THE SCHOOL OF MARY

Praying with Our Lady of Lourdes

By Cliff Garvey

Have you ever heard a doctor use your first name and the word “cancer” in the same sentence? I have. Have you ever heard a doctor use your mom or dad’s first name, your brother or sister’s first name, or your child’s first name and the word “cancer” in the same sentence? I have. Have you ever heard a doctor use a loved one’s first name and the word’s heart attack or Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease (or some other serious affliction) in the same sentence? I have. Indeed, I am certain that everyone who reads this reflection has heard the kind of sad news that can lead to the end of a life.

We have all been there. No person and no family is immune from suffering. We are told to face it head-on; to battle aging and affliction with every fiber of our being; to fight with every medicine and technology under the sun; to confront mortality with diet, exercise, and exhaustive medical treatments. But in the end, we are all called to the carry the cross of suffering. At the very least, we are all called to carry the heavy cross of grief, the heavy cross of watching someone we love leave this life. In her song, “Angel”, Sarah Mclachlan sings about mourning and loss with these hard and beautiful words:

This sweet madness,
Oh, this glorious sadness,
That brings me to my knees.

If we engage in the sacred practices of family, friendship, and love, then we will certainly experience some form of such sadness and suffering. The saints tell us to carry this cross. They tell us to embrace suffering, to offer it up, and to welcome death. In the Canticle of the Creatures, Saint Francis of Assisi opens his arms and his heart to the end of life. He writes:

Praise to you, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
and the death of the body that no one us can escape.
Woe to those who die in sin,
but blessed are those who walk with you,
for death will have no power over them.
Praise to you, Lord, and all blessing!
We give you thanks; we serve you with great humility.

As ever, Saint Francis reminds us that we are creatures: all destined to live; all destined to die. Life’s meaning depends on how we live, how cope with suffering, and how we approach and embrace our Sister Death. After all, we are a people of hope. We are children of the resurrection, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and disciples of a God who humbled himself to be born among us; a God who lives with us, walks with us, suffers with us, dies with us, and rises with us. In this way, illness, suffering, and death bow to the miraculous promise of everlasting life.

On Monday, February 11th, the Catholic Church around the world commemorates the 27th World Day of the Sick. About this special day, Pope Francis writes: “The gaze of Mary…brightens the face of God’s family in her commitment to the suffering and to those in need. The precious fruit of this concern for the sick and suffering are reason to thank the Lord Jesus, who because of his obedience to the Father, became one of us and endured death on the cross for the salvation of the world. This solidarity is the expression of God’s mercy in our lives, above all when life is frail, painful, humbled, marginalized, and suffering. It fills us with the power of hope that sustains us and enables us to rise again (2017).”

It is also the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. We know that the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a sickly young woman who suffered with asthma, cholera, and later, tuberculosis of the lungs and bones. We know that Our Lady told her: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” We know that Our Lady called her to drink from the spring of water that would become the focus of worldwide attention and devotion. We know that Our Lady told her to expect happiness in the next life, but not necessarily in this one. We know that Our Lady appeared eighteen times. We know that Our Lady called the faithful to procession at the grotto; and that she called priests to build a chapel nearby. We know that some believe and some do not.

We also know that the Church was initially skeptical about what happened at Lourdes. But over time, the pure and simple devotion of the faithful convinced both bishops and popes to recognize the countless miracles accomplished by Our Lady of Lourdes. What I know is based on personal experience. I know that four men held me in their arms. They gently and respectfully pulled me backwards; they dunked me into the spring. I know that I felt a surge of grace; a single moment of blessing. I was not healed. But when I recall that moment, which is the only moment that I remember about my visit to  Lourdes, I can still feel a powerful peace and consolation. And I know that I am not alone.

