On Wednesday, August 3rd I was able to celebrate Mass in the Grotto at Lourdes for the second time. The first time was on my last visit there in 2018 with my good friend Fr. Clay and his family from Wichita.
The opportunity this time came as a result of the hard work on Bryce Baumann, a seminarian from the Diocese of Dallas who studies in Rome and was working in Lourdes this summer. Thank you, Bryce!
Here are four of my takeaways from this trip to Lourdes, which I preached about in my homily at the Grotto Mass. You can listen to a recording of this homily here:
1. In some of the apparitions, Mary spoke to Bernadette and in some she remained silent. There were also some apparitions in which Mary did speak to Bernadette, but Bernadette never revealed what Mary said to her. A major part of Bernadette’s life was being sent to a different town to live and receive preparation for her first communion. Before she could receive the sacrament, the priest who’d been working with her was transferred. Interestingly, the apparitions by Mary to Bernadette stopped almost immediately after Bernadette received her first communion. Some have speculated that Mary herself was preparing Bernadette for her first communion, and that this is what she was talking in private with Bernadette.
Whether or not that is true, this highlights something beautiful about Mary: she only lives to point the way to Jesus. The statue of Mary in the plaza at Lourdes has her back to the main gate and is facing the entrance to the church, because she desires for us to follow her toward her son. This is the core of the Catholic understanding of Mary. We don’t worship her, we don’t think she’s quasi-God. We think she’s the first and perfect disciple, who can lead us to Jesus. Par Marie a Jesus: To Jesus through Mary.
2. In all of the Marian apparitions, those who’ve seen her have reported that she appeared to them in a relatable way. Our Lady of Guadalupe, for example, appeared to Juan Diego in the 16th century as an indigenous woman from Mexico, and is depicted this way on the famous tilma.
Bernadette said that Mary appeared to her as a 14 year old girl, the same age as Bernadette at the time of apparitions. In a time when children were often ignored or looked down upon, Bernadette said that Mary “looked at me as one looks at a person,” that is, with a tenderness and a respect.
3. Many people in the city were skeptical of the apparitions and wanted Bernadette declared insane, and the Grotto sealed off. At one point, the city constructed a large fence at the entrance to Grotto and made entrance to the area forbidden. Many were concerned that the city would be associated with the apparitions and that the reputation of being a “religious city” would hurt certain areas of the local economy. Anyone who has been to Lourdes knows that the apparitions and the story of St. Bernadette have given the town an economy that is almost unbelievable. Lourdes has the highest number of hotel rooms per capita outside of Paris in all of France…55,000 rooms!
4. In the time of Bernadette, Lourdes was seen as a stop-over town for people traveling to the bigger cities of Pau and Tarbes. In many ways, the town is still a stop-over, a mid-point and safe haven on a journey. For each of the pilgrims who travel to Lourdes, the journey did not start there and it does not end there. Lourdes is a place where each person comes as a traveler – sometimes a weary one – and stops for a moment. I am different because of that place. I have been changed there. I have seen people and hearts be changed there. I have resolved to live my life differently because of Lourdes.
Although we leave it, Lourdes does not leave us. It stays with me, and in some way I stay with it.