Dear Brothers and Sisters,
One of my favorite places on all of planet earth is Lourdes in France. There are many reasons I enjoy this holy place. The peace, the prayerfulness, the faith, the candlelight processions, the healings, the beautiful liturgies, and adoration of Our Lord, are just a few ways I have encountered God’s goodness there. Many people who have been to Lourdes have shared with me similar experiences. While making a trip to Lourdes is a blessing, it is not always possible. So, after many months of planning and waiting for the city to grant us the permits to build, we are finally able to begin construction our new grotto right here in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Most people have heard of the word “grotto”, but many people may not know the story behind the most famous grotto in Lourdes. Since our patroness, St. Bernadette, is at the center of the grotto, I will start there, at the grotto. Our Blessed Mother Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in the grotto of Massabielle on the outskirts of Lourdes. Lourdes is a small town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenes Mountains in the southeast corner of France. The first of these apparitions occurred on the morning of February 11, 1858. The 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous was gathering firewood with her sister and a friend. While her companions crossed the shallow River Gave to find wood on the other side, Bernadette was still taking off her stockings to follow them when she heard a sound like a strong gust of wind. Despite the loud sound of the wind, she noticed that the trees did not move. Then she noticed a bright light coming from the grotto of the cave called Massabielle.
In the light, she saw an incredibly beautiful young woman who wore a white veil and a long white dress with a blue sash around her waist. On each of her feet there was a yellow rose, and on her right arm there was a pearl rosary.
In her fear, Bernadette began to pray the rosary. She noticed that the Lady fingered the beads of her rosary following Bernadette as she prayed, but the only prayer that she joined in was the Glory Be. After Bernadette finished praying the rosary, the Lady disappeared and the bright light was gone.
Three days later, Bernadette returned to the grotto, and since Massabielle was thought by some to be haunted, several people advised her to bring holy water with her to sprinkle on the Lady if she appeared just in case she was evil. The Lady came and chuckled at Bernadette when she sprinkled the holy water in her direction, but she was not bothered by it, and Bernadette knew she was not evil. Several days later, Bernadette returned to the grotto and the Lady was there. For the first time, the Lady spoke to Bernadette and very politely asked her: “Would you kindly do me the favor of returning to the grotto for the next two weeks?” Bernadette promised that she would. The beautiful young Lady appeared a total of 18 times to Bernadette.
On one occasion, she told Bernadette that she would not be happy in this world, but she promised her that she would be happy in the other. On another occasion, the Lady asked for prayers and penance for the conversion of sinners, as well as for a chapel to be built there, where people could come in processions and pray.
Then came the incredible apparition on February 25. The Lady told Bernadette to “go drink at the spring and bathe in its water”. Bernadette did not see a spring and thought the Lady meant the River Gave. However, the Lady pointed to a particular place below the grotto. When Bernadette began to dig in the ground at the spot the Lady showed her, a small amount of water began to well up. Overnight, this turned into a huge spring and to this day, thousands of gallons of water pour out of the spring daily at Lourdes. Immediately people began to drink and bathe in the spring and claims of miraculous healings occurred.
Currently there have been 70 miraculous and totally unexplainable cures officially recognized by the Lourdes Medical Bureau. Over 6 million people come to Lourdes each year to drink from the spring and bathe in its waters, while praying for their needs. Only God and the Lady know all the countless other miracles that quietly occur every day.
Bernadette asked the Lady several times what her name was, and she just smiled. But on March 25, the Lady told Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception!” Bernadette kept repeating this to herself as she ran to tell her parish priest. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had only been promulgated four years earlier, in 1854.
While Bernadette admitted that she did not know what “Immaculate Conception” meant, her pastor did. He was stunned to finally learn that Bernadette’s Lady was actually the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus! The Church launched a full investigation of the events, and Bernadette’s account of the apparitions was declared “worthy of belief” on February 18, 1862 with the declaration: “The Virgin Mary did indeed appear to Bernadette Soubirous.” The Marian apparition became known as Our Lady of Lourdes.
Bernadette eventually became a nun in the order of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, France. She lived the rest of her life as a humble sister in the convent there and never saw the grotto again.
After much suffering, she died at the age of 35 from tuberculosis. She was canonized a saint in 1933. Her incorrupt body can be seen sleeping serenely in a glass coffin in the chapel of her convent. The painting in our church is a faithful rendition of St. Bernadette talking to the beautiful Lady of Lourdes in the grotto of Massabielle, with the spring flowing below her.
Our outdoor grotto will be a beautiful place to meditate and pray. There will be a place in the grotto to a light real candle. The Catholic Church has a tradition of lighting candles which can be traced back to Old Testament times where an oil lamp was lighted to ‘sustain a perpetual flame.’ In The New Testament, they emphasize the sacredness of this light in Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews. ‘A first tent was prepared with the lamp stand, the table and the bread of the presence; this is called the Holy Place’.
Rack stands for candles are known as votives or vigil lights, which can be lit to offer intentions of prayers, for a specific issue or perhaps an individual. Catholics use votive candles as a way to pray for special intentions and in remembrance of the deceased, especially of our loved ones. We light candles specifically on All Souls’ Day, usually November 2nd, for this purpose. But they may also be lit on November 1st for All Saints’ Day to honor the Saints, remaining lit through All Souls’ Day. We tend to light candles for the Holy Souls throughout the month of November.
Looking at a rack of burning candles in a church can be quite moving, for even when you depart, your prayers remain in the Church and then others may pray over the candles later.
Please feel free to visit our website to see a rendering of our grotto and how you can participate by supporting our grotto with a financial contribution. There will also be a limited number of memorial bricks surrounding the grotto. Perhaps you feel called to remember a loved one for years to come by securing a memorial brick that will be a part of the grotto setting. Stay tuned for details on how you can obtain a memorial brick for your family or loved ones. Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette, pray for us!BACK TO LIST