In 1957, Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical about his experience there. It is simply called “A Pilgrimage to Lourdes.” In that encyclical, the only one about Our Lady of Lourdes, we read about the “School of Mary” which calls us to place our trust not in the world, not in material goods or technology, and perhaps not even the miracles of modern medicine. Instead, we are called to place our trust in the prayers of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Pope Pius calls to the People of God: “Go to her, you who are crushed by misery, defenseless against the hardships of life and the indifference of others. Go to her, you who are assailed by sorrow and tribulation. Go to her, you beloved invalids and infirm; you who are sincerely welcomed and honored…as the suffering members of our Lord. Go to her and receive piece of heart, strength for your daily work, and joy for the sacrifice you offer.”

Pope Pius then counsels us: “Amid dangers, difficulties, and doubts, think of Mary; invoke her assistance…If you follow her, you will not stray; if you appeal to her, you will not lose hope; if you reflect on her, you will not sin; if she supports you, you will not fall; if she protects you, you will not fear; if she leads you, you will not grow weary; and because she is hope-filled and heaven-sent, you will reach your goal.” In this School of Mary, we are reminded that our goal is our salvation. And in this School of Mary, we learn to place our trust in her, in her prayers, and in the efficacy and power of those prayers. We learn that Our Lady of Lourdes, because of her love for us, we are consoled. And because of her Son’s mercy, which is lavished upon us, we are healed; we are saved.

We may not recover. We may still suffer. We will surely grieve. But we can be confident that our prayers are heard and answered. We can trust that the last heartbeat is not the end of the story. We can leave this life knowing that we will rest in the embrace of love eternal; and that we will rise again: free from grief, free from pain, free from sickness, free from suffering; forever and always. Amen! Amen!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cliff Garvey is co-founder and spiritual director of the Assisi Project. During the past eleven years, he has visited Assisi twenty-six times. Cliff also serves as a pilgrimage and retreat leader, university lecturer, and as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts, USA. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact him at cgarvey@assisiproject.com.

Learn More: Our Lady of Lourdes

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The Assisi Project
Winter Day of Prayer & Reflection
Prayer & Healing with the Children of Fatima
Saturday, February 23rd

Francisco Marto (1908-1919) and Jacinto Marto (1910- 1920), brother and sister, and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos (1907-2005), were children from a small village near Fatima in Portugal, who were blessed to give witness to several apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Fatima. Much is known and much is often misunderstood about the apparitions and their meaning. But we can learn a great deal from these children, especially Francisco and Jacinto, about life, love, prayer, and healing.

In commemoration of the Feast of Saints Francisco Marto and Jacinto Marto (February 20th), all are invited to join Father Jim and Cliff Garvey for a “Winter Day of Prayer& Reflection: Prayer and Healing with the Children ofFatima” on Saturday, February 23rd in Our Lady of Good Voyage Church. During this special four-hour morning retreat, we will explore the different but complimentary spiritual lives of the Children of Fatima. We will also consider what these young saints can teach us about coping with illnesses of mind, body, and spirit.

Our day of prayer and reflection will proceed according to the following schedule: Celebration of Mass at 8:00am; First Reflection & Faith Sharing at 9:00am; Eucharistic Adoration & Rosary at 10:00am; Second Reflection & Faith Sharing at 11:00am; Angelus & Closing Prayers at 12:00pm. After our program, all are invited to join us for a delicious potluck lunch in the parish hall.

Throughout the morning, there will be scheduled breaks and time for faith sharing, fellowship, and questions. Coffee, tea, bottled water, and refreshments will be available throughout the morning. During Mass, a collection will be taken up in support of the  adult and youth faith formation programs in the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport. If you would like to participate in this special event, please contact Cliff Garvey at cgarvey@assisiproject.com. Please join us! Bring a friend! All are invited! All are welcome!

Learn More: The Children of Fatima

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About Us

Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with members, friends, and followers in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Africa. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages to more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. For more information about the Assisi Project and upcoming opportunities for faith formation, prayer, and pilgrimage in the Franciscan spiritual tradition, please contact Cliff Garvey at cgarvey@assisiproject.com. May the Lord give you peace!

Follow us on Twitter: @Assisi_Project