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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 April 19, 2021

He asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise....

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April 19

 

A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life. 
A man without possessions asked a poor man for a Kingdom. 
A thief at the door of death asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise. 
 
One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul 
purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of Redemption. 
 

But in the Divine plan it was a thief 
who was the escort of the King of kings 
into Paradise.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

 
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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Alphege of Canterbury

Alphege hastened to the defense of his people, and pressing...

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St. Alphege of Canterbury

As a youth, Alphege became a monk in the monastery of Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, England, afterwards an anchorite and later an abbot in a monastery in Bath. At thirty, at the insistence of St. Dunstan and to his great consternation, he was elected Bishop of Winchester. As bishop, he maintained the same austerity of life as when a monk. During his episcopate he was so generous toward the poor that there were no beggars left in the diocese of Winchester.

Alphege served twenty-two years as bishop of this see and was then translated to the see of Canterbury at the death of Archbishop Aelfric.

During this period, England suffered from the ravages of the Danes who joined forces with the rebel Earl Edric, marched on Kent and laid siege to Canterbury. When the city was betrayed, there was a terrible massacre, men and women, old and young, dying by the sword.

The Archbishop hastened to the defense of his people, and pressing through the crowd begged the Danes to cease the carnage. He was immediately seized, roughly handled, and imprisoned.

A mysterious and deadly plague broke out among the Danes, and, despite the fact that the holy prelate had healed many of their own with his prayers and by giving them blessed bread, the Danes demanded an exorbitant ransom for his release. As the Archbishop protested that the country was too poor to pay such a price, he was brutally assassinated.

St. Alphege was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to die a violent death. In 1023, the martyr's body was translated with great ceremony to Canterbury accompanied by the Danish King Canute. Although he did not die directly in defense of the Faith, St. Alphege is considered a martyr of justice.

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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