Facebook Twitter Pinterest Youtube Instagram Give

Header-The Allure of Lourdes

Lourdes

February 11th, is the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes.

 

As I sat down in the train for my trip’s final leg to Lourdes, I could not help but reflect that this was a trip repeated many times by tens of millions of pilgrims from all over the world over the last 155 years. They have embarked with similar expectations. Upon writing down my impressions, I was tempted to think that my account would be of little value, since my story has already been told so many times before.

However, though it is the same story, I have no doubt each trip is different. Part of the allure of Lourdes lies exactly in that each pilgrim’s experiences it differently. Lourdes draws each one to go on the pilgrim’s route. Everyone takes different problems and miseries, and is filled with different expectations.

Mine was a simple four-day pilgrimage, a retreat without Internet, cell phone, camera or even air-conditioning. My expectations were simple. I sought peace of soul in a world that aggressively disrupts that peace. I sought time to reflect and recollect. I expected to be cleansed of so much. I just wanted time to pray to Our Lady and ask her for all that I needed.

 

The Virgin Mary Book Banner

 

 

 

A Place of Violent Contrast

My first impression of Lourdes was that it is a place of dramatic contrast, born of violence and extremes. I found it unexpectedly dramatic. The rocky foothills of the Pyrenees are filled with abrupt cliffs, mysterious caves and scraggly brush. The Gave River rapidly flows with violent intensity. While praying at the Grotto, it was not uncommon to feel sudden gusts of strong winds that added to the sense something different and important was happening there. The intensely hot sun of the July day contrasted with the chilly night mountain air.

This contrast is above all present at the Grotto. The Grotto lies inside a huge rocky hill near the river. I had always thought the Grotto was separate from the basilica. However, the huge Gothic sanctuary sits right on top of this massive rock and its stone foundations dig like roots into the rock, dominating and forcing itself upon the wild landscape. However, the Grotto still retains that exuberant wildness that it must have had at the time of the apparitions. The outside of the Grotto is covered with that untamed scrub brush and wild grass that tenaciously cling to fissures in the rock.

Our Lady of Lourdes GrottoAlmost as dramatic as the landscape is the violent contrast of the pilgrims. They come from all over the world and speak in many languages. But the most notable contrast is the extreme cultural clashes one sees between genuine signs of devotion and faith and the most glaring signs of our fragmented postmodernity found in the modern fashions and icons that are found on the pilgrims’ Che Guevara shirts and caps. You cannot help but feel it is the affliction caused by this internal cultural war inside souls that brings many of the pilgrims to Lourdes.

All of this is a fitting stage for the drama that takes place inside souls at Lourdes. You pray in the context of this dramatic setting.

 

The Heart of Lourdes

The heart of Lourdes is the Grotto. All over the city, the signs point to the Grotto. In front of the Grotto, I spent hours praying before a life-size statue of Our Lady that stands some 15 feet above in a large cavity inside the Grotto.

The activities around the Grotto are impressive. It is the site of Masses, adorations and recitations of the Rosary. There are times when you can kneel very close to the statue of Our Lady. There are other times when you must stand back because of the crowds. At night, a tree of large candles illuminates the area and creates an atmosphere of recollection and devotion.

Miraculous Spring at the GrottoThere is a constant flow of people who enter the Grotto and pass by its walls. Deep inside there is the spring of water from which so many cures and benefits have flowed. All enter the Grotto touching the walls of the cavern, now worn smooth by so much touching. Pilgrims touch the walls, bless themselves with the small streamlets of water that flow from little fissures. They put their foreheads on the rock walls. They leave prayer requests, candles and flowers. They ask, pray and beseech for Our Lady’s help. Some leave emotional; others merely curious. However, I noticed that everyone leaves the Grotto serious—no one is laughing.

 

Broken Humanity

Lourdes belongs to a broken humanity, full of the sick and troubled who go there with their impossible cases. It is especially the physically sick and handicapped that can be seen everywhere in an unfortunate display of human ailments of all kinds. The most impossible cases are especially represented and they are cared for with touching solicitude. Tens of thousands of volunteers look after their every need and one sees legions of volunteer ladies who assume temporary white habits or other garb to help these “least of our brothers.”

Here, the handicapped are given charity wholeheartedly. Here, they accept this charity with all humility and gratitude. They are sick and they show no shame in their weak condition that will, in the final analysis, be that of all men. Parades of antique three-wheeled wheelchairs can be seen at all events—Rosary processions, Eucharistic adorations and Grotto visits. Many have received cures at Lourdes; others have simply received the means to deal with their sufferings. All receive special care.

There are, of course, the others who go with maladies of a different kind. These are those with spiritual sufferings. All bring their own crosses and miseries, and I count myself as one of these pilgrims. One is not necessarily relieved of one’s miseries, but you feel as if a balm has been applied that makes it so much more bearable. You leave less broken.

 

Free Rosary Guide Booklet Banner

 

 

 

The Nightly Rosary Procession

The Rosary procession is the climax of the day. Every night at 9 p.m., the faithful gather around the basilica for the simple ceremony of praying the Rosary. However, this is no ordinary procession. I witnessed an estimated 90,000 pilgrims on the central plaza at the Saturday night procession I attended.

Every night as you proceed to the shrine, you notice the shopkeepers have put out the procession candles with their paper lantern shades. For a pittance, you buy a candle and head for the procession. There is an atmosphere of exaltation and even triumph that I think comes from a joy in being Catholic—a true unity amid diversity. Although the Hail Marys are said in various languages, all the other prayers are said or sung in Latin without any problem or confusion.

A large life-size statue of Our Lady of Lourdes is carried majestically on a litter down the central plaza and the procession begins. Thousands of Catholics join in. Hundreds of sick in wheelchairs are pushed and pulled by volunteers along the procession route—the special guests of the affair. As night descends, the candlelight lanterns create a marvelous and prayerful ambience.

The procession covers the length of the entire central avenue of the sanctuary. After each decade, a Marian hymn is sung. “Immaculate Mary” is a favorite hymn since it is sung in so many languages. During the refrain, all in the crowd raise their candle lanterns in triumph and praise of the Blessed Mother, a practice that they repeat in the final “Salve Regina.” The basilica has two large esplanades that are like arms enclosing the grand plaza. During the procession these arms are also full of people praying and singing creating the impression of a huge amphitheater of unity. Finally the procession is over, and gradually the huge crowd disperses into the night.

 

A Lady of Passionate SolicitudeAriel view of Lourdes

And what is to be said of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes? How does she express and communicate herself to the faithful? Such opinions by necessity are subjective since Our Lady speaks to souls in different ways. I can only report what I sensed at the Grotto.

The statue of Our Lady of Lourdes is in my opinion very French. She does not have the Latin exuberance of Spanish or Italian Madonnas. She stands in the Grotto, discreetly looking upward and measuring her gestures. However, this does not prevent her from giving impressions of great mercy and goodness. Her goodness reminded me of the French merchants and pedestrians I approached with my broken French in the village. They would address you with a very courteous “Bonjour monsieur” and then go out of their way to help you with your problem.

Our Lady’s goodness at Lourdes has something of that same polite and intense goodness full of respect for the person despite his weaknesses. I felt dignified by my dialogue with Our Lady. Inside this enormous respect, she exhibited for me a kind of passionate and maternal solicitude that I had never experienced before.  It was with great sadness that I left Lourdes and the Grotto on that Sunday morning to catch my train. I bid my farewell and slowly left, turning back several times until that last glimpse and final au revoir, a scene that remains in my mind’s eye.

 

A Change and a Promise

On the train back, I reflected a bit on the pilgrimage. Indeed, it was so like the millions of others that traveled the same route. However, it confirmed my idea that each pilgrimage is different and that this is the allure of Lourdes.

