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Header - Incorrupt body of St Bernadette

 

"You will not allow your holy one to see corruption" - Psalm 16:10

 

The Catholic Church is full of mystery and miracles; those supernatural occurrences in time that display the power of God for eternity.

Incorruptibility is one of those miracles. And Saint Bernadette (feast day: April 16) is one of the saints chosen by God to show forth His power.

Every Ash Wednesday we hear “You are dust and unto dust you shall return.” Death and decay are a fact of life for us mere mortals; all of us, that is, except for God’s chosen few – the Incorruptibles. These are the saints throughout the history of the Church whose bodies have not decayed over time. Even millennia have passed, as in the case of St. Cecelia, without their bodies turning to dust.

The light of Christ has always shone brightest in times of darkness, and the 20th century was no exception. Certainly a dark time of apostasy and the disintegration of customs, one light that shone brightly was the canonization of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes, France.

  

The Life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879)

It could be viewed as ironic that the messenger of Our Lady at Lourdes, a place of healing, should be so burdened by illness throughout her natural life. It seems the miracle of Lourdes was not for her. As a matter of fact, in a vision Our Lady said to Saint Bernadette, “I cannot promise you happiness in this life, only in the next.”

St BernadetteBorn into a humble family which little by little fell into extreme poverty, Bernadette had always been a frail child. Quite young, she had already suffered from digestive trouble, then after having just escaped being a victim of the cholera epidemic of 1855, she experienced painful attacks of asthma, and her ill health almost caused her to be cut off forever from the religious life. When asked by Monsignor Forcade to take Bernadette, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Nevers replied: "Monsignor, she will be a pillar of the infirmary."

She lived in the convent for thirteen years, spending a large portion of this time, as predicted by the Mother Superior, ill in the infirmary. When a fellow nun accused her of being a “lazybones,” Bernadette said, “My job is to be ill.” She was gradually struck by other illnesses as well as asthma: among them, tuberculosis of the lung and a tubercular tumor on her right knee.

On Wednesday, April 16, 1879, her pain got much worse. Shortly after 11:00 a.m. she seemed to be almost suffocating and was carried to an armchair, where she sat with her feet on a footstool in front of a blazing fire. She died at about 3:15 in the afternoon. She was thirty-five.

 

Doctor Declares: “Not a Natural Phenomenon”

Over the course of the next 46 years, Saint Bernadette’s body was exhumed no less than three times: the first time in 1909, then again in 1919 and finally in 1925.

St Bernadette final exhumation in 1925At the first exhumation, it was quickly evident that a miracle had taken place; Saint Bernadette’s skin tone was perfectly natural. The mouth was open slightly and it could be seen that the teeth were still in place. Although the rosary in her hands had decayed, showing rust and corrosion in some spots, the virginal hands that still grasped it were perfect! The sisters present thoroughly washed the body and clothed it in a new habit before placing it in an officially-sealed double casket.

The second exhumation, in 1919, showed no further evidence of decomposition, though her hands and face had become somewhat discolored due to the well-intended washing given by the nuns ten years prior. A worker in wax was commissioned to create a light wax mask of Saint Bernadette’s hands and face. It was feared that, although the body was preserved, the blackish tinge to the face and the sunken eyes and nose would make an unpleasant impression on the public.

That brings us to 1946 and the final disturbing of Saint Bernadette’s resting place. One of the doctors overseeing the final exhumation, Doctor Comte, writes: "From this examination I conclude that the body of the Venerable Bernadette is intact, the skeleton is complete, the muscles have atrophied, but are well preserved; only the skin, which has shriveled, seems to have suffered from the effects of the damp in the Incorrupt body of St Bernadettecoffin. … the body does not seem to have putrefied, nor has any decomposition of the cadaver set in, although this would be expected and normal after such a long period in a vault hollowed out of the earth."

The doctor was amazed by the state of preservation of the liver: "What struck me during this examination, of course, was …the totally unexpected state of the liver after 46 years. One would have thought that this organ, which is basically soft and inclined to crumble, would have decomposed very rapidly or would have hardened to a chalky consistency. Yet it was soft and almost normal in consistency. I pointed this out to those present, remarking that this did not seem to be a natural phenomenon."

 

Final Considerations

This is truly the body of Bernadette, lifelike in her attitude of meditation and prayer.

