Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Woodward: Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

Marian apparitions don't figure prominently in my devotional life, but I am emotionally attached to two -- Guadalupe and Lourdes -- partly because of the convincingly miraculous nature of the apparitions themselves, and partly because the Virgin reported to have appeared in those two places is so immediately and authentically identifiable in her words and actions as the Mother of Our Lord.

As for the miraculous element, I know of no saner and more commonsensical analysis than Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson's, in the little book on Lourdes that he wrote after making a pilgrimage there in 1908.

There is no arguing with people who say that, since there is nothing but Nature, no process can be other than natural. There is no sign, even from heaven, that could break down the intellectual prejudice of such people. If they saw Jesus Christ Himself in glory, they could always say that "at present science cannot account for the phenomenon of a luminous body apparently seated upon a throne, but no doubt it will do so in the course of time." If they saw a dead and corrupting man rise from the grave, they could always argue that he could not have been dead and corrupting, or he could not have risen from the grave. Nothing but the Last Judgment could convince such persons. Even when the trumpet sounds, I believe that some of them, when they have recovered from their first astonishment, will make remarks about aural phenomena.

But for the rest of us, who believe in God and His Son and the Mother of God on quite other grounds--because our intellect is satisfied, our heart kindled, our will braced by the belief; and because without that belief all life falls into chaos, and human evidence is nullified, and all noble motive and emotion cease--for us, who have received the gift of faith, in however small a measure, Lourdes is enough. Christ and His Mother are with us. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Is not that, after all, the simplest theory?

For anyone who wants a painless--in fact, an entertaining and inspiring--introduction to the story of Lourdes, I can recommend the classic movie The Song of Bernadette. In the title role, Jennifer Jones won the 1944 Academy Award for Best Actress, deservedly. And Gladys Cooper and Anne Revere should both have won the award for Best Supporting Actress. My favorite scene is the opening two minutes of this clip, depicting the first miraculous cure.