“The Grotto was My Heaven”
Lourdes deeply moved me. It’s been 3 days since our visit there and my heart, soul, and mind are still processing it. I will be the first to admit that I tend to like the clear cut teachings of the church and keep a certain distance between my faith and anything that might be “unproven” in the eyes of the Church. But Lourdes is different. For one, the Church has declared it to be true. The Blessed Mother truly did visit St. Bernadette 18 times between Feb. 11, 1858 and July 16, 1858. And the Church in her wisdom tells us that we are allowed to disagree with this statement. It is not a necessary tenet of our faith as other doctrines are. And as St. Bernadette stated: “My job is just to give you the message. It’s up to you whether you believe in it or not.”
The first words Mary spoke to St. Bernadette were: “Would you be so kind as to come here?” And the messages that continued were all a calling into a deeper relationship with Christ and a call to pray. It was and is a call to Love and a pointing towards Christ. This is the message of Lourdes. Within several hours of arriving in Lourdes, my thoughts of it were that it was almost as I imagined Heaven would look like– except that of course all the sick would be perfectly healed! There is such a peace and beauty to the place. For one, Lourdes is nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains- one of the most exquisite mountain ranges I have seen. Then there is the river cutting through the town, and the picturesque bridges arching across the waterways. And there are so many beautiful Churches! But, its the people and the spirit that most speak to the place. I can’t begin to describe what its like to see hundreds of people sick and dying being wheeled around in carts. And they have all made this pilgrimage to seek healing– be it physical and/or spiritual. They come in faith. They come to the waters. They heed Mary’s request that she made to Bernadette. “Won’t you come to the waters?” But, the truth is that we are all in wheelchairs, whether they are visible or not. We are all sinners. We are all seeking a peace and comfort that the world cannot offer. We come in faith– trusting that Mary will cover us with her mantle, dry our tears, and gently point us to Christ– who provides a peace and security that this world will never offer. And I guess in the one precious day that I spent in Lourdes, I truly understood what it means to go on pilgrimage– to come to a place where the soul can rest in Christ… and know that while the body will pass away, our souls will live forever… and the peace that we are experiencing in Lourdes is only a tiny glimmer of the peace that will captivate our whole beings in Heaven. And I realized that the millions of prayers that are offered up for ourselves and others in this place help sustain the world. No wonder God chooses to consecrate sacred places as a respite and sanctuary in the world! The human person longs to make the physical act of travelling to a place, leaving one’s troubles behind, bathing in healing waters, lighting candles that are symbols of one’s prayers lifting up to heaven, and to join with the thousands of others in faith, prayer, and supplication to our very Maker and Creator. I am at a loss for words to describe the peace in my soul from experiencing one day in Lourdes. Have my prayers for healing been answered for myself and loved ones? I don’t know. They very well might be. But, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my heart grew in love for my Lord and Savior and a new peace entered my soul. I was able, even if for a moment, to surrender and abandon my life and heart to God. And I want to go back. And I understand how whether one is living or dying, coming to the waters is a good thing. As St. Bernadette said: “The Grotto was my heaven”… her heaven on Earth.
– Kathryn Diener