Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, because on this day, February 11, in 1858, our beautiful Mother Mary appeared to 14 year old St. Bernadette Soubirous for the first time. Our Lady came back to see Bernadette (and Bernadette came to the grotto to see Our Lady) 17 more times, their final meeting here being on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel! How's that for ecumenism?
This feast is very dear to my heart because in high school I got to be Bernadette in a play my senior year. Then a few months later, I visited the campus of Thomas Aquinas College for the first time, and the first Mass I attended there was on Februrary 11, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 40 years ago today! Some years later when St. Thomas and his college and Our Lady had changed me forever, my husband (yes, now I had a husband) interviewed for a teaching job at Christendom College - on Februrary 11th! And then some years after that, I found in the Christendom College library a book (Celine's Memoir of My Sister St. Therese) that led me to another book (Beyond East and West, by John C. H. Wu) that led me to another book (Forever Love by Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, P.I.M.E.) that led me to a wonderful Italian missionary priest (the same Fr NM, P.I.M.E.) who had "met" St. Therese when he served in his youth as an altar boy for Pope Pius XI at St. Therese's beatification and canonization Masses in 1923 and 1925! (That was many years before I met Fr. Maestrini, no longer an entirely young boy when we became friends! Though he was forever impish, like Marcel!)
In short, I love this day, and I love Our Lady of Lourdes and dear St. Bernadette, a little one if ever there was one! And so another little one, Marcel by name, and I were chatting (not much like an apparition nor even like a locution, but much more like me thinking of something and Marcel NOT appearing to say I got it wrong). And here is what I thought of and Marcel tacitly approved, and I'm SO very excited to share it with you, because it's about Our Lady and Our Ladies, so how fitting for the day!
In fact it would be very strange if Marcel had any objections to my idea, because it comes straight from Jesus, Truth Himself. I just had to tweak it a little to make it apply to Mary, but see what you think - I think it works perfectly in this new context!
Jesus is speaking to Marcel on April 23, 1946 (Easter Tuesday that year), and He says in Conversations:
"Why do I have to choose many apostles for the expansion of the reign of my Love? Because it is necessary that there should be some for every category of person. You, for example, you must use a certain manner of speaking, while another will have to use a different one, which responds to the feelings of his audience" (512)
Actually, upon re-reading this passage, I see I don't have to tweak it at all. Our Lady's reign of Love is no different than her Son Jesus' reign of Love - she is only and always about spreading His Love and bringing His Kingdom of Love to all souls (and all souls to it), and so, I'm sure that my idea is just as sensible and brilliant as I thought!
But what is my idea?
Well, I've mentioned in the past that I have friends who find Padre Pio a little scary, and I've often resolved never to give up helping them see how un-scary he is, how very gentle and generous, how assuredly loving and mild, despite those true stories of his yelling at PEOPLE WHO LIED TO HIM in the confessional. Really, as long as you don't intend to lie to Padre Pio in the confessional (too late to do so anyhow!) or snip off a piece of his habit for a relic when he's walking by (too late as well, though had I been there when he was walking by, I'd have been tempted to snip for sure!), as I say, as long as you won't do these things (and you can't now, so you're quite safe) you're in like Flynn with him! And that brings to him everyone you love too!
But somehow I'm getting away from the point . . . which is that like Padre Pio, sometimes certain Our Ladies can seem a bit scary. But unlike with Padre Pio, I've realized that I'm perfectly fine with allowing Our Lady of Fatima, for instance, to fend for herself, with the help of Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia (who are the ones who got me to fall in love with her, and come to think of it they started on February 11, 2013!).
Why this disappearance of my previous compulsion to convince timid souls that Our Lady of Fatima was just as full of love and gentleness as the other Our Ladies? And yes, despite my goofiness, I do realize they are more or less the same one, single, uniquely wonderful, loving and lovable Mother of God, but isn't it fun that she is so very multifarious?!
Well, though . . . what did Jesus just tell us?
"Why do I have to choose many apostles for the expansion of the reign of my Love? Because it is necessary that there should be some for every category of person."
I think that means that Our Lady comes to us in many guises (and sometimes seeming disguises) so that she might "use a certain manner of speaking" here, to suit the needs of her children, while over there, she "will have to use a different one, which responds to the feelings of her audience."
Wowie zowie! Isn't this awesome? Our Lord is so infinitely solicitous, so tenderly concerned with each of our souls and our feelings - that He is determined, as is His so beautiful Mother who in a certain sense taught Him these sweet manners, to come to us each in a way we can best recognize and receive Him!
And that makes sense because with the proliferation of Our Ladies, there is the perfect representation of our dear Mother to meet the needs of each of her children.
I have long found this to be true of St. Therese as well, not that it takes away from who she really is, but like St. Paul she was concerned to be all things for all men, and so there were times when, with her novices for instance, she would speak to one in an entirely different way than she spoke to another. Celine made sure to explain in the beginning of her Memoir of My Sister St. Therese that as Fr. Pichon (the Martin family's spiritual director) used to say (and I think he followed St. John of the Cross in this), "There as many differences between souls as between faces." So, Celine warned, because she wanted to share absolutely all Therese's counsels to the novices - but these counsels were different depending on the recipient's temperament and disposition - the reader should (in a familiar modern saying) "Take what you like and leave the rest." Some counsels will suit and help one reader, while other counsels could be detrimental.
So, too, I think we ought to follow our natural attractions and not worry when one particular Our Lady speaks to our heart - and another doesn't!
