By Fr. Paul Stark, S.J.
Vice President for Mission and Ministry
Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, who had the courage of her faith to report and execute instructions she received in her vision of Mary at Lourdes, France. Authorities, religious and civil, asked this sickly, 14-year-old daughter of a miller many things which seemed to be far beyond her human powers or knowledge. Her family, friends and her church considered her ill or insane, or some strange combination of both, but she remained confident and resolute in her own faith, in the truth of her reports, of her belief.
Today, millions of people worldwide visit the rough grotto site of Bernadette's apparitions, hoping to be blessed and cured by the miracles many have been given in the last century and a half. For many, Lourdes has become a symbol of God's love for His people, a place of hope for those who are desperately ill, a place where they have found greater strength in their own faith.
All of us, so far from this small town in France, and not very ill, can learn an important lesson from this illiterate, sickly teenager. Bernadette shows us that we are all called to live our faith not only in the accepted means of our culture, but also maybe in times and places outside conventional experiences, apart from conventional wisdom. Her faith in God and in the little lady required her to continue testifying and reporting, even though most people around her doubted her reports, mistrusted her statements. Her faith gave her the courage to keep going back to the little grotto, to continue being open to the visions she was experiencing, even without the support of others. Her faith allowed her to complete the instructions she received in these apparitions, apparitions the authorities, civil and religious, faithful and scientific, would eventually declare worthy of belief after much investigation.
We are all called to live our faith not only in the easy times, when our friends and the facts seem to support us, but also in those times in which we may be misunderstood. We are all called to live our faith not only when it is easy or convenient for us or others, but also in the times which may mean that we have to make extra effort. We are all called to live our faith not only with people who may believe the same thing we believe, but also with everyone, whether they believe or do not believe.
We can certainly profit from the example of Bernadette to challenge the way we live our faith, in our hearts, and in our words and deeds with others.