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The shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southern France traces its origin to a series of Mary’s appearances to a fourteen year-old, sickly and unlettered girl, Bernadette Soubirous. These appearances brought Bernadette much fame, but also much suffering. Hagiographer Robert Ellsberg writes that Bernadette tried to escape all the attention she received, “both positive and negative,” by entering the convent. However, in the convent her sickness worsened, and negative criticisms of her continued, until death ended her short life at 35 years’ old (April 16, 1879). In 1933, Bernadette was recognized as a canonized saint of the Catholic Church; that is to say, that, despite the many and fierce doubts Bernadette experienced from Church officials during her life, and despite their “interminable interviews and cross-examinations” (Give Us This Day, April 2020, p. 253), she was ultimately recognized as a true and faithful companion of our Lady and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Suffering is part of all of our lives, the good and the bad alike. St. Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, declared that Jesus suffered because both the Jewish people and their leaders acted out of ignorance (Acts 3:17). Every one of us can also act out of ignorance in a harmful way; that is, without full knowledge of the possible harm we can cause. No one of us, yet, is perfect, and the final judgment on the quality of our lives is the Lord’s alone. Ignorance of the full quality of our actions, however, does not eliminate our ability to see some of the wrong we do, nor our responsibility to desist from what harms us, the fabric of our community, and the good of the whole world in which we live. The good news, however, is that Jesus, now risen and fully sharing in the glory of God, offers all of us who repent of our wrongdoing and are converted to a new life in conformity with Christ’s, times of refreshment, and, when the Judgment Day does arrive, the universal restoration of which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets (Acts 3:20-22).
The Church authorities at Lourdes continue, to this day, to be very cautious in recognizing miracles at Lourdes; their requirements for declaring a miraculous happening a miracle are quite strict. Yet, they do continue to recognize miracles at the shrine. It is, however, common knowledge that, beyond the authenticated medical miracles at Lourdes, there are, without a doubt, the greatest miracles to have occurred at Lourdes: the very, very many pilgrims who have left Lourdes with the firm conviction that the burden that brought them there can be lived with, both for the glory of God and the life of this world.
Suffering and Faith
Fr. Bob Wiesenbaugh, SJ
As Certain as the Dawn | May 6, 2020
Our Lady of Lourdes,