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Saint Bernadette Soubirous

Saint Bernadette Soubirous en 1861 ou 1862
Image: Saint Bernadette Soubirous en 1861 ou 1862 | photo by abbé P. Bernadou

Saint of the Day for April 16

(January 7, 1844 – April 16, 1879)
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Saint Bernadette Soubirous’ Story

Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11, 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age.

There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette’s initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of “the Lady” brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There, the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig.

According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was.

Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862.

During her life, Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later, she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame of Nevers. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35.

Bernadette Soubirous was canonized in 1933.


Reflection

Millions of people have come to the spring Bernadette uncovered for healing of body and spirit, but she found no relief from ill health there. Bernadette moved through life, guided only by blind faith in things she did not understand—as we all must do from time to time.


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Christianity Is a Complete Way of Life

Christianity isn’t an abstract philosophy. It’s a complete way of life. Consequently, profession of belief in Christianity isn’t simply an intellectual nod of the head, but a commitment to live in such a way as to express concretely one’s convictions in the everyday world. Such engagement demands a sense of direction, a sense of individual mission and purpose. This is supplied by the particular vocation each of us is given. When we discover our own unique calling, regardless of what it may be, we find the spiritual true north by which to plot our course.

—from the book Perfect Joy: 30 Days with Francis of Assisi  by Kerry Walters

God's Presence in Our Neighbors

The heart of Christianity is the great and incomprehensible truth that God’s true majesty, God’s authentic immensity, consists in God’s willingness to become lowly and forsaken, to pitch a tent among us and become one of us. God’s presence is sometimes revealed in lightning and thunder and smoke on Mount Sinai, but it’s much more likely to show up in the faces of our neighbors. And not just our respectable neighbors, either, but those whom we generally go out of our way to avoid: the poor, the ill, the imprisoned, the aged, the weak, and the despised. In their faces, if we but have eyes to see, we encounter God. In their lowliness and helplessness we discover the real majesty of a God of love and self-sacrifice.

—from the book Perfect Joy: 30 Days with Francis of Assisi  by Kerry Walters

Our Physical Surroundings Are Holy

We who tend to think of nature as nothing more than a usable commodity can learn a great deal from Francis’s relationship with the environment. He teaches us the liberating truth that our physical surroundings are holy because they aren’t purely physical. Instead, they’re permeated through and through with the Spirit and beauty of God. In a mysterious way that the mind can’t fathom but the heart knows full well, we don’t just dwell in God’s world. In dwelling in God’s world, we also abide in God himself.

—from the book Perfect Joy: 30 Days with Francis of Assisi  by Kerry Walters

Using Our Creativity for Others

A Christian celebration of humanity consists in lovingly midwifing our fellow humans into full being. One of our God-given endowments is creativity, the ability to cooperate with God in the inauguration of the kingdom. We’re called to use this creativity in nurturing our brothers and sisters as full members of that kingdom, and we do this by going out of our way to help them recognize and affirm themselves as images of God. In concrete terms, this means performing the acts of charity listed in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew: clothing the naked, tending the sick, visiting the imprisoned, giving food and drink to the hungry and thirsty. Celebrating the sheer existence of others often demands that we do the dirty work of easing the material burdens that inhibit them from arriving at a conscious appreciation of their own holiness.

—from the book Perfect Joy: 30 Days with Francis of Assisi  by Kerry Walters

Being in Love with God

Slavish imitation is not what holiness is about, but rather it’s about learning to love God in our own time and place with its own sensibilities and ways of following in the footsteps of Jesus with all our heart and mind and soul. It’s about doing and making choices commensurate with our own capacities, our own strength and/or weakness of mind and body. We don’t have to be nutty to be a saint, but being in love with God will sometimes move us to do things that others will consider nutty or unbalanced.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo, OFM

 

Becoming a Portable Peacemaker

Mutual giving and receiving is, I believe, the bedrock of Franciscan peacemaking. By overcoming shame or fear, or whatever it is that is holding you back from reaching out to the poor and broken ones, you enter a startling world of sweetness of soul that is not just self-serving but that accomplishes a profound reconciliation of opposites that makes it possible to experience a new, unexpected bond with the other. And you want to stay there, not necessarily in that physical place but in that spiritual and psychological space where the lion and the lamb lie down together. Nor is the bond something static. It only endures if you continue to overcome new barriers, cross new and fearsome barriers so that you yourself become the place of reconciliation wherever you go. That kind of portable peacemaker was who St. Francis was.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo, OFM

 

Letting God Change Our Hearts

That is the Franciscan challenge in our own time: contemplative seeing, affective response, practical help, and sustained assistance as the way of restoring God’s house which is falling into ruins. It is Jesus’s own prescription for learning to love. In contemplative prayer we learn to love God who created all things and made them our brothers and sisters. And when we begin to see others for what they are in God’s eyes, we are moved to compassion. And when we then reach out to those of our brothers and sisters in distress, the love of God becomes the love of others, all of whom are beloved of God.

In responding, we ourselves become a story, not just an empty shell that hung around for a number of years and then disappeared, leaving behind no story of goodness worth telling because there was no significant act of the will to love our neighbor. So, repairing God’s house is not about stones and mortar as Francis once thought when he heard the voice of Christ. It’s about changing our hearts, or rather, letting God change our hearts, a process in which we become fruitful vessels of grace. For it is only repaired hearts that repair the house of God. It is only then that we can fruitfully “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo, OFM

 

Moved to Do God's Will

Absence was beginning to be replaced by presence, silence with voices. Or were the voices only in his head? Whatever. They moved him to act, to do positive things with his life, a pattern Francis would follow from then on. Once he knew God’s will, whether from some mystical voice or from listening to the scriptures, he would immediately try to live it out. He was filled with what theologians called, “devotion,” an alacrity in doing God’s will. And that is how Francis began to change. He knew now that Christ is to be found in unexpected places and people. He had experienced the abstract God in the person of Jesus Christ who was the incarnation of the God he thought had abandoned him. And he had experienced this Jesus in the most excluded and feared people of his time, the lepers who, instead of bad things, brought him the greatest good, Jesus Christ. And now he had heard the voice of this Christ. It came from his crucified image in an abandoned church. It was a voice that gave him his life’s task: “Go and repair my house, which, as you see, is falling into ruins.”

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis

 

The Highest of All Loves

Francis’s long journey into God was, at each step along the way, punctuated by learning again and again another truth that St. Augustine articulates at the beginning of his Confessions: “You have made us for You and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.”  It was a journey that involved learning to love anew the things of creation, his love constantly being purified by the overarching love of God. It was like a return to the Garden of Eden seeking again and again to restore the Paradise humans had so cavalierly destroyed. The journey forward into God is a journey backward to an original innocence we never fully recover but where a sort of semi-paradise happens when love turns into charity. This is the highest of all loves, which Christ defined as the love of God and the love of neighbor, the total love of God leading to true love of neighbor and the true love of neighbor leading to the love of God.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis