Is it really all in the details? Wisdom from the story of St. Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes

Do those pesky little details really matter?

Ask an engineer. A manufacturer. And a surgeon.

Salim Fadhley Surgeons at work
Salim Fadhley Surgeons at work Flickr Creative Commons

One detail can make all the difference.  A slip of the knife, a screw in the wrong place can spell danger and disaster.

However, surgery performed well and products  built precisely to specs can and do enhance and save lives.

A mother know the importance of details . . .

. . . remembering each child’s birthday year after year with a specially planned party  . . . or creating the perfect Halloween costume . . . cooking up that favorite dish to perfection just because . . . saving all those little masterpieces made and then given to her with such love.

Later the grown children will find these artifacts and be reminded of how cherished they are.

Sarah Bedsheets
Sarah Bedsheets Flickr Creative Commons

I remember my mother changing the sheets on our beds faithfully once a week. My bed felt so inviting to sleep in as I turned back the covers and climbed between the crisp, cool sheets. The smell, the feel  . . . these little details remain to this day a tangible reminder of my mother’s love for me.

Yes, details do indeed matter. In our lives out in the world, and in the world inside of ourselves.

How we live our interior spiritual lives matters a great deal, right down to the last detail.

song of bernadetteI have taken on as my Lenten journey the study of St. Bernadette Soubirious. This journey was inspired by a Facebook post back on February 11 by Father James Martin, SJ. In honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes he recommended the viewing of “The Song of Bernadette,” a critically acclaimed 1943 movie starring Jennifer Jones. He wrote, “The film, based on the book by Franz Werfel actually corresponds very closely to the real-life story of St. Bernadette Soubirous, with only a few exceptions.” You can find the movie on YouTube – just search for “The Song of Bernadette.”

Moved by the film

I have always enjoyed this film and so happily watched it again over the course of three nights (the film is over two hours in length). I surprised at how moved I was as I watched, crying whenever Bernadette saw “The Lady” and crying too over the poverty of her home life and the humiliations she faced over and over again.

Attraction to the life of Bernadette

saint bernadette soubirous by francis trochuI wished to know more about Bernadette as I was particularly drawn to her interior life and how she bore with what she suffered. I had an old book, written in the 1950’s by Abbé Francis Trochu who had written many spiritual biographies.

Details, details …

As I read, I see how the smallest of details meant a great deal to Bernadette. She was always very particular in the way she told her story of the apparitions; it was important to her that she report as accurately as possible so as to honor The Lady’s wishes. Her consistent telling of the story was a crucial part of the process whereby Church determined the authenticity of the apparitions.

This attention to detail carried over into her religious life as Sister Marie-Bernard;
she practiced a life of fidelity.

I was struck in particular by this passage; it’s a little long but without reading it all, you cannot feel the power of the point that was made:

Postulants or novices were often sent to the infirmary, chiefly for cleaning the wards, and thus came under the more or less direct control of Sister Marie-Bernard. She managed these young people with understanding and tact, but she also found means of helping their religious training in her own individual way. There was, for example, the story of the copper knobs that went the rounds of the noviceship several times. Sister Marie-Bernard had been in office for only a short while, as the incident occurred in 1868.

I was still a postulant [related Sister Justine in her old age], and I had been given a job in the infirmary. Well, one day when we were giving the place a thorough cleaning, I had spent the whole morning dusting, rubbing and polishing. Then the bell rang and I was getting ready to leave when Bernadette said: ‘The work is not finished. There’s still this and that, but you haven’t time now. It will do some other day.’ Then I foolishly said with a certain satisfaction: ‘I’ve rubbed the copper knobs with polishing powder.’ This referred to the knobs on the iron bedsteads. Bernadette replied: ‘Yes, they are shining brightly. You’ve polished them well and thoroughly. You have taken great pains with this work because it catches the eye.’

She delivered me this reprimand so nicely that I wasn’t hurt, but I felt the little pinprick to my vanity all the same and I carried the lesson away with me, saying to myself: ‘You understand? You have taken great pains over the knobs because they show, but the work that doesn’t show, the work that remains hidden and which God alone sees, did you do that so carefully?’
I have always remembered those copper knobs.

pages 293-294, Saint Bernadette Soubirous by Francis Trochu; bold is my emphasis

I felt that “pinprick to my vanity” too.

How faithful was I to those little tasks that no one sees? How much fidelity do I apply to what I do, especially if I don’t want to do it? And, does it really matter?

If I profess to love God, it matters a great deal.

How can I claim to love him if I care more about what others think of what I do rather than what he thinks?

How shallow it is, really, to perform tasks only so that I can earn a compliment from my boss or a “thank you” from my family. Shouldn’t it be just enough to do the task well, without currying favor?

God sees all. Isn’t his favor enough for me?

Just how much am I willing to do in secret for my Beloved?

Am I even willing to do good in secret even though it might be misunderstood,
even criticized by people I care for?

I don’t have answers yet to these questions but it gives me much to ponder this Lent.

You never know what you can learn from a movie. Or a book. God uses every opportunity to teach us. I look forward to learning more from Saint Bernadette Soubirous.

I would appreciate hearing from you if you have pondered these questions. Are the details important to you?

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