Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Our Feast Day and Love in the Modern World

Father John J. Lombardi

Mystical words…The little girl kept repeating them to herself on the way to see the priest: "I am the Immaculate Conception. I am the Immaculate Conception." Those are the words the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes said in identifying herself to Bernadette Soubirous, who didn't want to forget those words while going for her interview with the priest.

He couldn't quite believe it: How could "The Lady" (Mary) say she is the Immaculate Conception-a dogma; an "event" is not a person. But that's what the Lady said, and that is what we believe-She is beautifully Immaculate!

Today, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes on this Holy Mountain we celebrate our Feast day (this Sunday), and also World Day of the Sick. So, just what was the Vision and what are some Lessons of Lourdes?

Bernadette wrote of that encounter: "I heard a fresh noise…Then I was frightened and stood up. I lost all power of speech…I saw at one of the openings of the rock (Grotto) a bush moving as if it were very windy. Almost at the same time there came out of the Grotto a golden colored cloud and soon after a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen before, came and placed herself at the entrance of the opening, above the opening, above the rose bush. She looked at me immediately, smiled and signaled me to advance, as if she had been my Mother. All fear had left me, but I seemed to no longer know where I was. I rubbed my eyes, shut them and opened them, but the Lady was still there smiling at me and making me understand I was not mistaken. Without thinking of what I was doing I took my Rosary in my hands and went on my knees. The Lady made with her hand a sign of approval and herself took into her hands a Rosary which hung on her right arm. She had the appearance of a young girl of sixteen or seventeen. She is dressed in a white robe, girdled at the waist with a blue ribbon which flows down all along her robe. She wears upon her head a veil and her hair flows down below her waist. Her feet are bare but covered by the last folds of her robe except at the point where a yellow rose is upon each of them. She holds in her right arm a Rosary of white beads with a chain of gold shining like the two roses on her feet."

Amidst the ensuing doubts about St. Bernadette's visions and after a thorough investigation of the eighteen apparitions, they were approved. When asked what "the Lady" looked like, St Bernadette responded: "She's the most beautiful lady I've ever seen." Do you pray to "the Lady"-the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes and think often of spiritual beauty? When asked why she received these miraculous visions and messages, while Bernadette herself was not healed of her tuberculosis, she wryly said: "I guess the Lady doesn't want to heal me." Do you offer up your sufferings in union with Jesus and Mary to save souls like Bernadette? In one apparition the Virgin of Lourdes said to Bernadette: "I do not promise to make you happy in this life but in the next." Do you long for Heavenly happiness or try to falsely attain it here on Earth?

The Soubirous family was very poor; in fact, they lived in an old, converted jail cell. Are you trying to build up earthly riches in vain or embrace God in the here-and-now of your simplicity and spiritual poverty? When Bernadette saw the Virgin it was "across the railroad tracks," in a kinda' garbage dump town at Lourdes-that's where the Most Beautiful Woman of the world appeared! Do you find the miraculous in your daily circumstances-in all places and times? Upon seeing the Virgin Mary at the Grotto Bernadette said: Yes, yes! She is there…She welcomes us and is smiling upon us across the barriers." Do you allow Mary to "spiritually appear" to you across the barriers of time and space and your failings, to greet and smile upon you? St Bernadette was a young, poor girl, and the Mother of God appeared to her! Do you have child-like innocence and spiritual poverty-simplicity, so as to have Sacred Encounters with God and His mother? After seeing "The Lady" look distressed at one apparition, Bernadette asked what troubled her, and Mary said: "Pray for sinners," and Bernadette was reassured by a kindly look of the Virgin. Do you pray for the conversion and salvation of sinners?

These are some of the lessons of Lourdes, and they continue today here at our wonderful Shrine where thousands come each year! What are some other lessons?

A man comes up to the Grotto on a "hog"-a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He has no legs and yet is still able to drive his motorcycle, with two artificial-prostheses. He asks for a blessing, and also for prayers for a loved one who died a year ago. He is drawn to Mary's Mountain.

A mother asks me to bless her son Benjamin, age 13, who has autism. I begin to bless him with holy water and he innocently struggles. We take him to the altar and there he struggles again, wrestling-like with his loving dad, and yet receives another blessing. I mention to his parents that they must have a lot of fortitude and they respond: "We come here a lot and we hope Benjamin will talk one day." They showed me the virtues of hope and love in action, in real life. Other pilgrims come for the water-many bring large jugs and kettles for Mary's Mountain Spring-fresh water-for blessing, for drinking and bathing. I hear each month that the water has brought a favor or grace to a sick person. Pilgrims come, too, for the peace, for the natural beauty of Mary's Mountain. So many say: "As soon as you enter the gates of Mary's Grotto there is so much peace here."