Did I find what I sought? I received no great miracle but then again, I did not ask for one. However, I found at the Grotto a maternal gaze, a place where one can go to be heard. I found a place that violently clashes with our modern revolutionary world. Our Lady makes no compromises with the sins of our days but she calls the poor faithful as they are, and beckons them to return to the practice of the Faith.

I returned changed in ways hard to define. I definitely felt peace in my soul. Lourdes puts your soul in order. It has a cleansing effect upon you. I sensed a promise not on the part of Our Lady to me, but rather she elicited from me a promise to return.

My sentiments are those expressed by an antiphon from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary that is sung at Vespers that says, “Trahe nos Virgo immaculata, post te curremus in odorem unguentuorum tuorum.” (“Draw us, O Immaculate Virgin, we will run after thee because of the savor of thy good ointments). 

 


   

The Virgin Mary Book Banner

 

 

 

Pray:  Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes

 

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for December 15, 2019

Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach...

read link

December 15

 

Without the burden of afflictions
it is impossible to reach the height of grace.
The gift of grace increases as the struggle increases.

St. Rose of Lima


Protest & Offer Reparation for this "Christmas" BLASPHEMY

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Mary di Rosa

Anticipating Florence Nightingale by several years, the Hand...

read link

St. Mary di Rosa

Mother Maria Crocifissa was born Paolina Francesca di Rosa, the sixth of nine children of Clement di Rosa and the Countess Camilla Albani. The di Rosas were a wealthy family of Brescia, Italy.

Losing her mother to a terminal illness at age eleven, her education was entrusted to the Visitation Sisters. At seventeen Paolina left school to assist in the running of her father’s estate and household. To these duties she soon added the care and spiritual welfare of the girls working at her father’s mills and other factories in the city. She also founded a woman’s guild and arranged retreats and special missions. When the cholera epidemic devastated Brescia in 1836, she and a widow, Gabriela Bornati, served the victims in the hospital with such dedication that Paolina was next asked to undertake the supervision of a workhouse for penniless girls, which she did for two years.

She continued to engage in social work, always giving signs of ability and a perspicacious intelligence with a surprising grasp of theology. In 1840, with Gabriela Bornati, she started a congregation with the purpose of serving the ill and suffering in hospitals. Taking the name of Handmaids of Charity, they started with four members and soon grew to number twenty-two.

The name she took upon her profession of religious vows was a synthesis of her whole life: Maria Crocifissa. Her spiritual life was firmly grounded on the imitation of Christ’s suffering on the Cross. This was the foundation of her life, her teaching and her contemplation. Her love for Christ Crucified was reflected in her unstinting and total dedication to the suffering members of his Mystical Body.

As the community expanded, Clemente di Rosa provided a commodious house in Brescia, and their rule of life was provisionally approved by the bishop in 1843. Anticipating Florence Nightingale by several years, the Handmaids of Charity ministered to the wounded in the war which ravaged the region in 1848. After a meeting with Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1850, the constitutions of the Handmaids of Charity of Brescia were approved.

A second cholera epidemic hit northern Italy and pushed the growing order to its limit. After a flurry of foundations in Spalato, Dalmatia and Verona, Mother Maria collapsed, and was brought home to Brescia to die. She passed away peacefully on December 15, 1855 at the age of forty-two.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

On July 31, 2002 the Holy Father canonized Juan Diego, a hum...

read link

The Miracle

On July 31, 2002 the Holy Father canonized Juan Diego, a humble Indian to whom the Mother of God appeared in Mexico in 1531 and on whose cloak she left her image as Our Lady of Guadalupe. With this canonization, the Church has placed one more seal on the authenticity of the apparitions that changed the course of the history of Mexico and gave all the Americas a great patroness. Alongside our invoking the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe, we may now also say, “Saint Juan Diego, pray for us.” We dedicate the following article to him.

 

"Eagle that speaks"

In the year 1474, a boy was born in Aztec Mexico in the village of Cuautitlan, about seven miles from the capital of the Empire, then known as Tenochtitlan, today Mexico City.

He was named, Quauhtlatoatzin, or “Eagle that speaks.” His origin was humble and poor, yet this boy had been chosen by God to convey one of the greatest messages ever delivered to any nation.

