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 May 23, 2005 VOL. 43, NO. 11Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

At Lourdes we witness
God’s transforming power

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

About two weeks ago I received from the Lord the grace of making a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

I first learned about our Lady’s appearances to St. Bernadette when I was in the first grade. In 1954, to commemorate the centennial of the foundation of our family’s parish, dedicated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, the community built a Lourdes grotto, a sort of replica of the site upon which the Blessed Mother spoke to the 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous.
And, of course, like so many of you, I had been captivated by the account of Lourdes in the movie “The Song of Bernadette.”

So, when the members of the Order of Malta from our diocese invited me to join them for this pilgrimage, I was only too happy to accept, since I would, at long last, have the opportunity to see and pray at this sacred spot that had been part of my thoughts and prayers since childhood.

The center of the Malta pilgrimage is the “malades,” the sick persons who are the Order’s guests of honor. The knights and dames are there to serve them, to see that they are comfortable and cared for during the whole course of their pilgrimage. I was greatly blessed to be part of this grace-filled company of disciples.

One of the greatest gifts I received on this pilgrimage was hearing the stories of some of the “malades” and their families. They shared with me their stories of the struggles they experienced as a result of the grave illnesses that had so profoundly touched their lives; and with great faith they gave witness to the transforming power of God’s grace that they experienced at Lourdes.

They went hoping for a cure, if that would be in God’s plan. But more than that, they were looking for the Lord to give them peace and joy in bearing their share of the cross, and that grace they received on the pilgrimage.

They told me that this healing, this cure of any bitterness or anger or alienation, was the miracle of Lourdes for them. While they were not necessarily restored to physical health, they were restored to spiritual and human wholeness by their visit to the Lourdes, by their prayer at this holy shrine in the company of other Christians who loved and cared for them.

I was deeply edified by their courageous faith, and came away asking God to give me, too, such unconditional confidence in his loving care.

That the graces which come from being in Lourdes are for everyone is a conviction that was spoken about all through the pilgrimage. As one of the preachers put it: “We are all ‘malades’.” That is to say, we are all in need of healing.

The wound which we all share, whether we are physically ill or physically fit, is the wound that comes from sin and leaves us weakened in our ability to trust God, sometimes to the point of being almost paralyzed in responding to his love.

Everyone knows that Lourdes is a sacred place of healing, but the physical cures are signs of this deeper healing, the healing of our hearts, that the Holy Spirit seeks to work in us all. I can testify that I received just such healing at Lourdes.

My confidence in God’s loving and providential care for me and for all of my priests and people in the Diocese of Oakland was deeply strengthened at Lourdes. Once more, as so many times before, at Lourdes God “helped my unbelief” (Mk 9:24), strengthened my trust that he would lead us through all the trials and challenges that cause me so much anxiety and concern.

The whole precinct about the grotto at Lourdes is beautiful, a place of great peace. Most beautiful, to my mind, is the grotto itself. I was deeply moved every time I went there, and I am particularly thankful that I had the opportunity to offer Mass there.

During the Mass I recalled that this spot was a place were the villagers of Lourdes had been accustomed to throw their refuse. Imagine that. The Holy Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, appeared in a dump. For those who have eyes to see, this is a sign — a sign that what the world thinks of as worthless and fit only to be cast away is, by the power of God’s intervention, made significant and a treasure.

Too many people believe the lie that the trials and failures of their lives are just so much “garbage” that can have nothing to do with their aspirations for happiness and peace.

Our Lady’s appearances at Lourdes were, and continue to be, a proclamation of the good news that the Risen Christ is everywhere, in all the circumstances of our lives – no matter how much they seem like “garbage.”

Life’s trials and failure, when entrusted to God, become a way of triumph, a path to heaven, a step toward paradise, where we will see, as Bernadette did, Christ’s glory, especially as it reflected in the face of his Blessed Mother.

Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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