Let us celebrate the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes' great beauty and love for her children. Let us celebrate the fact that Fr John DuBois began the Grotto in 1805 on Mary's Mountain. Let us celebrate the building of the replica of the Grotto by seminarians of Mt St Mary's in 1865 for our edification, devotion and prayer! Let us celebrate Monsignor Hugh J Phillips who restored and opened the Grotto to all in the 1960's for the millions of pilgrims who would come here for prayer, peace and The Lessons of Lourdes. I would reduce them down to Pray the Rosary and "Turn away from sin and turn to Him"… Do Penance, and pray for sinners. Bon fete! Happy Feast Day!

Love in the Modern World…

Item: Perhaps you heard about a lady-astronaut arrested last week? She was involved in a "love tryst" in which, allegedly, she drove nine hundred miles to harm another woman who was in the way of a love interest. Love is sometimes blinding, but, remember, it is, also, a choice (see below).

Item: Prominent evangelical Pastor Ted Haggert got involved in a homosexual love interest. He resigned from his pastorate and later went into therapy and now allegedly is heterosexual.

Item: Ana Nicole Smith recently died, though only 39 yrs, perhaps of a broken heart and/or drug overdose. This tabloid starlet and mother and widow was in the courtroom a lot recently over money and her child's rights. How sad that she seemed to "have it all"-. good looks, money, friends, and yet she was tormented, unhappy and plagued. Love attracts people to things, glamorous things, and yet there may be a lot of suffering-and yearning for help-underneath it all.

Basically we are all trying to "fill a hole in the soul," as Deacon Jesse Bolger of the Archdiocese of Baltimore recently said to some drug addicts at a lecture we gave. St Augustine said it this way: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God."

Item: St Valentine's Day is coming: that's why I'm thinking of these things--shall we say "Love Interests"? Read on Dear Reader…

Pro-Choice? We humans have to choose love: love is just as much a choice as it is an emotion. So when you don't have feelings for someone or something which deserves your heart, remember that love doesn't always involve passions, but is just as much a choice of the will. With our heads and thoughts and intellect we select and direct our heads, hearts and bodies to love a certain thing or person. This may not always be romantic or "Hollywoodish"-but we still are loving in these situations. Consider the couple who just lost their son to a premature disease. They began adopting children from Ghana and Vietnam, many who were at risk, rescuing them from enslavements of various sorts, after using money from their child's funeral fund, and also setting up orphanages in various countries, spending about $150,000 so far. Pam Cope says: "You don't' have to have tons of money but you have to have a willing heart." (Source: New York Times: Feb 5) So: choose to love-again and again! And be heroic like this couple-even in their suffering they found the ability to love and give.

True Love: One of the most famous writings on love is in the Bible, I Corinthians 13: "Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous…." I once got a penance, and so pass on to you: Put in your name where the word "love" appears and challenge yourself to become more loving. "Just do it" and embrace Divine Love.

Love your Vocation: I have a priest friend who loves his ministry, his people and our Catholic social teaching. Thing is: the local Boy Scout troop's parents welcomed a pro-abortion politician to speak at one of their meetings and many of the folks supported her. The good Catholic pastor didn't and stood up for the Church (official diocesan policy does not allow pro-abortion politicians to speak at public functions) and for this he got vilified. He himself was upset but not backing down. He loved the Boy Scout troop and parents so much as to undergo persecution. Some kind of showdown will occur in the future. Do you love like this?

"Blesseds beat the streets": A Washington DC church takes to the streets and preaches the Gospel to the homeless and vagrants of the Capital. "Our theology is to love and not try to fix them and just be present where they are," responded one Church worker. A homeless man said: "I was out of touch with the Savior. This here keeps me in touch. Otherwise I'd be thinking devilish thoughts and this helps me stay positive." (NYT: Feb 5). Love 'em where they are.

Deeds, not words. Those are the wise words of my Dad. In other words: Put your love in action. I was making a holy hour recently and it came to me that my parents show their love to me by making me meals (it's true, I confess: the way to any man's heart is his stomach); they buy me gifts; they wash my car; they get me library books, they visit me. They show their love thru concrete actions-consistently. Do you put love into action thru concrete deeds?

Opposite of Love: I just read a distressing story about the unraveling of New Orleans, spreading violence and killings (NYT: Feb 5): "Residents say the violence stifles a sense of outrage, for reasons of physical self preservation." A former policeman turned minister said: "Last week I buried one body on Tuesday and the one who killed him was buried on Wednesday." Let us pray for Love to spread within there and for the city to recover thru Our Lord and Lady's help, as St John of the Cross counsels: "Where there is not love, place love, and therein draw out love."

Some Questions on Love-What is the City of Love? Paris, also called the City of Light. Who is the Beloved Disciple? St John the Apostle. Some famous love songs: "For Unto Us a Son is Born" from Handel's' Messiah, and "Love Divine, All Love Excelling" which are about Jesus and, of course no one else loves us more. What is the opposite of love? Not hatred but coldness, neglect and rejection. So use your heart and love others! Who is the Most Loveable Person? The Baby Jesus!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi