By Leon Bent –
“The Virgin” is a poem from Part II of Wordsworth’s 1822 Ecclesiastical Sonnets, and is a tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s, “tainted nature’s solitary boast…,” her Immaculate Conception! Just four words succinctly bring out Mother Mary’s unsurpassable beauty and multifaceted preciousness to Jesus and the life of all Christians.
In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8th December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.” Mary appeared to Bernadette on February 11, 1858, and in 17 additional apparitions until July 16th of the same year. During the 16th apparition on March 25, 1858, our Lady declared: “I am the Immaculate Conception”. This Dogma is spelt out in several Marian Church Documents like: Ineffabilis Deus; Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum ; Munificentissimus Deus; and Redemptoris Mater.
The Virgin Mary warned Bernadette: “You will not find peace in this world, but only in the world to come”. What is even more important is: Our Lady wanted to enter into a person-to-person relationship with Bernadette. At the very start, Bernadette was invited to open her heart to the “Message of Love”.
On December 8, 1933, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius XI canonized Bernadette. Her miraculously preserved body remains incorruptible to this day. It is a profound source of inspiration and mystery that encapsulates the wondrous ways of the Lord. The simple and pure face of our Church’s beloved saint is one of surreal beauty, and will remain for us always, the face that gazed into the compassionate eyes of the Mother of God.
The significance is — as it was in Bernadette’s era – both, a call to conversion and an embrace of maternal comfort. “We need to be reminded that we have a mother in times of difficulty,” said, Pope Francis. The Pontiff added: Youth, themselves, are “agents of change;” many are “major, leading characters” in today’s climate of change and involvement. “The Church is called to learn from young people” as many young saints provide, like St. Bernadette, both, “testimony” and “inspiration”.
The location of the apparitions, Lourdes, in France, remains the most popular destination for Catholic enlightenment seekers and those wanting the fragrant, medicinal “Balm of Gilead” (King James Bible, Jer.8:22). By the late 20th century, the site was seeing as many as four million visitors annually.
Lourdes reminds us about Jesus’ message of love. The experience is one of sharing, protecting, helping and extending a compassionate heart and tender hands to the weak of limb. The mystery of this holy site opens our eyes to the fact that, it is in encountering the broken hearted and marginalized that we encounter Jesus and his Way. The sick and the troubled that flock to Lourdes are not just those in need of our special care. They are the real protagonists, central characters, of what takes place in Lourdes. They determine the real satisfaction with which we return back home; the attraction which makes us want to return to Lourdes again. They turn our understanding of weakness upside down, and in doing so, help us see the Light of Jesus, through the dark tunnel of intense craving for unattainable ambition, substance abuse, debauchery, celebrity status, power, money and possessions.
What one experiences in Lourdes is the energizing Good News of Jesus. The fireside warmth and healing that literally wraps one like a soft, warm and consoling towel in Lourdes, rewrites the horrible stories of emotional and physical illness-prone devotees, and soothes the abominable plight of weak and troubled pilgrims. Lourdes reminds us what a life of Christian love and service can do for others, and offers a sort of icon for a caring Church and world.
Youth, do not ever abandon the Church! Your “called-out ones” or Christian disciples, lie beyond the visible horizon, the long future which will linger on, when this old generation will have long since been forgotten.
The Church will not be reformed by abandoning it through pride and prejudice and hurt feelings, if any, but by living the Word and giving it flesh and blood reality in youthful lives, with purity of heart and child-like, yet, fierce faith, like Immaculate Mary and shy, innocent, fledgling Bernadette, did. The Church needs your integrity, honesty, openness, vision, realism, idealism and zeal. Youth have special charisma can revitalize and reinvent Christianity and make the “People of God” vibrant, welcoming, hospitable and life-changing. It can be a Lighthouse that brings wayward youth, who have gone off at a sharp tangent, back to the Light, which is Christ himself! The real newness is, however, the perennial morning dew, fresh-as-mint, message of Jesus Christ and his fidelity, even when we drift far from his flaming heart of love.
And, this final flourish! Mary gave an ordinary peasant girl, in a dark, dingy, rancid, cob-web-ridden grotto, a radical, revolutionary, deceptively simple, explosive message that has stood the test of time. She will appear to us too, in myriad disguises and through diverse, unlikely messengers, to point the way to Jesus, her loving Son. Do not doubt or dismiss with disdain, this evergreen promise!
Leon Bent is an ex-Seminarian and studied the Liberal Arts and Humanities, and Philosophy, from St. Pius X College, Mumbai. He holds Masters Degree in English Literature and Aesthetics. He has published three Books and have 20 on the anvil. He has two extensively “Researched” Volumes to his name: Hail Full of Grace and Matrimony: The Thousand Faces of Love. He won The Examiner, Silver Pen Award, 2000 for writing on Social Issues, the clincher being a Researched Article on Gypsies in India, published in an issue of the (worldwide circulation) Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, New Delhi.