Wednesday, December 7, 2016



Photo: R. Massaro Lourdes, France

(Please enjoy this most requested post on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Our Lady reveals herself to St. Bernadette:  

" I Am the Immaculate Conception"

It has been written that St. Bernadette desired to be a Carmelite nun but because of her poor health was not able to enter the Order. She eventually entered the Sisters of Charity at Nevers, France.

During the apparitions at Lourdes, very few words were spoken between St. Bernadette and Our Lady. Bernadette seemed to be a natural contemplative, she was quiet and reflective, she had an open heart and listened-ready to do the will of God. 

At the first apparition on Feb. 11, 1858, Bernadette heard the call of Our Lady, not only in the physical sign of Our Lady's impending appearance by the wind shaking the the trees, but in her heart. Bernadette described that she felt a "call" to go to the Grotto. It was an interior spiritual prompting of the Holy Spirit that attracted her to the Grotto to meet Our Lady in the later apparitions. Bernadette had to be a person of prayer to be attentive to this "call" and to respond to it.

Bernadette's meeting with Our Lady of Lourdes reflects the experience of the Prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel. The holy Prophet encountered God in a soft whispering sound that spoke directly to his heart. For Bernadette, the Grotto becomes the mountain where she meets God through Our Lady, where she learns to pray, where she is given the gift of contemplation.

The 18th and final apparition of Our Lady to Bernadette took place on July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Our Lady remained silent during the final meeting with Bernadette. They looked at each other with love. This holy exchange is a beautiful example of perfect contemplation, where love needs no words.

As Carmelites, the main point of our rule is allegiance to Jesus Christ, and an offshoot of that main point is to imitate the Virgin Mary who pondered the Word in her heart. We can see in the life of St. Bernadette how Mary led her to contemplation.

Let's start at the beginning: In the first apparition, Mary shows herself to Bernadette, smiles at her but remains silent.

Do you remember your first encounter with Christ? The moment he first called you to intimate friendship with him? How difficult was it to pray from the heart for the first time?

Second Apparition: Bernadette throws holy water at the apparition. People tell her it could be the devil.

After the invitation from Christ, we begin to doubt that we are worthy to be loved by Him. We ask ourselves, "Is this from God?" Family members and friends wonder what is going on with us!

Third Apparition: Our Lady asks Bernadette, "Would you do me the kindness of coming here for fifteen days?" "I do not promise you happiness in this life but in the other."

Our Lady asks us to remain faithful in prayer, faithful to our commitment as Carmelites to seek the face of God in prayer on behalf of the Church. We must die to ourselves and experience joy in God alone. Worldly things no longer attract us.

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Apparitions: Bernadette and Our Lady deepen their friendship. They pray together and even laugh together.

In the life of Carmel, our prayer life becomes deeper when we trust in the Lord as little children. We run to him and tell him everything; the joys and sorrows of our life. He is there to cry and laugh with us.

Eighth Apparition through the Twelfth: Our Lady with an air of sadness repeats: "penance, penance, penance." "Pray to God for sinners. " She asks Bernadette to kiss the ground for eat the grass for sinners.

Now that our relationship with our Beloved has grown stronger he asks us to suffer with him, to take up our cross after him. The life of a Carmelite is a penitential one. Sometimes as Secular Carmelites we forget this aspect of our rule. We may adhere to the required prayer and spiritual reading, but do we really desire to mortify ourselves for the love of Christ?

Our Rules states:
The Secular Carmelite highly esteems the invitation of the Lord to deny himself and willingly to take up his cross daily and follow Him; he will, therefore, gladly mortify himself in union with the sacrifice of Christ, remembering, too, our Holy Mother Teresa's remark that "prayer cannot be accompanied by self-indulgence."

The Secular Carmelite will be especially faithful to the Church's penitential discipline. He will also, in accordance with the promptings of grace, and as far as circumstances will allow, make use of other means of mortification, particularly on those days and at those seasons that have a distinctive penitential character.

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Apparitions: Our Lady asks Bernadette to "go tell the priests that people should come here in procession and that a chapel should be built here."

Bernadette is sent on mission. We, too, as Carmelites, through our individual and community apostolates, share in the missionary life of the Church. Whatever that may be, making rosaries, helping the poor and the sick, teaching others about our Catholic faith-we must step outside of ourselves, for our vocation is not just for our personal sanctification. Our gifts are given to us to benefit the entire Church.

Sixteenth Apparition: Feast of the Annunciation. Our Lady reveals her name: "I am the Immaculate Conception."

Bernadette has been faithful to Our Lady's request, to her commitment to meet our Lady for fifteen days. She is rewarded.

Bernadette reminds me of the apostle John at the foot of the Cross in which Our Lord entrusts Mary, his mother, to his home. Now, Bernadette, stands before Our Lady at the Grotto on behalf of the Church ready and eager to hear her beautiful name: Immaculate Conception!

Seventeenth Apparition: Miracle of the candle. Bernadette experiences spiritual ecstasy.

Our Lady has led Bernadette on a spiritual pilgrimage, the road of deep prayer. Now the little pilgrim, Bernadette, experiences God with her whole being, she experiences spiritual ecstasy. She has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.

In their writings, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa explain in great detail about deep mystical experience in prayer. We know that this type of gift is just that-pure gift, infused by God. As St. Teresa says, it cannot be produced by one's own effort. St. Bernadette experienced deep prayer through the help and guidance of Our Lady. Let us imitate the humble virgin, Bernadette, and let Our Lady lead us safely up the mountain, to perfect contemplation, to union with Christ. 

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie, OCDS

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