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The Marvels of Saint Bernadette Header

 By Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira 

 

After reading the life of any saint, we close the book exclaiming, “What a great saint! I did not think something like this could exist.”  Indeed, as long as it is well written, the life of any saint is a unique marvel full of surprises.

The life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous is no exception. She was a French peasant girl from an area of the Pyrenees mountains which, from a certain standpoint, blends together aspects of Spain and France. She looks very French although she has Spanish features. Looking at her authentic pictures (not usually found in churches), we see a person with a slightly squarish face with regular and well-defined features. She has large black eyes with a certain fixed Spanish gaze unlike the quicker and darting French gaze. Her Spanish gaze is penetrating almost to the point of an x-ray. Together with her Spanish nose, her face presents a coherence that really stands out and marks her from top to bottom.

Her mindset is direct and straightforward. She does not mince words. She was a person with very high horizons but had a very simple upbringing, meaning that she was never taught to be reserved or discreet. What she thought, she would come right out and say.

Her whole expression is one of complete detachment. She was completely humble and did not want to be anyone special. Her goal was to go about the service of Our Lady without caring about what others think.

Consider the fact that Saint Bernadette could have become vain when seeing huge crowds gathered to see her speak with Our Lady at the Grotto during the apparitions.  

Bernadette KneelingThis fact is aggravated by the fact that Saint Bernadette was from the countryside where such attention causes a much greater impression. The smaller the town, the more importance one attaches to it.  It is easier for a New Yorker (to use an American example) to criticize New York than for villagers to criticize their own little town. When the mayor of the small village dies, the whole town shows up for the funeral.  The entire village represents the whole world.  It is considered extraordinary.

We might add that this atmosphere of the small countryside village has much more life and is more accommodating than the huge modern-day Babels in which the individual is like a loose grain of sand. In the village, each inhabitant is like the living cell of an organism.  In New York or Sao Paulo, each is like a grain of sand in a huge pile in which each grain weighs on top of the others, and from which every windstorm takes grains far away.

Thus, we can understand what it meant for Saint Bernadette to have the whole town of Lourdes come see her.  It was something extraordinary. However, her reaction was not to become vain. Rather she remained indifferent to the attention. During the whole time, she was completely and naturally herself before everyone.  When called by the police to speak about the revelations, she behaved with extraordinary fearlessness and ease. Toward her parents, the parish priest and other upright people with whom she dealt, and later with her religious superiors, she was a model of respect and obedience.

Thus, we can see in her the spirit of a true ultramontane and Catholic woman.  She is a true saint totally indifferent to the pomp and esteem of this world.  By disregarding everything, she was not disregarded. For if she would have sought the applause of the world, she would not be free to do anything except those actions which would gain her this applause.  She would be forced to play to their tune.  Saint Bernadette Soubirous’ attitude was to be herself.  If the world did not like it, she did not care.  All she cared about was being faithful to the Holy Catholic Church.

When it came to legitimate authorities, her attitude was different.  She took great care to show extreme obedience and respect.  This is because there was a supernatural principle that was involved and not merely the human factor of herself.  She did not care about the ways of the world, but she showed all due care and respect to things with a religious root, which came from God. 

Our Lady of Lourdes StatueSaint Bernadette Soubirous impressed many by her conduct during the apparitions.  She converted countless people simply by the way she made the sign of the cross.  She learned this from Our Lady – the supreme model of friends and worshippers of Jesus Christ – and thus she acquired a love of suffering and of the Cross of Christ.  Hence something of Our Lady’s unction would show in her when she made the sign of the cross.

Even after the apparitions, she edified people as they watched her make the sign of the cross, something we often do haphazardly without attaching due importance to what we are doing.

However, what most deeply impressed people was her whole demeanor during the apparitions.  They perceived she was in contact with something they could not see but came from outside her.

They noted an extraordinary transformation in her.  From a simple peasant girl, she would take on a majesty that impressed everybody.  One lady from high society who saw her during an apparition said she had never seen a girl from the aristocracy with the bearing and stature of Saint Bernadette while speaking to Our Lady.  In other words, because she was dealing with the Queen of Heaven and Earth, this Queen communicated to her something regal, and something of this virtue remained in her soul.