St Bernadette as a nunThis is the face which was lifted eighteen times to the Lady of Lourdes, the very same hands which fingered her rosary during the apparitions, and the fingers which scratched the earth in obedience to Our Lady’s request and made the miraculous spring appear.

It seems only right that Our Lord would preserve perfectly those ears which heard the message of Lourdes and the lips which repeated “the Lady's” name to Father Peyramale; "I am the Immaculate Conception." This is the heart, too, which bore so much love for Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and sinners.

There is a profound understanding in this heart which would one day write, "I was nothing, and of this nothing God made something great. In Holy Communion I am heart to heart with Jesus. How sublime is my destiny."

Yes, how very sublime is the destiny of any Catholic who embraces the call of Christ to be a light shining in the darkness of whatever century he finds himself in. And how sublime the destiny of those who find healing in the arms of she who is “the Immaculate Conception.”

 


 by Tonia Long

 

 

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for April 22, 2021

Mary was raised to the dignity of Mother of God rather for s...

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April 22

 

Mary was raised to the dignity of Mother of God
rather for sinners than for the just, since
Jesus Christ declares that
He came to call not the just, but sinners.

St. Anselm

 
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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Theodore of Sykeon

Endowed with the gift of prophecy and miracles, on a second...

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St. Theodore of Sykeon

Born in the Roman Galatian town of Sykeon in Asia Minor, Theodore was the son of a woman of ill repute, who kept an inn along the imperial highway.

As a child, he was so given to prayer that he would often give up a meal to spend time in church. From an early age he shut himself up first in the cellar of his mother’s house and then in a cave beneath a disused chapel. Later, for a time, seeking to further escape the world, he sought solitude on a mountain.

On a pilgrimage to Jerusalem Theodore assumed a monk’s habit, and though only eighteen years of age, was ordained a priest by his own bishop. His life was most austere, wearing an iron girdle about his body and only sparingly partaking of vegetables.

Endowed with the gift of prophecy and miracles, on a second pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he obtained abundant rain after a severe drought.

Theodore founded several monasteries, and ruled as abbot in Sykeon. He was consecrated Bishop of Anastasiopolis, though he deemed himself totally unfitted. After ten years he succeeded in relinquishing his post and retired to Sykeon.

From Sykeon he was recalled to Constantinople to bless the emperor and the senate and there healed one of the Emperor’s sons of a skin disease, reputedly leprosy.

Theodore had a great devotion to St. George and did much to propagate devotion to him.

He died in Sykeon on April 22, 613.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a...

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The Robber Who Stole Heaven

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a notorious robber who made his living by bringing misfortune on others. His occupation being what it was, he would only increase his property by decreasing that of his victims.

One day, he was admonished by a local religious to change his course of life and thereby insure his eternal salvation. The only answer the robber gave was that for him there was no remedy.

"Do not say so," said the religious, "do what I tell you. Fast on each Saturday in honor of the Virgin Mary, and on that day of the week do no harm to anyone. She will obtain for you the grace of not dying in God’s displeasure.”

The robber thought to himself, “This is a small price to pay to insure my salvation; I will do as this holy man has prescribed.” He then obediently followed the religious’ advice, and made a vow to continue to do so. That he might not break it, from that time on he traveled unarmed on Saturdays.

Many years later, our robber was apprehended on a given Saturday by the officers of justice, and that he might not break his oath, he allowed himself to be taken without resistance. The judge, seeing that he was now a gray-haired old man, wished to pardon him.

Then the truly miraculous occurred. Rather than jump for joy thanking the judge for his leniency, the old robber, said that he wished to die in punishment of his sins. He then made a public confession of all the sins of his life in that same judgment hall, weeping so bitterly that all present wept with him.

He was beheaded, a death reserved for the nobility, rather than hanged. Then his body was buried with little ceremony, in a grave dug nearby.
Very soon afterwards, the mother of God came down from Heaven with four holy virgins by her side. They took the robber’s dead body from that place, wrapped it in a rich cloth embroidered with gold, and bore it themselves to the gate of the city.

There the Blessed Virgin said to the guards: "Tell the bishop from me, to give an honorable burial, in such a church to this dead person, for he was my faithful servant." And thus it was done.

All the people in the village thronged to the spot where they found the corpse with the rich pall, and the bier on which it was placed. And from that moment on, says Caesarius of Heisterbach, all persons in that region began to fast on Saturdays in honor of she who was so kind to even a notorious robber.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a notorious robber who made his living by bringing misfortune on others. 

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