Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes in Pictures
A journey to Lourdes in images along with an inspiring message from Father John Love.
Seventy medical cures have been investigated and officially approved by the Lourdes Office of Medical Assessments. And a “miraculous” healing of cancer, for example, is typically defined as a “suspension of nature” — a malignant tumor vanishes or progressive vision loss is reversed.
But what about the even more bountiful “spiritual” miracles that have transformed the lives of pilgrims who visit the French Marian shrine? What about someone who converts to the faith and receives eternal life?
Father John Love, a chaplain of the Order of Malta and the pastor of Santa Clara Church in Oxnard, Calif., probed this question during a Sept. 4 reflection at the Western Association of the Order of Malta’s pilgrimage to the Marian shrine and is published here.
Illness and the Community of Suffering
Oftentimes the more powerful and lasting miracles of Lourdes have to do with the restoration or creation of strong and lasting faith, sometimes even in the face of the pain and sorrow that come with a serious illness.
How curious and telling that St. Bernadette herself never received the healing for which she so ardently longed in her rather short life of just 35 years. She who was the recipient of many visions and locutions never really saw the fruits of healing grace as she soon left Lourdes to escape unwanted attention and to learn to read and write French.
St. Bernadette would eventually enter a convent in Nevers in central France, never to return to Lourdes again to see her family. She would not be healed of the physical ailments which had plagued her since childhood. Although she herself was not miraculously cured, St. Bernadette is declared a saint of the Church today associated with healing because, in her humility and goodness, she received something even greater for which she longed: the miracle of spiritual healing.
One of the most insidious effects of illness is not the physical effects it has upon our body, but the harmful effects it has on our spirit and faith in God. Illness can do many things to us, but one of the most serious consequences is that it sometimes alienates and separates us from our loved ones, our friends and our associates, and sometimes even distances us from our loving God.
When we are sick and going through medical treatment we feel alone and sometimes bitter, as though no one can exactly understand what we are going through. And it is true. I cannot attempt to describe your own suffering and pain which is sometimes so immense and so very frightening. But when you are with others who are suffering, you begin to see that you are not the only one who lives in pain.
In a sense, through illnesses and failures and sin and dejection, you and I form a sort of secret “communion of the suffering church.” You and I need each other to understand this communion. A malade [French term for the Lourdes pilgrim seeking healing] told me the other day, “Father, you know I am not bitter about my illness. I now realize here at Lourdes with other malades who are sicker than me that my illness was the only way that Jesus could truly speak to my heart and bring about a true and lasting faith.”
To this I would add something that we may not often realize: The pilgrimage to Lourdes may or may not grant the personal miracle you pray for, but the fact is right now, here in this breakfast room, you are experiencing a far greater miracle: a miracle of the union and love of former strangers four days ago who now love and care for you and understand you, and who join with you in your suffering. So, even if your body may not be healed, you are already spiritually healed and transformed sacramentally and through a special communion with Jesus. In your illness, Christ binds himself to you in a unique and very personal way.
If I may speak for the Knights and Dames and the chaplains here who serve you, I think the reason we want you here in Lourdes and in our Malta family is not because we naively expect you to come home perfectly healthy. We know that so many of you are very sick, and perhaps your own prognosis is not very good. But, we do want you to have the reward of a spiritual miracle; the gift of knowing that in your illness, your acceptance and witness to suffering is so important and counts for something truly great.
This week, you show us though your example that you are greater than disease and disorder. Your own strength in time of trial gives us all in the secret communion of the suffering Church reason to rejoice to declare that Christ and his Mother Mary are present in our midst.
Thank you being with us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
St. Bernadette, pray for us!