Many people realized that Our Lady was speaking to her, not because they saw Our Lady but because they saw Bernadette as a mirror of Our Lady.  Indeed, during the apparitions, the seer was a kind of Speculum Mariae, or better, Speculum Justitiae.   It is truly admirable to see how Our Lady communicates her virtues to her devotees, who, so to speak, imbibe them from her.  

Bernadette SoubirousWhen a sister at her convent insisted with Sister Bernadette to tell them about the dress Our Lady was wearing when she appeared.  She answered that if they wanted to know the details let them ask Our Lady to come back so they can see for themselves.

This was characteristic of Saint Bernadette’s many picturesque comments.  Her superior often tried to make them less biting and more polite but finally allowed them to go through.  Bernadette’s sayings had a note that was both comic and fiery with a sharp edge that showed her bubbly temperament.

When asked if she was proud of being chosen by Our Lady, she replied: “Who do you think I am? The Blessed Mother picked me because I was the most ignorant one. Had she found someone more ignorant than me she would certainly have chosen her.”

Such a comment was not only humble but also quite true.  Humility is truth.  Our Lady chose her because she was the most ignorant girl in Lourdes.  Before the revelations, she was a good girl but not a saint.  Our Lady chose her because her ignorance was one of the extraordinary arguments to confirm the apparitions.

She was such an ignorant peasant girl that she simply had no means to know about the spiritual things she told the authorities.  She did not have the spiritual background to maintain the attitude she maintained.

Her ignorance was one of the apologetic aspects of Lourdes.

While very lively, Saint Bernadette could easily go unnoticed.  In time, her illness gradually wore her down.  Actually her situation is similar to that of Saint Therese, the Little Flower.  She offered her life as an expiatory victim for sinners, but above all for a mysterious sinner who she did not name and for whom she suffered horribly so he would make amends and be sanctified.  Was it a man of her time or a man to come in the future, whose existence Providence revealed to her?  No one knows.

One biography of Saint Bernadette mentions the fact that Our Lady revealed a secret to her, which she never said anything about.  It seems that it was something related to the identity of that mysterious sinner. Thus the three great apparitions of Our Lady of our times all had secrets: Our Lady of La Salette, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Fatima.

Let us ask Saint Bernadette to obtain for us a great devotion to Our Lady and that she may increasingly communicate Our Lady’s virtues to us.

  


The preceding text is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira gave on April 15, 1966. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. 

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 20, 2019

The devotion to the Eucharist is the most noble, because it...

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November 20

 

The devotion to the Eucharist is the most noble, because
it has God as its object; it is the most profitable for salvation,
because It gives us the Author of Grace;
it is the sweetest, because the Lord is Sweetness Itself.

Pope St. Pius X


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Edmund the Martyr

The barbarian leader, Ingvar, offered to let the King live o...

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St. Edmund the Martyr

Though only about fifteen years old when crowned in 855, Edmund showed himself a model ruler from the first, anxious to treat all with equal justice, and closing his ears to flatterers and untrustworthy informers. In his eagerness for prayer he retired for a year to his royal tower at Hunstanton and learned the whole Psalter by heart, in order that he might afterwards recite it regularly.

In 870 Edmund bravely repulsed the two Danish chiefs, Hinguar and Hubba, who had invaded his dominions. However, they soon returned with overwhelming numbers, and pressed terms upon him which as a Christian he felt bound to refuse. In his desire to avert a fruitless massacre, he disbanded his troops and himself retired towards Framlingham; on the way he fell into the hands of the invaders. Having loaded the king with chains, his captors conducted him to Hinguar, whose impious demands he again rejected, declaring his religion dearer to him than his very life.

His martyrdom took place in 870 at Hoxne in Suffolk. After beating him with cudgels, the Danes tied him to a tree, and cruelly tore his flesh with whips. Throughout these tortures Edmund continued to call upon the name of Jesus, until at last, exasperated by his constancy, his enemies began to discharge arrows at him. This cruel sport was continued until his body had the appearance of a porcupine, when Hinguar commanded his head to be struck off.

From his first burial-place at Hoxne his relics were removed in the tenth century to Beodricsworth, since called Bury St. Edmunds, where arose the famous abbey of that name. His feast is observed November 20, and he is represented in Christian art with sword and arrow, the instruments of his torture.

Weekly Story

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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