Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Chapel of the Convent of Saint Gildard at Espace Bernadette in Nevers

The Infirmary Where Bernadette Worked and Suffered

Sister Marie Bernarde in Nevers

Visiting Espace Bernadette in Nevers -

Seeing with Eyes of Faith

What is the message of Lourdes?

The Lady of the Grotto spoke of penance and praying for sinners, as Our Lady of Fatima and the Virgin of Guadalupe had. She identified herself, "I am the Immaculate Conception." And through the visible sign of water, a sacramental sign and symbol of life, miraculous healing of the sick has occurred.

These events certainly happened, but are they the message of Lourdes?

Perhaps one of the messages of Lourdes is Bernadette Soubirous herself, or more specifically, the simple faith and love of Bernadette.
"When we follow the Jubilee Way in the footsteps of Bernadette, we are reminded of the heart of the message of Lourdes. Bernadette is the eldest daughter of a very poor family, with neither knowledge nor power, and in poor health. Mary chose her to transmit her message of conversion, prayer and penance, which is fully in accord with words of Jesus: 'What you have hidden from the wise and understanding, you have revealed to babes' (Mt 11:25)."
(Homily of Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Journey to Lourdes, 14 September 2008)

At Massabielle, Bernadette was able to see what others could not see. At Massabielle, Bernadette was able to see what some others would not see.

One problem that we have in this fallen world is that we have become infected with a disease – a disease that leads us to see ourselves and others with the world's eyes – eyes that are false. We see superficial appearances, and not the truth of a person or thing. When we see with our eyes, our human and worldly eyes, we see a false reality, a false world, a false beauty. Our human eyes deceive us, so much so that Satan himself would be fantastically beautiful to us, rather than the corrupted being that he is, and as depicted in art with horns and a tail.

Our ability to see and know what truth is has been corrupted and distorted, so that even those who have a good faith desire to know and live the truth often times are instead living a perversion of the truth. Even when, deep down in our gut, we know that something isn't quite right, we still cling to the lie, thinking it is the truth, indeed, wanting it to be the truth.

Conversely, we are often blind to true beauty, and other times we think that what is truly beautiful is abhorrent. The Lord walked the earth for 30 years before beginning His ministry and practically no one recognized Him. The world demands prove from God, putting Him to the test, but when He sends us signs and signals and performs mighty deeds to get our attention, the world pays no attention to Him.

There are those who cannot see truly, and there are those who will not see truly, who obstinately refuse to see. There are those who have been made blind, those who have unwittingly followed others into the dark cave, and those who have plucked out their own eyes and seek to blind others. The fallen world consistently seeks to have you disbelieve and have doubts. The world whispers in your ear, imitating the voice of your subconscious, "God doesn’t exist. And if He does, He has abandoned you. He cannot be trusted. You can only trust yourself."

However, not everyone is blind, not everyone is unable to see. The Virgin Mary was and is able to see, and Bernadette was able to see her. That is because Bernadette did not seek to see merely with the eyes of the head, merely with worldly eyes. Because of her simple humble faith, she also saw with the heart, which in turn allowed her to see the truest beauty God has ever made.

Innocence tends to allow one to see a higher truth. Eating the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge does not necessarily give you greater sight. It merely infects you with a disease that blinds you. It is paradoxical, but often times, ignorance is learned.

The intellectual elite of Bernadette’s time were, for all their learning, ignorant. By their arrogant pride and hubris, by promoting extreme secular ideologies that have no need or want of God, these intellectuals had learned to be stupid. In their willful blindness, they refused to open themselves up to be able to see.

If we too want to see truly, we must seek to emulate the lowly Bernadette, rather than the prideful. We must believe, we must want to believe, in truth. We must have faith in God, rather than faith in ourselves as “gods,” so that we might see with our hearts. When we see with our hearts, which is to say, our souls, as illuminated by the true Light, we are able to see reality as it truly is, we are able to see true beauty, which may not correspond to what our human eyes find aesthetically pleasing. What is repugnant and ugly to our human eyes may be seen to be truly beautiful when viewed with our hearts.

But being able to see with our hearts is not easy. And it almost certainly cannot be done by our own efforts. We most likely need a little help. But if we at least want to be able to truly see, to be able to see with our hearts, and we seek that help, then we will begin to receive the grace to be able to do so. And the real beauty that we see will be more astounding than we could have ever imagined.

