REASONS TO CELEBRATE MARY, MAY AND LOURDES:
1) Reason 1 - because in Lourdes you can paint an image like this on a wall in the middle of a pedestrian street and it is met with affection and love. When I first went to Lourdes I was amazed and overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit shown by pilgrims. I have worked in both kitchens of the hospitals and helping to bathe pilgrims and I have never been so humbled by the love people are filled with here. Perhaps it is not just images it is easier to show. In Lourdes people can be unguarded and free in their faith and expression. All around you are reminders of the best aspects, not just of Catholicism, but humanity, humility and faith - you are constantly absorbing or being exposed to the goodness of others and the simple truth of their faith.
2) Reason2 - Lourdes is a refuge for the people who deserve to be respected but are often overlooked in our secular, material, success driven world. In Lourdes the sick and disabled always go first -no matter what. Here they are treated as the teachers - we follow them. It is the one place where prejudice is turned on its head - the least important in the eyes of the world are the most important. Just as Christ said it should be. We step aside for them and treat them with the respect they deserve. People can wait for hours for to get into the baths for example, or to walk around the grotto because wheelchairs and the disabled will be put before them. If there were no other reason for the existence of this place - this one on its own would be enough.
3) Reason 3 - The miracle of serenity. Being at the grotto brings a peace to the soul that is the real miracle of Lourdes. When I first went there a Canadian chaplain told me that people tend to think of Lourdes as a place of, or even come to Lourdes looking for great physical healing- which is fine but it is about more than that. What they receive is something else - quite different but no less great or magnificent; the miracle of serenity. Bernadette herself believed that the healing springs were not for her. The graces of having seen Our Lady were enough to sustain her.
5) The good example of those who first knelt at the grotto. This year Lourdes is having a special year to bring peoples attention to Bernadette. A good reason for this is that she can be quite easily forgotten in the buzz of the sanctuary. This is of course her aim and achievement - the brush Our Lady used to sweep up with and then put back behind the door - was how she described herself. Bernadette withdrew from Lourdes and sacrificed not only the grotto she loved but being close to the family she loved. Her devotion and love of God is a true example to us all. She wanted to give thanks for graces she believed were given to her because she was the "poorest and most ignorant" child heaven could pick out of obscurity "if she had found someone more stupid she would have chosen her" Bernadette told the commission which declared Lourdes genuine within four years of the vision. One of Bernadette's habits is displayed in a small, out of the way museum in Lourdes.
If you go up into the town you can also visit the grave of Peyramale Bernadette's greatest critic at the beginning of the visions and her staunchest defender by the end. I visited his tomb for the first time this year. I found it very moving. He is buried in the crypt of parish church where he served his community. There is no fuss surrounding him.