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Belated Our Lady of Lourdes Reflections

alec vanderboom

My sister-in-law’s Catholic Church has a giant plaster recreation of the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto behind the main alter. A soft spotlight hangs over a plaster statute of a kneeling St. Bernadette, and the vision of Our Lady practically glows in the dark cave.

I sat in this church with my nephews a few months after my conversion to Catholicism and thought “Good grief, that’s over kill!” I felt smug reassurance in my catechism that devotion to private revelations was optional. “I might be a Catholic now,” I sighed looking at the rough plastic face of St. Bernadette, “but I’ll never be one of those crazy, relic carrying, Lourdes water touting ones.”

Oh course, God had other plans.

Two years ago, my husband and I ordered “Song of Bernadette” from Netflix. That movie had us gasping in recognition. We were St. Bernadette’s parents. Her family is so human. I adore St. Bernadette’s mom. Her daughter is honored to see the Blessed Mother with her own eyes and her Mom replies: “All of this trouble, and now this! My daughter’s gone crazy and starts seeing things.” That would be my response. “We’re broke. Your sick and now you start seeing things!”

Through everything: the police arrest, the dismay of the nuns who are stumped that she saw Our Lady yet doesn’t know her catechism, severe asthma & poverty, there remained a simple young girl who told the truth. She stayed humble. She fought her pride.

St. Bernadette is a saint not because she saw the Mother of God fifteen times, but because she lived an exemplarily life as nun who united prayer and suffering.

So I love St. Bernadette. She reminds me that suffering is “like sugar.” She’s the antidote to my greed, my pride, and my vain intelligence. She reminds me that Faith is not defined as knowing the all the answers to Bible trivia or quoting St. Augustine’s definition of the Trinity. Faith is much deeper and more profound than mere book knowledge.

Instead, Faith is hearing a strange Holy wind, getting frightened, pulling a rosary our of your pocket and praying some Hail Mary’s with the Mother of God.