O ever immaculate Virgin, Mother of mercy, health of the sick, refuge of sinners, comfort of the afflicted, you know my wants, my troubles, my sufferings; deign to cast upon me a look of mercy. By appearing in the Grotto of Lourdes, you were pleased to make it a privileged sanctuary, where you dispense your favors, and already many sufferers have obtained the cure of their infirmities, both spiritual and corporal. I come, therefore, with the most unbounded confidence, to implore your maternal intercession. Obtain, O loving Mother, the grant of my requests. I will endeavor to imitate your virtues, that I may one day share your glory, and bless you in eternity. Amen.
This Sunday is the commemoration of Our Lady’s apparitions to a fourteen-year-old girl, St. Bernadette Soubirous, in Lourdes, France in 1858. This is also the last Sunday in Ordinary Time before we enter into the holy season of Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday on 14 February this year.
The connection between the two events is not accidental. The Mother of God delivered her messages from heaven regarding mankind’s need to do penance for the many sins committed against God’s love, mercy, and justice. In one of her messages, the Blessed Virgin said to Bernadette: “Penance, penance, penance. Pray for sinners.” The message of Lourdes, beyond the miraculous waters that have brought physical healing to countless pilgrims since 1858, is the conversion to Jesus Christ that God the Father desires most of all. The healing waters are a reminder to us of Jesus’ own declaration in the Temple, “Let anyone who thirsts come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him’” (John 7:38).
Our world today is still desperately in need of the source of Living Water, Jesus Himself. When the Blessed Mother appeared in 1858, the Western world was going through a modern revolution industrially and governmentally. This was the age of Marx and Freud. Modern man declared arrogantly that, in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “God is dead.” The modern world was dominated largely by science as a new “god” whereby truth and reality only existed in things that could be empirically proven.
Today’s world harbors much of this same secular philosophy. However, the needs of man have not changed. Our human nature lives in conflict internally when our lives are immersed in sinful pursuits and actions. Despite many people declaring otherwise today, God is not dead and neither is the individual’s soul which is always in need of communion with God and reaches out for the healing it needs.
Where can people find the solace and peace that they desire? Only one Person can satisfy our longings and our needs because He is the source of all that is good, holy, and pure. Each one of us is meant to reflect that life of Jesus Christ within our own lives. Only then are our souls at rest in God because then the other relationships in our life conform to Him. Mary’s message to the so-called “modern world” that had cast off God is that we have forgotten who we truly are and to whom we are made when we ignore God.
However, God is forever faithful to His covenant with us. He allows at various times in history that His Mother come to remind us to turn back to God and thereby find ourselves again. Mercy, despite what many people may think what it means, always involves God’s call to us to change our lives and turn back to Him. It means that we leave our old life, as it were, behind and make a new beginning in Jesus Himself. Mercy does not mean that we do whatever we want and presume that God will be happy with any way that we want to live. If that were true, the crucifixion would have been a completely useless exercise on Jesus’ behalf. The totality of Jesus’ suffering was meant, among other things, to show us visibly how ugly and offensive sin truly is to God and to one another.
Lent, therefore, affords us the opportunity to examine our lives interiorly to see what we may need to give up or to begin doing. Lent breaks us out of our spiritual inertia. We begin on Ash Wednesday by doing what Our Lady spoke of: Penance, penance, penance. We discipline our body and mind by fasting and abstaining on this day and all Fridays in Lent. We go through a thorough Examination of Conscience to prepare for a worthy Confession. We willingly offer up sacrifices for our sins and for our loved ones. We pray the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, or the Stations of the Cross. We do acts of mercy and compassion for others that we might not otherwise do (hopefully establishing a good habit to extend beyond Lent). Lent, in other words, is about positively forming our life with God’s grace into the life of Jesus, who promises to give us His help, comfort, and genuine mercy to live His life abundantly.
The consolation that the Blessed Mother offered the world through her messages at Lourdes and is still present to some physically in its waters and the consolation that the Church offers through the sacramental healing available in a profound manner during Lent are parallel aspects of Jesus’ continuing presence to a world fully in need of Him. The world will always need what only He can offer. We are blessed that Jesus is most generous in His invitation to come to Him and receive His very life. May this Lent be a blessed and holy season as we take up our crosses in a renewed way for love of God Himself.
May you have a most blessed and holy week!
Fr. Shawn William Cutler
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