Dear Friends at Saint Frances Cabrini and Immaculate Conception Parishes:
Praised be Jesus Christ! This will be the last column of my formal bulletin series on the May 2015 Shrines of France Pilgrimage. I will end in the same place the pilgrimage itself ended, in Lourdes.
When one arrives in the mountain town of Lourdes, France, it is clear that is a Catholic tourist destination. The streets that lead up to the entrance to the Shrine itself are all lined with souvenir shops for blocks and blocks. But after passing through all of that bustle, the pilgrim to Lourdes steps into the formal boundaries of the shrine itself and immediately enters a different world.
The grounds are organized around a handful of landmarks. There are multiple basilicas on the grounds, each very different. There is a very large building dedicated to hearing confessions. There is a long oval walk used for the public recitation of the rosary by candlelight procession each night. There are two sets of outdoor stations of the cross. There is a long row of outdoor stands to burn hundreds of votive candles. There are the baths for healing. And of course there is the Grotto itself where the Blessed Mother herself appeared in 1858.
It is a stunningly peaceful and international place. There is no talking allowed around the Grotto itself, and in the rest of the Shrine, there is a continual spirit of prayer and reflection. The sick are everywhere- in special carts and wheelchairs. Several languages are spoken simultaneously in the confessionals, out in the grounds, and at the many altars for Masses offered all throughout the day.
I came to the Shrine at Lourdes after several long days of pilgrimage, and I came with many personal prayer requests on my heart. I came looking for a few miracles, to be exact, and I found myself wondering if I would be one of those people who would have their prayers granted instantaneously as had happened before in that famous spot.
Like any good pilgrim, I performed all the necessary “requirements.” I participated in the evening rosary procession with a couple thousand of my brothers and sisters, all singing with love to our common Mother her favorite prayers. I walked the stations of the cross which took me on a mountain-side climb that left me exhausted. I had the tremendous blessing of offering Mass in the Grotto itself on the morning of May 19th, our last full day in France. And I did bathe in the famous (and cold!) waters of the spring that Saint Bernadette uncovered during the apparitions.
And I left the Shrine with my prayers unanswered. Or, so I thought at least. I realized later that Our Lady answered my prayers with a ferocity I could not have possibly imagined, and in the exact manner that I most needed, and on the timeline that she knew would be best, none of which matched mine. In fact, she is still answering the prayers, surprising me with new graces each day. All of this to show me that I really have no option but to be a little child in her sight, and to just trust her.
This is ultimately the message of Lourdes and really of the entire pilgrimage: He just wants us to trust Him. And to trust Her. It is the same message of the entire Christian life. And He makes the same invitation again and again, to trust, as many times as it takes until we do finally learn that He is our Father, and She is our Mother, and that they indeed do know best.