Despite having reached the first degree of civilization with its cities and writing system, Mexico’s religion was satanically barbarous. In the words of one historian: “Nowhere else in human history has Satan so formalized and institutionalized his worship with so many of his own actual titles and symbols.” This was the old Empire of Mexico worshiping the “Lord of the Dark” and the “Stone Serpent,” requiring a quota of, at least, 50,000 human sacrifices each year.

When “Eagle that speaks” was thirteen years old, a sacrifice of no less than 80,000 victims was offered to inaugurate the greatest of all pyramids. As he witnessed these horrors, maybe the young boy sent up a prayer for the accomplishment of an old Mexican prophecy that, one day, a God who hated human sacrifice would reach Mexico. Oddly enough, this prophecy even specified the year and the date on which this God would arrive.

Click here to order your Free Rosary Guide Booklet

Sails on the horizon

The year by the Christian calendar was 1519; the day was a Good Friday. Montezuma II, then Emperor, a superstitious man, was on high alert because that was also the date in the Mexican prophecy.

If any Aztecs scanned the horizons of Mexico on that Good Friday morning, they saw eleven ships bearing great white sails marked by a black cross heading for their shore.

Commanded by the thirty-three-year-old Spaniard Hernan Cortes, the fleet anchored. Soon, at the captain’s orders, a cross was planted in the sand.

Hernan Cortes and his six hundred warriors were descendants of men who had battled Muslims for eight hundred years to free their beloved Spain from the dominion of Islam. It took all that bravery seething in their veins to tackle the monumental task that lay ahead of them: namely, to snatch fifteen million people from the darkness and oppression of a satanic regime and introduce them to the sweet yoke of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sinking his ships in a gesture of unparalleled bravery so as to spare his men the temptation to flee, Cortes set his face and his small army to conquer Mexico for the Faith. The next year saw a series of battles of biblical proportions, terrible defeats, renewed attacks, great feats of diplomacy resulting in solid alliances with certain native tribes, and daring coups. The odds were those of one against ten thousand but, like Emperor Constantine of old, Cortes launched his mission under the banner of the cross, telling his men: “Brothers and companions, let us follow the sign of the Cross with true faith and in it we shall conquer.”

At the end, Montezuma was dead, Mexico City had been conquered, a new government was established and churches began to rise in place of the old pagan temples.

Twelve Apostles

By this time, “Eagle that speaks” was a man entering middle age. He was married to a good woman and worked at farming, weaving mats, making furniture and anything else that would support them. He had an innate sweetness and compliant nature and a very humble disposition coupled with a quiet dignity.

One day, a few barefooted men in brown habits entered his village. They were Franciscans, a few from a group of twelve sent by Emperor Charles V of Spain for the evangelization of Mexico. These brave and zealous men had arrived in 1521, only two years after Cortes.

“Eagle that speaks” attentively listened to all they had to say and was soon bowing his head before one of them to receive the redeeming waters of Baptism. He was Christened Juan Diego. Baptized alongside him were his wife and uncle, who received the Christian names of Maria Lucia and Juan Bernardino. Juan Diego and his family were among the first natives to accept the Catholic Faith in Mexico. It was the year 1525.

After baptism, Juan Diego and Maria Lucia often continued to walk to Mass and instructions to the new church in Tlatelolco near Mexico City, about fifteen miles from their village.

Click here to order your Free Rosary Guide Booklet

Tepeyac Hill

On December 9, 1531, which was then the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Juan Diego again made his way among cactus plants and mesquite bushes to the Church at Tlatelolco near Mexico City as was his custom. He now covered the distance alone since his good wife had died two years before. He must have missed her sorely for he had moved to Tepotzotlan to be with his uncle.

Nearing Mexico City, Juan Diego always passed a hill called Tepeyac. Its summit had been the site of a former temple to the pagan “Mother God.”

