All holy people receive visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I do not receive any such visions. Therefore, I must not be holy.
Such was the subconscious logic of my six-year-old self whenever I encountered the examples of fabled children and visionaries, such as Bernadette Soubirous and Lucia Santos. To my simple mind, the visions of such people were the direct result of the holiness of their lives. Moreover, when I compared these examples to the lives of other great saints, I noticed a pattern of Marian favor. It seemed to me that all holy people had received visions; therefore, if I was not seeing Mary or Jesus, then I must be doing something wrong.
Needless to say, such a generalization is glaringly problematic. The truth is that we cannot conclude why the Blessed Mother appeared to a little girl over 150 years ago next to a garbage-heap in southern France. There was nothing incredibly remarkable about Bernadette Soubirous. She was poor and sickly, and she struggled to learn her catechism. To the human eye, she was thoroughly unremarkable on just about every level. And yet, she was chosen to receive some of the most glorious and well-known apparitions of the Blessed Mother in recent history.
Of course, looking back on the historical context, we might observe that there was a much bigger design in this choice than immediately meets the eye. The French Church had been struggling for decades with the strong tide of secularization, and the rumors of the Blessed Mother appearing to a young girl and performing miracles in the South of France reinvigorated the faith of many in that nation. Moreover, while the solemn definition of the Immaculate Conception was fairly new, many found that these apparitions helped confirm and reinforce the truth of this dogmatic teaching.
Nevertheless, Bernadette proved herself a most fitting recipient of such an honor, as well. Few young girls would have braved the jeers and admonitions she received for the sake of repeatedly visiting a garbage dump where hardly any lady fitting Bernadette’s description would choose to appear. In such a disgusting place, very few children would have dug for water on the muddy bank to drink whatever sludge she was likely to find. In this meek child, Our Lady found one who was willing to offer an example in praying and suffering for the sake of sinners. Thus, we should not be too quick to discount Bernadette’s role in all of this. She particularly was chosen, and we cannot fully explain the mystery as to why, though we can trust she was also an integral part of the Divine Plan.
Likewise, each of us has been chosen in a most intimate and particular way. God calls us all to be holy, not simply as signs and instruments of His love but also as individuals who are to be united to him in His love. Moreover, we are promised that we will receive the divine presence of the One who calls us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His disciples that whoever keeps His commandments will enjoy the abiding presence of the Trinity (Jn 14:23). Hence, we are all called to be holy and have been chosen to receive a visitor from heaven, though we might not experience it with the outward senses of the body.
Bernadette Soubirous was chosen to experience the love of God in a special way through the visitation of His Blessed Mother. We are chosen to enjoy that same love, though not necessarily in the same manner. Nonetheless, He has looked down on us and has come to us, showering us with the many graces and blessings we need to carry out our lives and to find our way back to Him. May we always bask in the warmth of that smiling presence!
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Our Lady of Lourdes