Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. According to the story, in 1858, Mary apeared 18 times in a grotto near Lourdes to a young peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous.
Mary, speaking in Bernadette’s native dialect, revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception, and repeatedly asked Bernadette to pray, stressing the need for penance and prayer by all. During one of the appearances, Mary told Bernadette to dig on a particular site and when she did, a spring came forth. (Water still flows from the spring today and it is said to have shown healing power.) Mary asked that a chapel be built on the site of the vision, and today, the Lourdes spring and the church built nearby are one of the most popular pilgramage sites in the world.
I’ve commented before on the subject of Mariann apparitions. Many people today react with skepticism and suspicion (even embarassment) to stories like these. And it is doubtless the case that many things people report as apparitions are not. But if we believe in a self-communicating God who continully finds ways to communicate with us – sometimes simply, sometimes dramatically – we have to at least to acknowledge that possibility that God might send our mother Mary as a means of communication with us.
Update: My friend Gerry writes in response to my post: “In his May 13, 1992 letter inaugurating the World Day of Prayer for the Sick, to be celebrated annually on this feast day, John Paul II wrote of maladies and infirmity that they are: ‘… a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding us to see in our sick brother and sister the face of Christ, who by suffering, dying and rising, achieved the salvation of humankind.’ Pilgrims who visit Lourdes are humbled by that impression. When John Paul wrote the letter, he already knew personally and deeply that of which he spoke.”