On this very special day on which we recall the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, let us too raise to the Lord, in her own words, the hymn of joy and gratitude: “And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Lk 1:50). […]
The first reading offers us a reflection on the words of the prophet Isaiah who comforted the people of Israel in exile with the prospect of the return to Jerusalem, the Holy City, and with the certainty that, despite all the painful vicissitudes they had experienced, God had not abandoned the people of the covenant and always remained their joy and their comfort: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice” (Is 66:13-14).
Recalling the apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes, we can also apply the words of the ancient prophet to ourselves and to our history: God willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary appear eighteen times to the young Bernadette, from February 11 to July 16, 1858, to leave a message of consolation and love for the Church and for all humanity.
The meaning of earthly life is its heavenly goal
In fact, these apparitions have an ever-valid meaning, which we should preserve as a precious heritage. In the middle of the last century, while rationalism and scepticism were spreading insidiously, Mary, She who believed in the Lord’s word, came to help and confirm the family of believers in the authentic and genuine Christian Faith.
At Lourdes, Mary reminded the world that the meaning of life on earth is its orientation towards Heaven. Like the people of Israel, humanity too is on a journey, and its goal is the heavenly Jerusalem. The words of the prophet Isaiah are valid for people of all times; they are also relevant for us: “you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” The perennial temptation for man, a temptation which modern progress makes especially subtle and alluring, is to limit all his expectations to earth, concentrating his efforts on building an earthly dwelling that is ever more secure and comfortable.
Certainly, Faith does not condemn striving to improve living conditions on earth. Rather, it teaches that such efforts must be seen and interpreted in the perspective of the duty to subdue the earth, entrusted by God to man from the very beginning of his history. What the Faith does not allow is that man consider the earthly stage as the definitive phase of his existence, since it is only a provisional phase to be lived in relation to the true destination, situated beyond time, in the realm of eternity.
Our Lady came to Lourdes to speak to man about “Paradise” so that, while actively working to build a more just and welcoming world, he would not forget to raise his eyes to Heaven to draw from it guidance and hope.
The redemptive value of suffering
The Blessed Virgin also came to remind us of the value of conversion and penance, by presenting anew to the world the core of the Gospel message. She said to Bernadette in her apparition on February 18: “I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next.” She then invited her to pray for sinners, and on February 24 She repeated three times: “Penance, penance, penance!” At Lourdes, Mary points out and underlines the reality of humanity’s redemption from sin through the cross, that is, through suffering. God-made-Man chose to die, innocent, nailed to a cross!
At Lourdes, the Virgin teaches the redemptive value of suffering; it imparts courage, patience, resignation; it sheds light on the mystery of our participation in the Passion of Christ; it raises our interior gaze to the true and complete happiness that Jesus himself has assured us and prepared for us beyond life and history.
Bernadette, who understood Mary’s message perfectly, became a nun in Nevers and, being seriously ill, answered those who suggested that she go to the grotto of Massabielle to be cured: “Lourdes is not for me!” Stricken with severe asthma attacks, she would reply with simplicity to the novice nurse who asked her if her suffering was great: “It is necessary!”
Invitation to humble and confident prayer
Finally, the message of Lourdes concludes with an invitation to prayer: Mary appears in an attitude of prayer, She wants Bernadette to pray the Rosary on her own beads, She asked for a chapel to be built on the site and for people to go there in procession. This recommendation, too, is valid for all time. Our Lady of Lourdes came to tell us, with the authority and goodness of a mother, that for those who effectively want to maintain, strengthen and spread the Christian Faith, humble and confident prayer is necessary. […]
We read in St. Bernadette’s biography that she received her First Communion on Thursday, June 3, 1858. She was asked which pleased her more: to see Our Lady or to have made her First Holy Communion. She replied promptly and intelligently, “There is no point in making comparisons; I only know that both graces filled me with happiness!”
May you too, brothers and sisters, be serene, or rather, happy like Bernadette, because you are sustained by the strength of faith and united to the Eucharistic Jesus and to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary! […]
May Mary Help of Christians be at your side in every circumstance of your life, to keep you on the path that Providence traces out before you day by day in a loving plan whose outcome will be the cause of joy for all eternity. ◊
Excerpts from: ST. JOHN PAUL II.
Homily at the Mass for the sick, 11/2/1987