"How blind man is when he refuses to open his heart to the light of faith!"
-- Sister Marie-Bernard Soubirous

Bernadette Reliquary Chapel in the Crypt of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception


View of Esplanade and Medieval Fortress in Background

The Requests of Our Lady -- Penance and Procession



Le Cachot, Hospice and Baptism

Le Cachot, the abandoned prison cell where Bernadette and her family lived at the time of the apparitions:


The Hospice, operated by the Sisters of Nevers, where Bernadette lived after the apparitions and went to school:

The Baptismal font in which Bernadette was baptized -- the original parish church where she was baptized no longer exists:

Where Bernadette Was Born, part two

The Boly Mill - Where Bernadette Was Born

Lourdes - June 2018

Visiting the Sanctuary





Bernadette Soubirous - Humility, Innocence, and Grace

Marie Bernarde (Bernadette) Soubirous was a very poor, unsophisticated, peasant girl. She was born January 7, 1844, and baptized the next day.

Bernadette was sensitive, with a pleasant and humble disposition, but, perhaps due to her poverty, she was undersized, and often physically weak due to asthma. Marie (Aravant) Laguës, foster-mother, said, "As a baby, Bernadette was already very loveable, the neighbors loved to see her and to hold her in their arms." Further,
"Bernadette, in spite of the tiredness which was caused by her shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing, always appeared happy and cheerful. She never gave us any trouble, she took what she was given, and appeared happy. We loved her very much as well."
Abbé Pène, Curate of the Parish of Lourdes in 1858, said that "everything about Bernadette radiated naïveté, simplicity, goodness."

In this sweet innocence and goodness, Bernadette was also widely thought to be backward and slow, including in her ability to learn the faith. By age 14, she still had not made her First Holy Communion. Her teacher, Jean Barbet, reported that
"Bernadette has difficulty to retain the Catechism word by word, because she cannot study, she does not know how to read, but she puts a lot of care into the appropriate meaning of the explanations. Besides, she is very attentive, above all very pious and modest."
Marie Laguës likewise stated,
"It was useless to for me to repeat my lessons; I always had to begin again. Sometimes I was overcome by impatience and I would throw my book aside and say to her, 'Go along, you will never be anything but a little fool.'"
Meanwhile, that era saw the rise of various corrosive secular humanist ideologies, including an exaggerated exultation of science against religion. France, in particular, was rampant with anti-clericalism, with substantial hostility being expressed toward the Catholic Church by the intellectual elite.

Young Bernadette, though, knew nothing of these ideologies and controversies. It was in her simple life that, on February 11, 1858, a Lady in White appeared to the 14-year-old Bernadette at Massabielle, a grotto on the bank of the Gave River near Lourdes, France. The Lady was young and no larger than Bernadette's own diminutive stature. Bernadette later recounted:
"I heard a sound like a gust of wind. . . . As I raised my head to look at the grotto, I saw a Lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot."
On this first apparition, the Lady asked the girl to make the sign of the Cross piously and say the rosary with her. Bernadette saw the Lady, whom she called "Aquéro" (meaning "that" or "the one" in her native Pyrenees dialect), take the rosary that was hanging from her arms into her hands. This was repeated in subsequent apparitions. There were 18 appearances in all, lasting from February 11 to July 16, 1858.

During the visions, the Lady requested prayer and penitence, asked for the construction of a new church and a procession, and led Bernadette to a fresh water spring that is believed to have miraculous healing powers. Despite strong doubt and even opposition from political and church officials, including being detained for a time and questioned by the local police, Bernadette's faith in what she had witnessed remained steadfast and humble.

At first, the Lady did not identify herself, despite being asked. Although others were quick to identify her as the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bernadette expressly did not make that claim, continuing instead to refer to her as "Aquéro" or "the Lady." However, Bernadette reports that, at the 16th appearance,
"The Lady was standing above the rose-tree, in a position very similar to that shown in the miraculous medal. At my third request her face became very serious and she seemed to bow down in an attitude of humility. Then she joined her hands and raised them to her breast . . . She looked up to heaven . . . then slowly opening her hands and leaning forward towards me, she said to me in a voice vibrating with emotion, 'Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou' (I am the Immaculate Conception)."
Before that time, Bernadette had not heard of the words, much less the doctrine of, "Immaculate Conception," which itself is grounded in simple humility and grace. And even when she heard the words, she did not know what they meant.

Some of these happenings took place in the presence of many people, but no one besides Bernadette claimed to see or hear the Lady, and there was no disorder or emotional extravagance. However, reports of miraculous cures occurring at the grotto spread quickly and the more they spread, the greater the number of people who visited Massabielle. These included pious believers, sick people desperate for cures, curiosity seekers, skeptics and scoffers.

The publicity given these miraculous events and the manifest sincerity and innocence of the girl on the one hand, and the compelling need to protect the faith and the faithful from the scandal of fraudulent claims on the other, made it necessary for the Bishop of Tarbes, Bertrand Severe Laurence, to institute a judicial inquiry as to the authenticity, or lack thereof, of the apparitions. This inquiry required Bernadette to submit to intense questioning on multiple occasions. And, during those sessions, as had happened in the interrogation by the local magistrate during the apparitions, the ecclesiastical questioners would occasionally try to trap Bernadette or trick her into contradicting herself or otherwise show that she was lying or delusional. Each time they did this, however, Bernadette only proved herself to be more credible and sincere.

