his leg was in such bad condition that he was barely able to move. He requested his employer to finance a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Oostacker, Belgium. The request was denied. The Viscount du Bus, de Rudder's employer, did not believe in miracles. Some years later he died and was succeeded by his son, who likewise denied the supernatural, but gave de Rudder the funds out of pity.
De Rudder was a notorious and pitiful sight on the way, his leg sometimes swinging back and forth during the journey for lack of support and rigidity. While praying before the shrine of Our Lady, for the grace to provide a livelihood for his family, he was instantly cured. Hardly realizing it, he arose and walked without his crutches. Then he sank down on his knees, kneeling before the statute of Our Lady of Lourdes crying, "I'm kneeling! O my God!" Rising again, he walked around the grotto without help of any kind. His wife saw him, exclaimed in amazement, and fainted. Upon de Rudder's return to Jabbeke, his native village, the Viscount was converted, and so were many others. De Rudder, who had been a public spectacle before his pilgrimage, was more so now. A public novena of thanksgiving was made in his church and three quarters of the population attended it. There was no doubt about it: de Rudder had gone away a pathetic cripple, given up by the doctors; he had returned a healthy man—he could jump up and down to prove it!
There was no natural explanation. One of the doctors, a Dr. Van Hoestenberghe, was particularly impressed. A free thinker, he refused to believe the news until he had thoroughly examined Pierre himself. He was dumbstruck, but convinced. So deeply was he moved by the genuineness of this striking manifestation of the reality of the supernatural that he prayed for the grace of belief and became a Christian and a Catholic. What was more, he wrote to the Lourdes Medical Bureau at length, detailing every aspect of the infirmity and its cure. He went even further: he recommended that the case be brought to the attention of M. Emile Zola who had gone to Lourdes to investigate the reports of the supernatural there, and falsified the events he witnessed!
After the death of Pierre de Rudder following by twenty-three years his miraculous cure, Dr. Van Hoestenberghe obtained permission to exhume the body and amputate both legs, on May 24, 1899. The examination revealed that there were traces of the miraculous healing of the bones and flesh, and that there was a piece of healthy white bone over an inch long between the two sections still pock-marked from the long disease and infection. This piece of white bone joined the other sections, and had been instantaneously created at the time of de Rudder's miraculous cure! There was no other explanation for it. This is one of the most famous cases on file at the Lourdes Medical Bureau, fully documented with evidence and testimony, and may be reviewed to this day. Anyone who cares to may check it thoroughly.
Another of the most interesting cases of Lourdes was that of a railway worker all but killed in a rear end collision of two trains. He had sustained almost every kind of internal injury it was possible to have and still remain alive. This was one of the miracles accepted by the ecclesiastical commission which investigated Lourdes, as being beyond natural explanation, as was also the case of Pierre de Rudder. The man was barely alive at Lourdes, and had no intention of praying for his cure, being skeptical of the supernatural. He went entirely to please his mother who had been praying for his conversion for years. He was instantly cured.
(Taken from "Recent Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary" by Stephen Breen published by The Scapular Press in 1952.)
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