January 7, 1844–April 16, 1879
We all know the story of how Mary appeared to Bernadette, a simple girl of fourteen, at Lourdes. But what sometimes gets lost in the story is Bernadette’s strong faith. Her statements were challenged over and over again by Church officials and local authorities who attempted to catch her in lies and contradictions.
People were openly skeptical about why the Blessed Virgin would appear to a girl who was functionally illiterate; who at the time of the first apparition had not even made her First Communion. Bernadette was so unimportant! She lived with her family in a one-room cottage that had once served as a jail!
But Bernadette was spiritually indifferent to the doubts and verbal rocks thrown her way. With unfailing simplicity and calm, Bernadette shared what had happened—nothing more and nothing less—about the eighteen times in six months that she saw Our Lady. When investigators changed her words or tried to add to them, she corrected them. When they asked what it meant when Our Lady said, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” she said it was not her responsibility to explain these things, only to share the message.
And when the visions ceased, Bernadette did not make a single attempt to trade on her fame. She entered a convent—not leaving even for the dedication of the Lourdes Basilica. When someone asked why she herself, sickly her entire life, was not cured by the waters, Bernadette responded: “The Blessed Virgin perhaps desires for me to suffer. I need it.”
It can be tempting to do some self-aggrandizement, to inflate our own importance to the well-being of our family, our parish, or our employer. Yet we are all only vessels for God’s work in the world. May we, as Bernadette did, respond to the profound gifts we are given with humility, modesty, and clarity.
“From this moment on, anything concerning me is no longer of any interest to me. I must belong entirely to God and God alone. Never to myself.”
Saint Bernadette Soubirous
Do a good work for a family member or a friend in secret. Don’t tell anyone but God.