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James Martin, S.J.February 11, 2008
Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the appearances of Our Lady to St. Bernadette Soubirous in the Grotto of Lourdes, the small town in Southern France that has become one of the church’s main sites of pilgrimage. It has become fashionable in recent years, especially after Vatican II, to downplay the miraculous, the supernatural or the otherworldly aspects of our Catholic faith--at least among a few Catholics. And so Lourdes can be a difficult thing for some Catholics to grasp. Apparitions? Voices? Miracles? Are these things, people ask me, consistent with a mature faith? I’ve never had that problem. Or those questions. I consider myself a rational person, and a fairly well educated Catholic, who is also not a literalist in any way when it comes to things like, say, Scripture. But, in my theological worldview, I’ve always believed that we need to be exceedingly careful about saying what God can and cannot do, and how God does and does not act. Or, worse, how God should act or not act. That’s one of the things that landed the scribes and the Pharisees in so much trouble. For me the story of the apparitions of Mary to St. Bernadette are easy to believe. If God can create the world and raise his son from the dead, then something like Lourdes is rather simple by comparison, I would think. And having visited Lourdes several times, I’m even more convinced. If that type of logic doesn’t appeal to you, then consider the sworn testimonies of the doctors who attest to the 67 miraculous cures of the pilgrims who have been travelling there since 1858. (Quite a few of these doctors are not Catholic, by the way.) Or read the story of Bernadette Soubirous, the unlettered girl who was chosen for these visions. (Franz Werfel’s "The Song of Bernadette" is a good place to start. Father Rene Laurentin’s biographies and collections of her letters are even better.) Wholly uninterested during her life in fame or even fortune (quite a feat for someone so poor), she simply told what she had seen in the Grotto. And she was forced to do so over and over, even after she entered the convent. Or, better yet, go to Lourdes. See the pilgrims. Listen to their prayers. Plunge yourself into the cold clear spring water that still flows from the fountain that Bernadette uncovered, at the behest of "the beautiful lady." And then see if you can convince yourself that something miraculous did not happen there.
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