Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lauding the Legacy of Lourdes

Please do me the favor of coming here a fortnight...I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the other. --Our Lady of Lourdes, speaking to St. Bernadette
Due to the fact that the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes falls on a Sunday, the Mass for the sixth Sunday of ordinary time takes precedence. But far be it for Fighting Irish Thomas, whose entire existence is due to Our Lady's inspiration, to forget her on her day.

It was on February 11, 1858, that fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, a poor French peasant girl, first saw the vision of Our Lady at the Lourdes grotto. The vision was dressed in blue and white and was carrying a rosary, which she prayed together with Bernadette. For two weeks straight, she appeared and on the last day of the fortnight, she asked young Bernadette to wash and drink in the "stream" there (a stream that as yet did not exist) for the conversion of sinners. Puzzled but obedient, Bernadette began to wash herself with dirt, but the ground soon turned into muddy water—then clear—and it was in this water that many miracles soon did occur.

One month later, Our Lady revealed her identity to Bernadette saying "I am the Immaculate Conception"—confirming in the hearts of the faithful the truthfulness of the papal dogma of four years previous. Her final apparition occurred on the Feast of Mt. Carmel, as Mary "as beautiful as ever" said good-bye to Bernadette (who was soon to enter the convent) in this special form.

Although I have never been to Lourdes, I have been nevertheless touched by her many times at the replica of the Lourdes grotto at the University of Notre Dame. I am told that there are now hundreds of Lourdes grottos throughout the world—each bringing a special presence of Our Lady to the site, each bringing both the usual and unexpected suspects to her Son. As for the grotto at Notre Dame (which ironically upon its completion on August 5, 1896, suddenly sprouted an underground spring at exactly the same "spot" the Lourdes spring developed) goes, while the miracles may not be as numerous as those of the original, they are impressive nonetheless.

Many of the Notre Dame miracles are not physical healings, but reverential feelings such as those that Our Lady developed in Champions of Faith Ray Meyer, who during his student days at Notre Dame never failed to stop and say a prayer when he passed the grotto. Ray's faith was rewarded by a forty-two year run as head basketball coach of DePaul, where "the man with the beads" influenced thousands of youths and (in this writer's opinion) became a saint in the process.

But Our Lady of Lourdes—the Immaculate Conception—also knows that it is a never-ending battle for souls, whether at the original site (where as early as the 1890s the multiplication and exploitation of souvenir shops was nicknamed "the devil's revenge") or at Notre Dame (where dogma isn't always immaculate and the bookstore at least on game day can hardly be described as a spiritual experience) to our own parishes, where Satan now attacks anyone with a devotion to Our Lady with a special vengeance. But when the devil's dust settles and the war is finally over, Ol' Notre Dame will have won over all. So never neglect to pray for her strength, and never forget her promise—to guarantee happiness not in this world, but always in the next.

Our Lady of Lourdes—pray for us!


Anonymous said...

Greetings!--I've not visited your site since Christmas, and I thought I'd have a look this evening. Your writing is always such a pleasure to read. And then your article about the Lourdes grotto brought to mind something that happened to me in a Lourdes grotto here in the town where I live. In Italy Lourdes grottos are very popular and you can find them all over the place in all shapes and sizes. Anyway, this was the Lourdes grotto in the park of the hospital grounds. But I'll come back to that in a minute.
I used to go four days a week on foot to the nursing home--it's just under a mile from our home. And ours is a small rural town and so I pass little fields and small orchards, and patches of gardens as I go along. Towards the end of winter I always keep my eyes peeled for the first little flowers of Spring: bright yellow dandelions, miniature daisies, miniscule buttercups and periwinkles and then the violets. They are usually a bit difficult to spot since there are not so many and they prefer shade and tall grasses in which to grow.
In the Spring of 2005, I was back and forth on that road and with the beginning of March I began looking for "my" little flowers. But there was no sign of them. It was not particularly cold so it was odd that they had not begun to bloom yet. I began to think that they were holding out for Easter, which was pretty far along in the season for them. But on Good Friday there were still no flowers, not even a bud. This was really strange. Well, Easter Sunday finally arrived and on the following Monday I was on my way again over to the nursing home--and I couldn't believe my eyes. There were violets all over the place! And there were violets I had never seen before:a pale violet variety that seemed like a rare gem. These were mixed in with the very dark purple violets. Well I was so surprised at this prodigy of violets that I exclaimed to them,"Your late! Lent was over on Saturday! What ever are you doing here now?" And a little voice, as if in reply, sounded in my mind: you will soon be crying. Goodness, let's hope not! And I proceeded at a brisk pace towards the nursing home.
Well, as you know, Easter week of 2005 was special. Pope John Paul was home from the hospital and it seemed that he would pull through OK and so he was not front page news at the beginning of Easter week. On Tuesday I was again going along the road to the nursing home and the number and quality of violets surprised me all over again. And together with the other flowers so it was so pretty to see the incredible mix of colors with violet and purple predominating.
On Wednesday Pope John Paul appeared at the window for the usual Wednesday audience but it did not go well. It didn't get too much coverage but Italians had made up their own minds already and that's when the whole country began to move in silent migration towards Rome. Goodness, was that ever something to see. On Thursday I was yet again on my way to the nursing home and once again I contemplated those violets with great amazement. I decided that on the way home I would pick a few in order to remember this strange little miracle, but then, I didn't because it always makes me a little sorry to pick flowers, they seem to me so genteel.
The alarm about his Wedneday audience made a blip in the news but on Thursday night there was no special attention given to the Pope. On Friday morning, making my last hike of the week, I finally made up my mind to pick a violet or two that day though I really didn't have a solid reason for doing so. Then I had an idea: I would go to the Lourdes grotto in the park of the hospital--the nursing home is part of the same complex-- and if I saw there as many violets as there were along the road side, then I would pick them there under the gaze of Our Lady of Lourdes--at least they would be blessed violets, and that would be a good reason for gathering a little bouquet. So, once I had finished at the nursing home I went into the park towards the grotto and it was just beautiful to see all those little flowers around the grassy grounds surrounding the grotto. First I went to the Blessed Virgin, I'm sure it was to say a prayer for John Paul though I don't remember now, and then I wondered once more about taking a few flowers when I heard a voice say: "take them in memory of one much beloved of God."
Goodness me! God's love had made this prodigy of violets!

I know it sounds a little unbelievable--or a lot unbelievable. But that's what happened, and I'm glad to share this story with you because it is so beautiful. I can't help but think that while Pope John Paul was entering his agony, God covered this little corner of the world in purple, dressing his creation in mourning for his much beloved son.
Oh! how unfathomable is our good fortune to be in this Church and with a God like this!
very best wishes to you,
Catherine Zeppa Di Matteo

Tom O'Toole said...

Catherine, Welcome back to the website! Great grotto/flower story -- I'm a sucker for flowers as well as Marian grottos, so you picked a good combo. I was born (and still work sometimes) in a town named Lombard (yes, they stole the name from Italy!) and it is nicknamed the "Lilac Town" for besides Lilacia Park (with hundred of Lilacs), it also has a Lilac Parade, Festival and Queen. And yet, I mostly love Lilacia Park for its hundreds of tulips! As of yet, I have no holy stories about the tulips, but I'll let you know ... --Tom