I decided this Lent that I would not travel alone. I asked St. Bernadette, the visionary of Our Lady of Lourdes, if she would accompany me.
In the course of our walk together I am rediscovering someone I had long forgotten but who has not forgotten me.
A classic movie
It began on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes with a suggestion from a friend to watch “The Song of Bernadette,” a critically-acclaimed 1943 movie based on the book by Franz Werfel. It was available on YouTube so I could watch it at my leisure. The movie is long so I viewed it on my tablet over the course of three nights.
That was a good decision. I did not expect to be so moved by the film and was glad I could cry in private. Each time “The Lady” appeared to Bernadette, the tears would flow. I did not know why. Was it the beautiful music? Was it the way Bernadette (played by Oscar winner Jennifer Jones) looked at “The Lady” with such love?
Maybe it was because of Mary herself. Perhaps my heart was telling me how much I missed her in my life.
More, more …
When the movie ended I wanted more. From the bookshelf I pulled out a work by Abbe Francis Trochu entitled Saint Bernadette Soubirous. I was doubtful that a book written over sixty years ago could speak to me today but those fears were soon put to rest.
My “go-to” person
I skipped over the apparitions to my true interest–the life of this saint in the aftermath, as a religious. What I found was a quiet yet powerful holiness based upon the smallest of details. Bernadette would soon become my “go-to” saint for lessons on fidelity, patience, charity, composure and self-control.
A counter-cultural saint
St. Bernadette sought to be hidden and forgotten, a difficult task for someone whose fame was widespread. To desire such things today is counter-cultural, even laughable; recognition and fame are hotly pursued by so many who believe it will supply the love they crave. It is an empty promise. Having experienced it herself, Bernadette knew where the true source lay.
I. Want. This.
Abbé Trochu writes, ” This triumph of Our Lady of Lourdes rested on [Bernadette’s] own testimony … It would have been enough to turn the head of a conceited youngster. But, forgetful of herself, the unique visionary was thinking solely of the Apparition’s glory, and was lost in her radiance. And so along she went, paying no heed to the crowds, wholly absorbed in her own interior happiness.” (pg. 244)
I want that; to be so attracted to God as to be single-minded, losing myself in heavenly thoughts in the middle of a noisy world. It is that submission to God’s grace, that total immersion into holiness that unleashes the power of transformation.
If I seek to become like Bernadette: faithful, patient, composed and in control of my emotions; if I desire to confront my weaknesses, then I must learn her way of holy absorption.
Starting with Mary
Thinking on Mary as Bernadette did is a good start. Mary is the epitome of faithfulness, patience and composure, fueled by love of her Son. Mary longs to mother me and I need mothering. The many tears I shed while watching the movie revealed that longing; it’s time I listened to her call.
The little things
With my two companions I can begin to learn this art of holy absorption by continuing my reading on St. Bernadette, asking for her intercession, and cementing the habit of praying the rosary each day. When I take communion to my homebound friend each week, I can pause for a few moments to hold the Eucharist in my hand as Mary held Jesus as a baby, and together, we can adore the Lord of Hosts. I could also meditate on the Eucharist as St. Bernadette did: “I think to myself that that the Blessed Virgin is giving me the Infant Jesus, I welcome Him, I speak to Him and He speaks to me.”
All little things. All done in secret but never done alone.
Many Catholic and Orthodox Christians around the world will be celebrating a feast day in the Church commemorating the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Devotion to the mother of God is common in these traditions. It is not a form of worship; Mary was merely a human being like ourselves. Instead, Mary is honored as the woman chosen by God to bear his Son Jesus and thus complete the process of Jesus becoming human while retaining his divinity. As stated by St. Athanasius: “God became man so that man might become God.” Mary’s role has always been to point us to Jesus the Christ. When people pray the rosary or other Marian prayers, they are not praying to Mary but with her to God.
Her example is key as well, that of total trust in spite of the risk of accepting the invitation to bear a son without benefit of yet being married. Quite a predicament. But her “yes” brought the Savior into the world and took her on the adventure of a lifetime. Yes, there were some incredibly tough moments in her life, but the privilege of raising Jesus for thirty years, of having him to herself for all that time … I think she would have done it all again, don’t you?
In honor of Mary’s birthday, I’d like to offer a couple of tributes:
First a song I wrote about Mary.
It was a great comfort to me during my mother’s illness. You will notice that the name of this blog, Be As One, is in the lyrics. That’s where I got the idea. 🙂 The song is called “Under My Immaculate Mantle.”
Secondly, here are images of Mary from around the world:
It’s hard to believe Christmas is only a month away. The waiting can be filled with much shopping, parties, busyness, noise, rushing around … not bad things, but the waiting can also be filled with quiet expectation.
So one can think, ponder and imagine the scene of the coming Messiah, born as a helpless babe in the cold and dead of night.
This period of waiting, known in the Roman Catholic Church as Advent, is one of the most beautiful seasons of the church year. The decor in individual churches is simplified, featuring a single large wreath with four candles (three purple, one pink) waiting to be lit.
The priest wears the purple vestment, signifying a time of preparation of the heart, repenting of past sins, and turning back again towards God.
Scripture readings from the prophets, especially Isaiah, proclaim in compelling prose the coming of the Savior of the World. The Gospel of St. Luke introduces us to the most influential woman in the world, disguised as a humble, poor young girl whose brilliance and wisdom was revealed in saying “yes” to God.
Services feature meditative songs and chants sung acapella rather than with full organ accompaniment.
Music for your waiting
Of all the music that I recorded, my favorite by far was my Advent/Christmas collection known as Wait with Me: Advent of the Promised Son. Drawing upon the rich scripture tradition of Advent, these songs proclaim the biblical truths from Isaiah and St. Luke. The collection begins with songs of expectation and build to the birth of our Lord on Christmas Day. Unlike my other CDs, this one features earthier arrangements: acoustic guitar, hand percussion instruments, plentiful harmonies. Listen to samples here:
A Shoot from Jessie
The Lord Has Come to Save You
Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming
O Holy Night
I can send you a copy of the CD, Wait with Me so that you can have it to prepare your heart in waiting for Jesus.