Marcel, for instance, loved Our Lady of Perpetual Help, an Our Lady particularly confided to the Redemptorist Order to which he belonged. Therese loved the Virgin of the Smile - the representation of Our Lady in a family statue which Our Lady had used to smile upon her and cure her of her childhood illness. My Fr. Maestrini loved the image of Our Lady of Confidence (whose bookmark fortuitously marks the page from which I quoted Our Lord's words about His needing different apostles, and which I've extended to different Our Ladies).
Luckily none of us really has to choose - we can receive Our Lady's love from whichever of her appearances appeals to us most, even on a given day - and since we are here liturgically at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes, I have something special to share about her which I hope you too will find irresistible.
It comes from one of Our Lady's children who felt the deep meaning of Lourdes and expressed it much better than I can: namely, St. Teresa of Jesus of the Andes. She lived in Chile and died a little more than 100 years ago in 1920, and like Therese and Marcel and Elizabeth of the Trinity she burned out young due to the ardor of her and Jesus' love. She was only in the Carmel (for yes, she was another young Carmelite nun when she died) for 9 months, dying when she was 19, and shooting to heaven straight into the arms of Jesus and Mary. But here is what she wrote when she was 17, and I have to agree with every word. It sums up the true Immaculate Heart and attraction of all Our Ladies exactly!
From her Spiritual Diary:
Lourdes, Mary, Mother Full of Sweetness; February 12, 1917
The day before and yesterday we went to Lourdes [the Grotto of the Virgin of Lourdes in Santiago]. Lourdes! This word alone causes the deepest chords to vibrate in the Christian, the Catholic.
Lourdes! Who doesn’t feel moved when pronouncing that word! It means Heaven in this exile.
The word bears under its mantle of mystery whatever great things the Catholic heart is capable of feeling. Her name causes past memories to be taken away and deeply touches the intimate feelings of our soul. It contains joy, superhuman peace, whence the pilgrim, fatigued by the sorrowful journey of life, can find rest; can without fear put down his baggage, which is our human miseries, and open his mouth to receive the water of consolation and comfort. It is where the tears of the poor are mixed with the tears of the rich, where they meet only a Mother who is gazing on them and smiling on them. And in that celestial gaze and smile there gush forth sobs from all breasts so that their hearts are filled with happiness and they cannot pull themselves away. It makes them hope and love the eternal and the divine.
Yes, Mother, you are the celestial Madonna who guides us. You allow heavenly rays to fall from your maternal hands. I didn’t believe such happiness could exist on earth; yesterday my heart, while thirsting for it, found it. My soul was ecstatic at your virginal feet, listening to you. You were speaking and your maternal language was so tender. It was from heaven, almost divine.
In seeing you so pure, so tender, and so compassionate, who would not be encouraged to unburden his intimate sufferings to you? Who would not ask you to be his star on this stormy sea? Who is there who would not cry in your arms without instantly receiving your immaculate kisses of love and comfort? If he be a sinner, your caresses will soften him. If one of your devoted ones, your presence would enkindle the living flame of divine love. If he be poor, you with your powerful hand will aid him and show him his true homeland. If rich, you will sustain him with your breath against the dangers of his very agitated life. If one is in affliction, you with your tearful gaze will show him the cross and on it your Divine Son. Who will not find balm for his pains by considering the torments of Jesus and Mary? The sick man finds in your maternal heart the water of salvation that allows your enchanting smile to blossom forth, and makes him smile with love and happiness.
Yes, Mary, you are Mother of the entire universe. Your heart is filled with sweetness. At your feet let the priest prostrate himself with the same confidence as the virgin in order to find in your arms the fullness of your love. The rich as well as the poor can find in your heart their heaven. The afflicted as well as the happy can find on your mouth a celestial smile. The sick as well as the healthy can find caresses from your sweet hands. And, finally, sinners like myself find in you a protecting Mother who can crush beneath her immaculate feet the head of the dragon. And in your eyes I see mercy, pardon, and a shining lamp to keep me from falling into the muddy waters of sin.
Yes, my Mother. At Lourdes I found heaven. God was on the altar surrounded by angels and you, from the concave of the rock, offered Him the cries of the multitude kneeling before your altar. You asked Him to hear the supplications of the people banished in this valley of tears, while at the same time, together with their hymns, they were offering you their hearts full of love and gratitude.
* * *
I forgot to mention that I had the privilege of going to Lourdes in France when I was a girl. What struck me most was the little "house" of Bernadette and her family at the time of the apparitions. I put "house" in quotes because it was actually an abandoned prison, so damp and rank that it was considered too awful for prisoners! But the Soubirous family needed a place to live, and so they lived there. On the wall (in French, but my angel helped me translate it at the time) were stenciled the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world that He might shame the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world that He might shame the strong.
Being foolish and weak myself, like my brother Marcel, I'm charmed to think that God chooses the likes of me, of Marcel, of Bernadette, and no doubt of you too, as apostles who have the delight of receiving and sharing His message of love.
And since they really all are one single lovely Our Lady, why not allow the words of one of them to suffice as our meditation for today? From Our Lady's heart (at Guadalupe) to ours:
Hear and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little one:
Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you.
Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance.
Am I not here who am your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of life?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle?
In the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else that you need?
Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.
Or as Jesus assured Marcel, and thus sends to us the message:
"Do not worry! Mary is very happy with us both!" (Conversations, 386)
He is so good, and His kindness is at its most merciful when He gives us all our Our Ladies. I am finishing a novena to Our Lady of Lourdes on her feast, and I ask her to take your intentions (for yourself and those you love, for whatever graces you may need), to her dear Son, Who waits lovingly to fulfill our desires. May Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, bring healing and joy to us all today, and to all those we love, as well as the whole Church and the whole world!
Draw me, dear Mother, we will run!
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