This morning as he neared Tepeyac, he suddenly stopped, hearing ineffable music that seemed to come from the top of the hill. Juan strained his bewildered eyes as he looked upward in hopes of discovering the source of so delightful a melody. It was then that he saw a dazzling cloud, emblazoned by a brilliant rainbow. Suddenly the melody ceased altogether and he heard the sweetest of all feminine voices calling his name in his native Nahuatl: “Juantzin…”

The voice used the diminutive of his name and it is impossible to convey what that meant as far as affectionate expression. Maybe, in our English it would be something like: “My dear little John.”

Without fear, Juan Diego clambered up the 130-foot-high summit and found himself facing a lady of dazzling beauty. Her garments shone like the sun and the light streaming from her person transformed all nature around her into a play of color as if seen through a stained glass window. Even the smallest leaves looked like sparkling emeralds and turquoises and the tiniest branches as if dipped in gold.

The lady motioned for Juan Diego to approach and as he did so, she spoke:

“Listen, my dearest little son, Juan, where are you going?”

“My lady, my queen, my little girl,” answered the happy Indian, “I am going to your little house in Mexico-Tlatelolco, to follow the things of God that are taught to us by those who are the images of Our Lord, our priests.”

“Know for certain, my little son,” said the lady, “that I am the perfect ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the one true God…. I am your merciful mother, yours and of all the people who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me and of those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow and will remedy and nurse all their troubles, their miseries, their suffering.”

Then she went on to ask Juan Diego to go to the Bishop of Mexico, Don Juan de Zumarraga, to ask him to build her a house on the hill. She finished by thanking him for his trouble and promising to reward him abundantly.

After some difficulty, Juan Diego saw Bishop Zumarraga who listened to him attentively but did not take him very seriously. The bishop dismissed him kindly, promising to think about all he had said and to see him again.

Knowing he had not convinced the prelate, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac Hill and found the Mother of God waiting for him. At her feet, he told her all about the interview and begged her to send someone of more renown, of a higher station in life, one who would be more readily believed.

Our Lady replied affectionately: “Listen, my little son, I have many servants, many messengers… but it is most necessary that you go personally to plead, and that, through you, my will be realized… So, go and tell him once more, that it is I, the ever-virgin Holy Mary, I who am the Mother of God, who sends you.”

On the next day, a Sunday, Juan Diego returned to the bishop’s house. After much difficulty with the servants, he was received. Juan Diego again delivered his message. Bishop Zumarraga questioned him closely and finished by asking for a sign.

“Señor Governador,” answered Juan Diego, “think about what the sign you ask for will be, because then I will go to ask for it of the Queen of Heaven who sent me.”

Once Juan Diego left, Bishop Zumarraga had him followed. But near Tepeyac, his followers lost sight of him. Quite upset, they returned to the Bishop convinced that the Indian was only making up stories. So it was decided that when he returned he would be punished.

Meanwhile Juan Diego was with the Virgin explaining to her the bishop’s request for a sign.

“That’s fine, my little son, return here tomorrow so you may take to the bishop the sign which he asks. With this he will believe you and no longer doubt this and no longer suspect you. And know well, my little son, that I will reward you all the trouble and fatigue that you have undertaken for me. Go now. I will be waiting for you tomorrow.”

Juan evades the Virgin

But the next day, Juan Diego did not return. His uncle had sickened and was dying, so Juan spent all of Monday with him. On Tuesday, before dawn, the good Indian made his way to Mexico City to call a priest to give his uncle the last rites. Passing Tepeyac hill, he thought of skirting it so the Lady would not see him and stop him.

As he did so, however, he saw her coming down the hill to meet him.

“What’s wrong, my little son? Where are you going?”

Bending low, Juan Diego greeted her and wished her a good morning as he explained his uncle’s predicament.

“Listen, and place it deeply in your heart, my littlest son,” spoke the Queen of Heaven. “What frightens and worries you is nothing. Do not let it disturb you. Do not fear this sickness, or any other sickness, or any sharp and hurtful thing. Am I not here, your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you; do not let your uncle’s illness upset you, because he will not die of it now. You may be certain that he is already well.”

