Praying with Our Lady of Lourdes
By Cliff Garvey
In his 2017 message for the World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis offered this prayer:
Mary, you are our Mother;
in Christ, you welcome us as your sons and daughters.
Sustain the trusting expectation of our hearts,
comfort us in our sicknesses and sufferings,
and guide us to Christ, your Son and our brother.
Help us to entrust ourselves entirely
to the Father who accomplishes great things.
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 grandmother or grandfather’s first name, your husband or your wife’s first name, or your brother or sister’s first name in the same sentence with words like cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease or heart attack or even coronavirus? I have. And I am certain that every one of us and every family has heard through tears the kind of sad news that leads to the end of a life.
We have all been there. We are all there now. No person and no family is immune from suffering. My Uncle Pat ate properly, exercised regularly, never smoked, and never swore. But he was consumed by cancer. After he died, through his tears, my dad asked: “Why? Why did this happen?” My answer: “Why not? Why not Pat? Why not any of us?”
We are told to face it head-on; to fight illness and 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. In the end, however, we are all called to carry the cross of suffering. We may not suffering like my uncle suffered. But we will be called to mourn like my dad and my cousins. We will be called to carry the equally heavy cross of grief and loss; the equally heavy cross of watching someone we love leave this life. Sarah McLaughlin once sang about this kind of grief in words that seem so fitting:
This sweet madness
Oh, this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees.
We have all been there. We will all go there. But we are a people of hope; children of the resurrection; brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and disciples of the God who humbled himself to be born among us; to live with us, walk with us, suffer with us, die with us, and rise again with us. The saints tell us to carry the cross; to embrace suffering; to offer it up; 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, O Lord,
for our Sister Death,
and the death of the body
that none among 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 you.
Praise to you, O Lord, and all blessing.
We give you thanks;
and we serve you with great humility.
As ever, Saint Francis remind us that we are all merely creatures. We all destined to live, all destined to die. What matters is how we live, how we cope with suffering, and how we approach and embrace our Sister Death.
Throughout the year, the Church around the world commemorates various feasts in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One one such feast, the Church prays for the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes. We know that the Blessed Mother appeared many times to Sister Bernadette, who was a sickly young woman who suffered with asthma, cholera, and later, tuberculosis of the bones and lungs. We know that Our Lady said: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” We know that Our Lady told her to drink from the spring of water that would become the focus of global attention and devotion. We know that Our Lady told her to expect happiness in the next life, but not necessarily in this one life lived on earth.
We know that Our Lady appeared eighteen times; that she called the faithful to procession at her grotto; and that she called priests to build a chapel nearby. We know that some believe and some do not. We know that the Church was initially skeptical about what happened at Lourdes, but over time, the pure devotion of faithful people convinced bishops and popes to recognize the miracle who is Our Lady of Lourdes.
What I know is based solely on personal experience. I know that four men held me in their arms. They gently lowered me backward. They dunked me into the spring. I know that I felt a surge of grace and a singular moment of blessing. I was not healed. But when I recall that moment, which is the only moment that I remember from my three days in Lourdes, I can still recall and feel a sense of consolation and peace. And I know that I am not alone.
In 1957, Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical about his experience in Lourdes. It is simply called A Pilgrimage to Lourdes. In that encyclical, we read about the School of Mary which calls us to place our ultimate trust not in the world, not in nationalistic ideologies, not in material goods, not in technology, and perhaps not even in the miracles of modern medicine. Instead, we are called to place our trust in the prayers of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Pius XII writes: “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 sorrows and trials. Go to her, beloved invalids and infirm, you who are sincerely welcome and honored…as the suffering members of our Lord. Go to her and receive peace of heart, strength for your daily work, and joy for the sacrifice you offer.”
Pius XII continues: “Amid dangers, difficulties, and doubts, think of Mary, invoke Mary’s assistance…If you follow her, you will not stray; if you appeal to her, you will not lose hope; if you reflect upon 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; if she is hope-filled and heaven-sent, you will reach your goal.”
In this School of Mary, we learn to place our trust in her, in her prayers, and in the efficacy of those prayers. We learn that through Our Lady of Lourdes, because of her love for us and because of her Son’s love for us, we are consoled; we are healed. 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 final 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, forever and always. Amen. Amen.
May God bless the sick. May God bless those who mourn. May the faithful departed rest in peace. May God bless us with the courage, grace, and perseverance to trust in divine providence, believe in science, and pray without ceasing. Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
The Assisi Project Podcast
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About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a spiritual director, retreat leader, writer, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation.
Thank you for listening to the Assisi Project Podcast: The School of Mary. This audio recording is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project and our ongoing programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
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. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or smile.amazon.com; or by sending a donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project and our upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!