Four years later, he declared the apparitions to be supernatural and worthy of belief, and public veneration of the Immaculate Conception in the grotto was allowed. Bishop Laurence said of Bernadette,
"The testimony of the young girl is in every way as satisfactory as possible. To begin with, her sincerity cannot be doubted. Who that has questioned her can fail to admire the simplicity, the candour, the modesty of this child? Whilst everyone is talking about the wonders which have been revealed to her, she alone keeps silence. She only speaks when she is questioned and then she recounts everything without affectation and with a touching simplicity, and she replies to the numerous questions addressed to her without hesitation, giving answers clear and precise, very much to the point and bearing the stamp of intense conviction. She has been tested most severely but no menaces have ever shaken her; she has responded to the most generous offers by a noble disinterestedness. She never contradicts herself; in all the different examinations which she has undergone, her story never varies; she never adds to it or takes away from it. Bernadettes sincerity cannot then be disputed. we may add that it never has been disputed; even her opponents, when she has had opponents, have paid her that homage."
Soon the requested chapel was erected, and since that time numberless pilgrims come every year to Lourdes to fulfill promises or to beg graces.

For some years after, in addition to her poor health, Bernadette suffered greatly from the suspicious disbelief of some and the tactless enthusiasm, insensitive attentions, and outright harassment by others. Sometimes people would ask her to bless or touch some religious object of theirs, such as a rosary, and when she declined to do so, they would try to trick her into touching the object by feigning to accidentally dropping it on the ground, hoping that she would then pick it up for them. Bernadette bore these trials of her unwanted celebrity with impressive patience and dignity, although there were times when it frustrated her. She was especially uncomfortable with those who treated her as holy,
"They think I'm a saint . . . When I'm dead, they'll come and touch holy pictures and rosaries to me, and all the while I'll be getting broiled on a grill in purgatory. At least promise me you'll pray a lot for the repose of my soul."
Bernadette never sought publicity or name and fame, and she did not enjoy it when these things came, but despite the occasional giving into annoyance, overall, she bore those burdens with great grace. In her private notes, she wrote,
"I must die to myself continually and accept trials without complaining. I work, I suffer and I love with no other witness than his heart. Anyone who is not prepared to suffer all for the Beloved and to do his will in all things is not worthy of the sweet name of Friend, for here below, Love without suffering does not exist. . . .
"I shall spend every moment loving. One who loves does not notice her trials; or perhaps more accurately, she is able to love them."
Besides, the Lady had told Bernadette on the third apparition,"I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next."

In 1866, she was admitted to the convent of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers, France. Here, Sister Marie-Bernarde was more sheltered from trying publicity, but not from the “stuffiness” of the convent superiors nor from the tightening grip of asthma.

“I am getting on with my job,” she would say. “What is that?” someone asked. “Being ill,” was the reply. Thus she lived out her self-effacing life, dying at the age of 35.

The events of 1858 resulted in Lourdes becoming one of the greatest pilgrim shrines in the history of Christendom. But St. Bernadette took no part in these developments; nor was it for her visions that she was canonized, but for the humble simplicity and religious trusting that characterized her whole life.


Accomodations in Lourdes

Across the street from Le Gare (the train station) in the town on the hills above the Sanctuary.

View of the Pyrenees from a little bit down the street.
 More of the Pyrenees and the Medieval Fortress further down the street near the Hospice.

Near the Sanctuary of Lourdes

The trinket shops that Bernadette abhorred even in her day:

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Santa Claus Question

Once again, someone has brought up the question of Santa and said that children should be told that he is "not real." When I was growing up, nobody ever questioned parents indulging their children in the belief in Santa Claus. Few, if any, thought that Santa and love for the baby Jesus at Christmas were incompatible.

Of course, times have changed. Some foster only a belief in Santa. I remember hearing one young boy at Christmas time tell his mother that some other kids had mentioned Jesus and he asked, "Who is he?" His parents - who were completely non-religious - had never told him that Christmas is about, you know, Christ. Other parents go to the other extreme, thinking that to speak of Santa is to, at best, engage in pagan fantasy and, at worse, to lie to their children.

When one mother claimed that her daughter told her, "you told us the Tooth Fairy and Santa were real, and they’re not. So, it’s hard for me to believe God is real.” I responded with telling her that Santa is real, just as God is real. But one is metaphor and the other is the real deal. Properly understood, “Santa” is not the commercialized guy of the materialistic modern world, but is instead an icon of the Son of God Himself and, hence, a model for us.

