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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.

 

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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.

 

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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). 

 


   

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Pray:  Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes

 

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for May 23, 2019

Obedience is a virtue of so excellent a nature, that Our Lor...

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May 23

 

Obedience is a virtue
of so excellent a nature, that
Our Lord was pleased to mark its observance
upon the whole course of His life; thus
He often says, He did not come to do His Own will,
but that of His Heavenly Father.

St. Francis de Sales


GOD, ALWAYS! SATANNEVER! 

PROTEST the "Hail Satan?" Movie

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. John Baptist de Rossi

A nobleman and his wife vacationing in Voltaggio, and impres...

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St. John Baptist de Rossi

Giovanni Battista de Rossi was born in the Piedmontese village of Voltaggio, in the diocese of Genoa, and was one of four children. His parents, of modest means, were devout and well esteemed.

A nobleman and his wife vacationing in Voltaggio, and impressed with the ten-year-old John Baptist, obtained permission from his parents to take him to live with them and be trained in their house in Genoa.

After three years, hearing of his virtues, John’s cousin, Lorenzo Rossi, Canon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, invited him to join him in Rome. Thus John Baptist entered the Roman Jesuit College at thirteen. Despite episodes of epilepsy, brought on by excessive zeal in imposing harsh penances upon himself, he was granted a dispensation and was ordained at the age of twenty-three.

From his student days he loved visiting hospitals. Now, as a priest there was much more he could offer suffering souls. He particularly loved the Hospice of St. Galla, a night shelter for paupers. There he labored for forty years. He also worked at the hospital of Trinita dei Pellegrini and extended his assistance to other poor such as cattlemen who came to market at the Roman forum. He had a great pity for homeless women and girls and from the little that he made in Mass stipends, and the 400 scudi sent to him by the Pope, he rented a refuge for them.

John Baptist was also selected by Pope Benedict XIV to deliver courses of instruction to prison officials and other state servants. Among his penitents was the public hangman.

In 1731 Canon Rossi obtained for his cousin a post of assistant priest at St. Maria in Cosmedin. He was a great confessor to whom penitents flocked, and as a preacher, the saint was also in demand for missions and retreats.

On the death of Canon Rossi, Fr. John inherited his canonry, but applied the money attached to the post to buy an organ, and hire an organist. As to the house, he gave it to the chapter and went to live in the attic.

In 1763 St. John Baptist’s health began to fail, and he was obliged to take up residence in the hospital of Trinita dei Pellegrini. He expired after a couple of strokes on May 23, 1764 at sixty- six years of age. He died so poor that the hospital prepared to pay for his burial. But the Church took over and he was given a triumphant funeral with numerous clergy and religious, and the Papal choir, in attendance.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

Fatima custodians often meet people who know little or nothi...

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Visiting a Muslim Family

Fatima custodians often meet people who know little or nothing about the Catholic faith.  A few years ago I had such an experience in Florida. 

Upon arrival at the home, an elderly grandmother with a group of young children and teens met me at the door. The group was sullen as I brought in the statue, set up the projector and began the introduction.  Unknown to me, I was speaking to a Muslim family.

At a certain point, one of the teens vehemently objected to the phrase “Mother of God” and accused me of blasphemy since Jesus was not God. Quickly the visit became an interesting defense of the Catholic faith. After answering several more objections to the best of my ability, my Islamic hosts allowed me to explain the Rosary, with an attentive audience, I proceeded to pray alone.

After reciting the Rosary, the attendants and I listened to the hostess, who explained why she had assembled the family for the visit.

Several weeks ago, she was hospitalized for a serious illness. She felt alone and abandoned until one day a stranger walked in with a bouquet of flowers, placed it by the bedside and stayed to listen to all of her concerns. The stranger returned repeatedly to renew her flowers, fix her pillows and talk to her. Then the Muslim mother questioned the stranger’s motives, explaining that her own family wasn’t visiting her. The stranger replied that she was a Catholic and Catholics are encouraged to visit the sick.

Requesting more information about the Catholic faith, the mother was told that it was against hospital policy to discuss religion and therefore she would have to search for information on her own.

Upon her release from the hospital, my hostess entered a nearby Catholic church and encountered an America Needs Fatima flier about Our Lady of Fatima. She called the number and set up a home visit to which she then invited her family.

I may never know what has happened to the family, but I regularly pray that their interest in Catholicism has brought them into the folds of the Catholic Church. Of one thing I am certain: Our Lady will never abandon those who invite her into their homes.

By Michael Chad Shibler

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Fatima custodians often meet people who know little or nothing about the Catholic faith.  A few years ago I had such an experience in Florida

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