Next week we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, on November 1st and the Feast of All Souls, or the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed on Monday, November 2nd. Who are the saints? How did these women and men distinguish themselves in the life of the church? First and foremost, they were ordinary people who lived lives not far different from our own, but who had an encounter with the living God, with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Our church calendar follows the lives of the saints, celebrating their faith, celebrating their willingness to respond to God in ways they probably never expected. Over the course of our pilgrimage we walked in the footsteps of Saints James, Bernadette, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross, and Elizabeth of Portugal to name a few.
Imagine what it must have been like for 14 year old Bernadette of Soubirous who was out gathering firewood with her sister and a friend at the grotto of Massabielle, when she saw the first vision of what she termed “a small young lady” standing in a niche in a rock. She was the daughter of a miller and one of eleven children, who was not well educated but had a deep faith. On the one hand she was very obedient to her parents, but also responsive the request of the “lady” to come to the grotto. She was forbidden to go to the grotto and received permission to visit the grotto. As word spread that Bernadette saw an apparition, only she saw the lady, more people from the surrounding area were present for subsequent appearances.
During the 13th apparition the lady asked Bernadette: “Go, tell the priests to come here in procession and to build a chapel here.” Needless to say the local priest was not cooperative, forbidding her to go to the grotto, unless the lady would give her name. Finally, after many requests the lady told Bernadette “I am the Immaculate Conception;” a title and a word that a girl like her would not have known on her own.
One hundred fifty-seven years later, Lourdes is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the world, where people willingly come to seek healing of mind, body or spirit through prayer, the baths, or presence. More often than not, people come away with a new sense of peace, aware that God is present to them with tender love and mercy whether they are literally healed or not. Only 67 confirmed healings have been recorded that cannot be explained by the medical community.
What does Bernadette offer us, she offers us hope that there is always more to life than we can readily experience or know. Lourdes is a place that affords people, hope, affords them a new perspective on their life, and often leads them to greater trust and faith.
The saints are men and women, boys and girls who fall in love with the Lord and are willing to follow Him. We too are saints on the journey, discovering the action of God’s grace in the daily events of our lives.
Blessings, Father Larry Hendel