"Santa Claus" is representative of the giving and joy that we are each called to, and which originates in God giving Himself to us on Christmas morning.  He is a manifestation of the spirit of Christmas and people's desire to have that spirit in their lives. The only problem is in not locking yourself in by presenting Santa in such a fashion that one cannot then later explain exactly who "Santa" is. Yes, he was an actual real historical person by the name of Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6 (see below). And the clothes that he wears (red suit, white lining) are the real historical clothes worn by bishops. But the "Santa" of today is you and me. Santa is us, who are called to give to others.

Thus, it is probably wise, when kids see all the various “Santas” at the mall, to explain that that is not really Santa, but “Santa’s helper.” That can bridge the gap to later telling the children that “Santa” is a symbol of something even greater. When children learn that Santa is actually mom and dad, the parents who love them, they receive a better gift than the toy giver from the North Pole could ever give. When they understand that the real Santa is each of us, they are more ready to understand that they are Santa too, they are called to self-giving.

Moreover, there is absolutely no reason that this should cause a crisis of faith. Kids are sophisticated enough to "believe" in the Easter Bunny without losing faith in God Himself - after all, it is obvious that they are receiving the very same eggs that they were helping mom and dad paint a couple of days before. Here, again, is the lesson of self-giving.

If done right, parents can avoid the two extremes of teaching fantasy and lies to children on the one hand and being a grumpy wet-blanket Grinch on the other. Fostering a belief in "Santa Claus" can be a teaching tool if carefully done, a tool that leads children to Christ and His call to love one another.

As for the real Saint Nicholas --

He was born in Lycia, Asia Minor, and died as Bishop of Myra in 352. He performed many miracles and exercised a special power over flames. He practiced both the spiritual and temporal works of mercy, and fasted twice a week.

He is undoubtedly one of the most popular saints honored in the Western world. Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Peter Damian called him the glory of young men, the honor of the elderly, the splendor of priests and the light of Pontiffs. In the United States, his memory has survived in the unique personality of Saint Claus — the jolly, rotund, white-bearded gentleman who captivates children with promises of gifts on Christmas Eve. Considered primarily as the patron saint of children, Nicholas is also invoked by sailors, merchants, bakers, travelers and pawnbrokers, and with Saint Andrew is honored as the co-patron of Russia.

St. Nicholas was born in the last years of the third century in Asia Minor. His uncle, the archbishop of Myra in Lycia, ordained him and appointed him abbot of a nearby monastery. At the death of the archbishop, Nicholas was chosen to fill the vacancy, and he served in this position until his death. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted the Christians, St. Nicholas was arrested, taken away from his home by the pagan soldiers, and thrown into a prison at the beginning of the fourth century. He suffered the hardships of hunger, thirst, loneliness, and chains. Released by Constantine the Great, he returned to his city, and he later attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. He died in Myra about 345.

Popular legends have involved Saint Nicholas in a number of charming stories, one of which relates Nicholas' charity. A man of Patara had lost his fortune, and finding himself unable to support his three maiden daughters, was planning to turn them into the streets as prostitutes. Nicholas heard of the man's intentions and secretly threw three bags of gold through a window into the home, thus providing dowries for the daughters. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. The three bags of gold are also said to be the origin of the three gold balls that form the emblem of pawnbrokers.

Saint Nicholas labored in his domains to stop the worship of false gods, still practiced there as elsewhere. With his own hands he cut down a huge tree, site of a sacrilegious cult of the goddess Diana. During a famine his prayers multiplied the provisions of wheat which he had ordered for the port of Myra, to such an extent that what would have sufficed for his people for only a few days, was found to be sufficient for more than two years. He rescued from death, just before they were hanged, three innocents condemned by a judge who had been corrupted by money, reprehended the latter for his crime and sent these liberated ones home, entirely exonerated.

After Nicholas' death on December 6, his body was buried in the cathedral at Myra. It remained there until 1087, when seamen of Bari, an Italian coastal town, seized the relics of the saint and transferred them to their own city.

By the year 1200 St. Nicholas had captured the hearts of all European nations. Many churches, towns, provinces and countries venerate him as their patron saint. Merchants, bankers, seamen and prisoners made him their patron, too. But his main patronage is the one over little children. Countless miracles were attributed to the saint's intercession. His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari; an oily substance, known as Manna di S. Nicola, which is highly valued for its medicinal powers, is said to flow from them.

The story of Saint Nicholas came to America in distorted fashion. The Dutch Protestants carried a popularized version of the saint's life to New Amsterdam, portraying Nicholas as nothing more than a Nordic magician and wonder-worker. Our present-day conception of Santa Claus has grown from this version.