This article is an excerpt from The Message of Lourdes eBook by Christy Wilkens. Download the full eBook, with images, reflections, and prayers for each of the seven statements, at http://faithfulnotsuccessful.com.
On February 11, 1858, in a small French village, a teenaged peasant named Bernadette set out to gather firewood with her sister and her friend in the nearby forest, which lay at the foothills of the towering Pyrenees mountains. They paused at a place called Massabielle, a cliff used as the town garbage dump at the edge of the Gave River. Bernadette paused to remove her socks and shoes, while the other girls crossed the river without her.
Alone on the riverbank, Bernadette heard a rush of wind. When she glanced up, she saw what she later described in her native patois as uo petito damizelo, a small young lady, standing in a niche in the rock face.
The "young lady" would appear to Bernadette 18 times that year. Each time, more and more seekers accompanied the teenage visionary. After a running spring was uncovered at the direction of the lady, miraculous healings began to occur among those who had touched the water. Eventually, it became clear that the lady was in fact the Blessed Mother herself—although Bernadette was careful never to claim so directly, even under torturous questioning by church and political authorities.
A Timeless Message
Over the weeks of the apparitions, Our Lady of Lourdes spoke many times, but even as the crowds swelled to immense numbers, only Bernadette could hear her words (or see her). Bernadette faithfully reported the statements, and they have been handed down through history for 160 years, to us today. Although, at first glance, the words seem bounded in time—pleasantries shared between two kindred souls, or specific instructions for the local priests and bishops—there is another layer of the message that is timeless.
These words and ideas are one important part of what has made Lourdes the great and holy pilgrimage site that it is today; over six million pilgrims a year visit the famous grotto and its healing spring, which still flows today. I describe our own family’s experience at Lourdes in my forthcoming book from Ave Maria Press, Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith.
As with every Marian apparition, Our Lady may have chosen one particular person (or a small number) as her partner in conversation, but her message itself was for the whole world.
She is our mother, too, and her words are for all her children.
The Seven Statements
1: What I have to say to you does not need to be written down.
2: Would you do me the kindness of coming here for fifteen days?
3: I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the other.
4: Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners! Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!
5: Go to the spring, drink of it, and wash yourself there.
6: Come here in procession and build a chapel here.
7: I am the Immaculate Conception.
Behold Your Mother
Wherever she has appeared, throughout the world and throughout history, Mary has spoken a universal message. Each message is bounded in chronos, the ticking-clock space-time of our human world, but each one also transcends human time. They are messages from kairos, the eternal now of God’s heavenly kingdom.
We dismiss them as irrelevant at our peril. It is always perilous to disregard the words of a good mother, and the Blessed Mother is, by definition, the very best of mothers.
At Lourdes, the particular song she sings carries a theme of restoration. She calls to us, as an earthly mother might call to her tearful child whose knuckles were skinned in a playground fight, because she wants to bind up our wounds.
Let’s revisit her chronos words and rephrase them in that kairos light.
Come to me.
This might hurt a little.
Say you’re sorry.
Pray with us.
God loves you, my child, and so do I.
How beautiful a gift we were given, in that tiny, backwater village nearly two centuries ago. God sent us a Mother who opened a new pathway to His lasting healing, a soul-cleansing healing that occasionally shows up on the outside of the body too, as a signpost to others of the miraculous wonders of which He is capable.
Our Lady of Lourdes reminds us, with simple and straightforward words, that following these most basic rules of self-care brings forth life-giving love.
Christy Wilkens, wife and mother of six, is an armchair philosopher who lives in Austin, TX. She writes about disability, faith, doubt, suffering, community, and good reads. Her first book, Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith, a memoir about a Lourdes pilgrimage with her husband and son, will be released by Ave Maria Press in 2021. Find her at faithfulnotsuccessful.com.