THE MESSAGE OF THE VIRGIN OF LOURDES
Bishop Donald Montrose
One of the better known apparitions of Our Lady took place in Lourdes, France in 1858. This shrine continues today to be one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world. Thousands of people visit this shrine every year, a special place of devotion to Our Lady, where many miracles have occurred.
Beginning with her first apparition of February 11, 1858, Mary appeared eighteen times to Bernadette Soubirous, a girl of only fourteen years of age. When Bernadette asked the Lady who She was, she received the reply, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Less than four years before, on December 8, 1854, Pius IX had raised the teaching about the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady to be dogma of faith with these words:
"By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, we declare, pronounce, and define: the doctrine which hold that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was from the first moment of her conception, by the singular, grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin, is revealed by God and therefore, firmly and constantly to be believed by all the faithful." (The Christian Faith #709).
It is under the title of the Immaculate Conception that Our Lady is especially honored in our own country.
This message can be summed up in the following four points:
1. It is a heavenly confirmation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception that had just been defined by the Church a few years before. 2. It is an exaltation of the virtues of Christian poverty and humility that are perceived in Bernadette. 3. The spiritual message is that of personal conversion. Our Lady tells Bernadette that the important thing is to be happy in the next life. To attain this we must accept the cross in this life. 4. Mary stresses the importance of prayer, especially the rosary. Our Lady appeared with a rosary hanging from Her right arm. Penance and humility are also part of the message, as well as a message of mercy for sinners and compassion for the sick.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary
It has always been taught that Mary was preserved from original sin, and from all actual or personal sin, by a very special privilege and grace. Though tempted, She never fell into sin. Because She was kept free by God from original sin and its spiritual consequences, She was saved in advance through the merits of Her divine Son. In creating Her, God created the person destined to be the Mother of God. Therefore, She was not only preserved from sin, but She received many spiritual gifts that were given to Her in a most high degree. God, the Holy Spirit, took Her as His human spouse. With Her incredible humility and spotless purity, She crushed the proud and ugly head of Satan, as had been promised to our first parents after the fall (Gen 3:15).
Mary and the Holy Spirit
In the writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we find some beautiful thoughts. In what follows I summarize some of his teachings.
At Lourdes, Mary did not call Herself "Mary," but rather "Immaculate Conception." Father Kolbe relates this title to the Holy Spirit Himself.
In the most blessed Trinity, who is the Father? He is the Person who begets the Son. In the Nicene Creed we say of Jesus, the Son of God, "eternally begotten of the Father." Of the Holy Spirit we say, "who proceeds from the Father and the Son." Father Kolbe refers to this procession of the Holy Spirit as a "divine conception." He says, "The Holy Spirit is, therefore, the uncreated eternal conception, the prototype of all conceptions that multiply life throughout the universe. The Father begets; the Son is begotten; the Spirit is the 'conception' that springs from their love."
Then in speaking about Mary, he says, "The creature most completely filled with God Himself, was the Immaculate, who never contracted the slightest stain of sin, who never departed in the least from God's will. United with the Holy Spirit as His spouse, She is one with God in an incomparably more perfect way than can be predicted of any other creature."
God's Gift to Us
In a daring comparison, St. Maximilian speaks of the Holy Spirit as an Immaculate Conception in God. We see Mary, then, in his writings, as a human, created image of the Holy Spirit. In one place in his writings, he says that when we see Mary it is almost like seeing the Holy Spirit in the flesh.
From the cross, Jesus gives Mary to us as mother. For many of us, our mother's love was the deepest and most self-sacrificing love that we have ever experienced. Mary is God's gift to us out of His great love and mercy. Is this what Father Kolbe has in mind when, in one of his conferences he said, "Mary Immaculate is the incarnation of divine mercy."? (Idea and quotation from The Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit, by Father H. M. Manteau Bonamy, O.P., Marytown Press, Libertyville, IL. 60048)
The word "immaculate" means without spot or stain. In Spanish, Immaculate Mary is often called, "La Purissima" ( the one who is most pure). Should not Mary, under this title, be for us the special patron of our purity and chastity?
In today's world, our Christian view of sex has been trivialized. Sex is one of the most beautiful and sacred gifts that the Almighty God has given to mankind. In this gift God has given us a share in His own sacred creative power. So sacred is this gift that Matrimony was raised to the dignity as a Sacrament. It bestows divine Grace, just as all of the other Sacraments do. It is because the use of sex is sacred, that the willful misuse of sex is always a serious sin.
If sex is only a plaything, as it has become among some segments of our society, then the door is automatically opened to pornography, and to all of the abuses of free sex, which are present in our society. If sex is only for pleasure, then what happens to motherhood? The love of a mother is one of the most beautiful gifts that God gives to us. Our respect and love for our mother has a very deep meaning for us.
Mary is Our Remedy
Our Blessed Mother is the model and patron of purity and chastity. She is also a remedy for those of us who are seriously tempted, or live in the occasion of sin. She is the perfect woman, the purest of all mother and virgins. Her purity and obedience to Almighty God are an example for all of us. Our devotion to Mary Immaculate is a powerful spiritual remedy. When we turn to Her, as children in need, She comes to our aid. She intercedes for us and obtains special graces to avoid persons, places and situations that test our human weakness.
Both Father Kolbe and the late Father Patrick Peyton give testimony to the effectiveness of praying the Rosary to Our Lady. She protects and helps especially those who are consecrated to Her Immaculate Heart. She always leads us to Her Son who is truly the only One who can save us. By approaching Her in prayer we come into contact with the Holy Spirit, who cleanses us from sin through the Sacraments that we receive with the proper disposition.
By The Most Reverend Donald Montrose, D. D. of Stockton