Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thank God She Wasn't Typical

Feast Day: February 18th in France
April 16th everywhere else
Always listen to your Mama.
We all know the story of St. Marie Bernadette Soubirous, right?  I mean, she lived in the mid-1800s, was poor and uneducated, but holy and honest.  She lived a simple life, tried to learn her Catechism (with children half her age), and help her mom with the housework.  Oh, and at the age of 14 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her and used her to spread devotion to Christ and His church and to her name as the Immaculate Conception.  No big.

Except that it was.  As Bernadette was out for a walk with her friends, just gathering some firewood, she was left behind.  She wasn't as healthy as the other kids (on account of her living in an old jail cell that wasn't considered fit for the prisoners to live in anymore) and so she was a little slower than they were.  All of a sudden, she heard the loudest gust of wind ever.  She looked up and saw that none of the trees were moving, which was weird, but she figured it was just a fluke and went back to what she had been doing.  She heard it again, and right before she [probably] thought, "OK, this is just getting weird", she looked up again, and there she was, the beautiful "Lady in White", shining and sparkly and as amazingly gorgeous as anything Bernadette (or any of us) had ever seen.  She was all dressed in white, with a white Rosary, a blue sash around her waist and with the absolutely coolest "shoes" ever: a yellow rose on each foot.  Now, while Bernadette was at first confused as all get out, as  I'm guessing most 14 year old girls would be, before long, it was as if she had known this "Lady" all her life (because she had, right?) and she felt completely at peace.  This is when it gets interesting (because visions of beautiful glowing women apparently aren't where it ends).

Bernadette didn't know what to tell anyone, so she kept her mouth shut.  Should she have told her mother that she saw something she couldn't explain? Probably, but she was after all only 14.  Her friends though, got the story out of her.  Luckily for her, they were good friends.  They told her mom.  Mommy Soubirous, not used to this sort of thing (since, after all, Bernadette was the first, OK only, one of the family town to have a miraculous vision).  She forbade her daughter going back to the grotto where the "Beautiful Lady" had appeared.  Normally, Bernadette would have stuck to any command from her mom like glue, but for some reason, she couldn't stay away.  Perhaps she knew somehow that listening to her one mom would be keeping her away from her other Mom?  Who knows?  But Bernadette totes went back to that grotto.  Could you imagine if this had happened today?  If Bernadette's mom had been all, "You are not going back to that grotto?!" and Bernadette had been all, "It's my life, mother, and if I want to spend it going to see the 'Beautiful Lady', I will."  Thank God it happened when it did.

Anyways, so the "Lady in White" asked Bernadette to keep coming back for two weeks.  Over those weeks, people started following Bernadette, even though she didn't ask them.  The crowds grew larger and larger.  Bernadette was hauled in by the police to be questioned, she was criticized by her parish priest at first, she was even examined to determine her mental state (read: is she cray-zay?).  Eventually, her pastor recognized that Bernadette was one special girl, but for those first two weeks, she was attacked on all sides.  The only thing that kept her going was her special friend, the "Lady in White".  On the ninth visit, the Lady asked her to drink from an invisible spring.  To all the onlookers, it appeared that Bernadette had really lost it this time, as she was, for all intents and purposes, "drinking" mud and eating grass.  Of course, over the next couple of days the spring did pour forth, and as we all know now, that spring has healed thousands of people.  Good thing Bernadette wasn't a typical teen of today, right?  ("You want me to do what? Eat grass?  Suuuuure..." *backs away slowly from the Lady*)

Eventually, the Lady asked for a chapel to be built.  And Bernadette, being Bernadette, made the request, plainly and without question.  The priest asked for the Lady's name.  Fair enough.  You want a church, I want to know who it's for.  Bernadette asked the Lady, and, even though she didn't understand the answer, she took it back to the priest: "I am the Immaculate Conception".  Word, right?  Bernadette hadn't a clue as to what those words meant in and of themselves, let alone what they meant in that way as that phrase.  But, being Bernadette, she carried them to the priest, repeating them over and over in her mind.  This if finally when the tide began to turn for her.  Her pastor knew that, while he knew what that meant, there was no way that Bernadette, at 14, poorly educated, in a poor, rural area, could possibly know what they meant unless God Himself, or, you know, His Mom, had told her.

Throughout all of the trials, Bernadette never once wavered in her steadfast love of the Lady.  She eventually entered a convent, where she was treated badly by the jealous prioress.  Bernadette returned the jealousy, not as we might want to (in my case it would be in a true "Bitch, please" style), but with love and humility.  After suffering for many months, because, as Bernadette said, the healing spring "was not for [her]", she died.  Her last words were about the beautiful Lady, Mary the Mother of God, who had been with her always.

St. Bernadette's quiet courage could teach us all a lesson: don't worry about the perils or pitfalls, about the trials or troubles you may face in the world; just keep coming back to our Lady and she will lead you straight to God.  I try to remind my children, my sons in particular at the moment, to think of the saints as their friends.  It's easier to do this with a saint as flatly normal as Bernadette.  But I also try to remind them of her greatness.  In just being her, in just following the Lady, she gave hope to millions around the world, and her example still reminds us all that God chooses not as men choose, but the smallest and least likely among us for the biggest trials and tasks.

In the end, God rewarded Bernadette with an extra special gift: her body is still, over 130 years after her untimely death at the age of 35, totally incorrupt.  For reals.  Look:

I'm dead, but my skin looks fantastic.
To quote one of my all time favorite songs about the incorruptable saints (because apparently, there's more than one): "Saint Bernadette still looks mighty fresh though she's been dead for years / Her cheeks still have a pinkish hue and there's color in her ears."  It's almost like He was telling everyone who persecuted her here on earth, "She's with Me. Back off."

St. Bernadette, Pray for Us!

So now I want to know, who is your favorite young saint and why?

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