Bring flow’rs of the fairest,
Bring flow’rs of the rarest,
From garden and woodland
And hillside and vale;
Our full hearts are swelling,
Our glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest
Rose of the vale.
The words that introduce the film The Song of Bernadette, 1943, are: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”
Bernadette Soubirous was born in Lourdes on 7th. January 1844 to François Soubirous and Louise Castérot. Francois, a miller, was handicapped by an eye injury ten years later and was then accussed of stealing bread from a local baker, causing him to be jailed for eight days in “the Cachot”. A drought left the surrounding areas with no wheat harvest and a cholera epidemic took many lives. Bernadette was infected and it left its mark on her. In 1857 extreme poverty left the family depending on a relative for accommodation, a small room of just 16 square metres. She experienced the deep love her parents had for each other and all the children but was isolated by the locals because of their circumstances and her simplicity. Her sickness affected her schooling and despite being 14 years of age she was not allowed to receive her First Holy Communion and was unable to read or write.
In November of 1857 she was sent to Bartrès, the little village close to Lourdes to work on the farm. However, her desire to receive First Holy Communion brought her back to the village in January of 1858. While out walking with her sister and a friend near Massabielle, Bernadette was unable to keep up with them and had removed her socks and shoes to cross the stream and follow when she heard a gust of wind and looking up saw the ‘lady dressed in white with a blue belt and a yellow rose on each foot’. This was the first of the apparitions, she was to receive 18 apparitions until the last one on July 16th. During the apparitions she prayed the Rosary with ‘the lady’ and conversed with her. On Feb 19th Bernadette lit a candle at the grotto, a tradition that continues to this days with many millions of candles lit each year.
By Sunday Feb 21st, crowds were beginning to follow her and Bernadette’s first of many official questionings started by Police Commissioner, Jacomet. Her eighth visit with the lady on Wednesday 24th, February saw the first of the messages being given: The message of the Lady was: “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!” The following day the lady told her to drink from the spring, pointing out a spot, which to Bernadette was only a muddy area. Bernadette did as she was told and the crowd was appalled to see her digging up the mud and placing it at her mouth. Her repsonse to the questioning crowd was ‘It is for sinners’. The small spring begins to flow from the spot and a local girl, a friend of Bernadette’s, plunges her dislocated arm into the spring. It is miraculously healed, the first of many to take place in those early days and so many since.
On Tuesday 2nd, March the lady gives Bernadette a message for the Parish Priest, Abbé Peyramale, to build a chapel at the grotto. The Priest, still not believing, only wanted to know the name of the lady. On Thursday 25th, March, the Feast of the Annunciation, the lady tells Bernadette “QUE SOY ERA IMMACULADA CONCEPCIOU.” – “I am the Immaculate Conception”. This theological expression had been assigned to the Blessed Virgin just four years earlier, in 1854, as Pope Pius IX declared this a truth of the Catholic Faith (a dogma). Bernadette could not have known this and her words left the Parish Priest puzzled.
Bishop of Tarbes, the local Bishop, started a Church enquiry almost immediately and four years later declared the Apparitions as authentic in the name of the Church. The investigations showed many who were sick being cured by means not able to be explained by traditional medical methods. The Bishop, in his declaration concluded: “There is thus a direct link between the cures and the Apparitions, the Apparitions are of divine origin, since the cures carry a divine stamp. But what comes from God is the truth! As a result, the Apparition, calling herself the Immaculate Conception, that Bernadette saw and heard, is the Most Holy Virgin Mary! Thus we write: the finger of God is here.”
In 1866 Bernadette joined Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers and received the name Sister Marie-Bernard. She died in the convent at 35 years of age on April 16th 1879. Her body remains visible and incorrupt.
“Nothing is anything more to me; everything is nothing to me, but Jesus: neither things nor persons, neither ideas nor emotions, neither honor nor sufferings. Jesus is for me honor, delight, heart and soul.” – Saint Bernadette
“You must receive God well; give Him a loving welcome, for then He has to pay us rent.” – Saint Bernadette
“The more I am crucified, the more I rejoice.” – Saint Bernadette Soubirous
“I had gone down one day with two other girls to the bank of the river Gave when suddenly I heard a kind of rustling sound. I turned my head toward the field by the side of the river, but the trees seemed quite still and the noise was evidently not from them. Then I looked up and caught sight of the cave where I saw a lady wearing a lovely white dress with a bright belt. On top of each of her feet was a pale yellow rose, the same color as her rosary beads. At this I rubbed my eyes, thinking I was seeing things, and I put my hands into the fold of my dress where my rosary was. I wanted to make the sign of the cross, but for the life of me I couldn’t manage it, and my hand just fell down. Then the lady made the sign of the cross herself, and at the second attempt I managed to do the same, though my hands were trembling. Then I began to say the rosary while the lady let her beads clip through her fingers, without moving her lips. When I stopped saying the Hail Mary, she immediately vanished. I asked my two companions if they had noticed anything, but they said no. Of course, they wanted to know what I was doing, and I told them that I had seen a lady wearing a nice white dress, though I didn’t know who she was. I told them not to say anything about it, and they said I was silly to have anything to do with it. I said they were wrong, and I came back next Sunday, feeling myself drawn to the place…. The third time I went, the lady spoke to me and asked me to come every day for fifteen days. I said I would and then she said that she wanted me to tell the priests to build a chapel there. She also told me to drink from the stream. I went to the Gave, the only stream I could see. Then she made me realize she was not speaking of the Gave, and she indicated a little trickle of water close by. When I got to it I could only find a few drops, mostly mud. I cupped my hands to catch some liquid without success, and then I started to scrape the ground. I managed to find a few drops of water, but only at the fourth attempt was there sufficient for any kind of a drink. The lady then vanished and I went back home. I went back each day for fifteen days, and each time, except one Monday and one Friday, the lady appeared and told me to look for a stream and wash in it and to see that the priests build a chapel there. I must also pray, she said, for the conversion of sinners. I asked her many times what she meant by that, but she only smiled. Finally, with outstretched arms and eyes looking up to heaven, she told me she was the Immaculate Conception. During the fifteen days she told me three secrets, but I was not to speak about them to anyone, and so far I have not.” – from a letter by Saint Bernadette
“After all, if I am tired, even if I am exhausted, I can rest in the heart of Jesus.” -St. Bernadette
O God, protector and lover of the humble, You bestowed on Your servant, Bernadette, the favor of the vision of Our Lady, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, and of speech with her. Grant that we, through Your mercy, may behold You in Heaven. Amen.