Juan Diego, greatly comforted at these words, begged her, instead, to send him to the bishop with her sign. Then the Blessed Virgin told him to go to the top of the hill and gather the flowers he would find there.

Astonished at the beauty of the blooms miraculously growing in that spot, he gathered them all and returned to where the Lady awaited him. With feminine touch, she arranged them with her own hands inside his tilma, a cloak he wore to shield him from the cold, and bade him go to the bishop again.

Click here to order your Free Rosary Guide Booklet

The miracle

The servants at the gates of the bishop’s residence would not listen to the poor Indian’s entreaties to see Don Zumarraga. Juan Diego, having no other recourse, waited patiently for a long time. Seeing him standing there holding something in his tilma, the doorkeeper and servants became curious and began to harass him so that he let them have a peek.

Great was their amazement at the sight of the exquisite flowers, their perfume, and the fact that this was not at all the season for these blooms. Three times they tried to grab a few out of Juan Diego’s tilma but, as they attempted to do so, the flowers became as if painted on the cloth, thus evading their grasp.

The servants then ran to tell the bishop what they had seen. Hearing this, Don Zumarraga realized that here was the sign he had requested and had Juan Diego brought in immediately.

As soon as he entered the bishop’s chamber, Juan Diego prostrated himself in his presence and related to him all that had happened and how he had found these beautiful flowers blooming out of season on top of the hill at the Lady’s command.

The humble Indian then held out his tilma and just as the flowers cascaded to the floor, before all present, O marvel, there appeared on the cloth an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary just as Juan Diego had seen her.

Weeping and falling to his knees, Don Zumarraga, asked the Mother of God’s forgiveness for not having immediately carried out her will.

Then, untying the tilma from around Juan Diego’s neck, Bishop Zumarraga had the miraculous icon placed in his private chapel. 

Guadalupenos

As Juan Diego returned home, he found his uncle cured and ecstatic with joy because the Lady of Tepeyac had also appeared to him. On delivering him of his illness, she had also revealed her name: “Coatlaxopeuh,” or “she who crushes the serpent.” It soon was to be understood as Guadalupe.

Meanwhile, as Bishop Zumarraga prayed fervently before the miraculous image of the resplendent Virgin of Guadalupe, his heart overflowed with gratitude as he remembered a prayer of some time before.

Two of the first Spanish governors appointed to Mexico were cruel to the Indians. Other Spaniards in authority also had more heart for gold than the welfare of the natives. He, Zumarraga, eventually had these men ousted but, meanwhile, the Indians threatened to revolt. The Indians also felt that they had lost their identity on accepting the religion of the Spaniards. Before, despite the horrors of paganism, they were Aztecs. But now, what were they?

In his affliction, Bishop Zumarraga had asked for a sign of the Mother of God that she would protect the new colony. He had asked for Castillian roses not native to Mexico. And Castillian roses were the very flowers that had cascaded onto the floor as Juan Diego opened his tilma! And then the Mystical Rose herself had left her wondrous portrait.

Our Lady, by appearing to an Indian in the turquoise robes of Aztec royalty with their own brown features, had sent the whole of Mexico the message: “I am your Queen, your Mother and you are my very own.” The natives now had a place and a name: the place was the very heart of God’s own Mother and the name, Guadalupenos.

A chapel was soon built on Tepeyac Hill, to be followed by a great basilica. Former Aztec Indians began to flock there by the thousands with the result that in seventeen years the number of baptisms had catapulted from two hundred thousand to nine million.

Juan Diego spent the rest of his life by his beloved Virgin. He died in 1548 venerated by his people for his untiring service and solid virtue. To this day the greatest blessing of Mexican parents on their children is: “May God make you like Juan Diego.”

By A. F. Phillips

Click here to order your Free Rosary Guide Booklet

 

On July 31, 2002 the Holy Father canonized Juan Diego, a humble Indian to whom the Mother of God appeared in Mexico in 1531 

Let’s keep in touch!