Bishop Jacques Perrier,
Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes
has outlined the pastoral theme
for 2009 as
2008 was the Jubilee Year - the 150th
Anniversary of the apparitions at
Lourdes. Of course, we did not forget
Bernadette - the Jubilee Way led us to
significant places in her life. But the
path to the Jubilee stopped on 16th July
1858 - the date of the final apparition.
This year we consider The Path of
Bernadette who lived for twenty-one
years after the apparitions: eight years
in Lourdes and thirteen years at Nevers.
The Church declared her a saint not by
virtue of the apparitions (not all
visionaries have been canonised), but
because of the holiness of her entire life.
To end the story of Bernadette in 1858
would be as absurd as stopping the story
of the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation.
As Mary continued her journey of faith,
Bernadette continued her journey with
We consider four themes of her Christian
journey which will be familiar to every
I - Discerning her vocation
Symbolic Place: the Hospice
Bernadette knew from an early age that
she would be a religious. She never
wanted to settle in the world as she
knew it. She refused offers of money and
gifts and turned away the suitors.
She had eight years to discern where the
Lord was calling her. When the Lady
asked her to wash in the water and to
drink it, she went towards the river
Gave. The Lady stopped her and guided
her to the spring at the back of the
cave. This scene of 25th February,
includes trial and error before the
discovery of the spring. It was the same
for the discernment of her vocation.
Having seen the Holy Virgin, it might
have been expected that Bernadette would
have chosen to follow a contemplative
vocation. She considered the Carmel at
Bagnères, but her health would have made
it impossible for her to undertake the
rigours of their rule. A number of
congregations tried to attract her, but
eventually she chose the congregation of
the Sisters of Charity and Christian
Instruction at Nevers. She had been
drawn by their service of the poor and
by the fact that the sisters did not
seek to influence her decision.
The many books that have been written
about Bernadette will tell us of:
- the attempts by various Congregations
to attract her;
- the meeting with Bishop Forcade,
Bishop of Nevers in 1863 after which she
considered seriously what they had
- obstacles she had to overcome (no
dowry, bad health, commitment to her
- the patience of her confessor, Father
Pomain, Chaplain at the Hospice;
- how she learnt to serve the sick.
We may wish to consider:
- how to discern God's will
- what 'Thy will be done' means
- how to discern a priestly or religious
- how we are encouraged
II - Life in the Church
the Rectory and the Church
Bernadette's young life was rooted in
the Church. She had been baptised at the
age of two days. She attended Mass not
only on Sundays, but on some weekdays.
She also went to Vespers. Her family was
also her 'domestic church'. They would
recite the rosary together and support
each other in the faith.
During the apparitions, Bernadette
approached Father Pomain on several
occasions for advice, above all because
she was entrusted with a mission to the
priests: 'Go and
tell the priests to build a chapel here
and to have people come in
procession.' This request was given a
poor reception by Father Peyramale, who
asked Bernadette to ask the Lady what
her name was. The Lady replied: 'I am
the Immaculate Conception'. She did not
understand what this meant, but it
corresponds with the dogma proclaimed
by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
Bernadette felt responsible for
transmitting a message, but did not feel
superior to the priests, for instance
she refused to bless objects.
Bernadette enjoyed extraordinary graces,
but continued to prepare for her First
Holy Communion and was pleased when she
joined the Children of Mary.
within the Church took a particular form
when she became a religious. Her vow of
obedience meant a very different way of
living and caused tensions with her
superior, but every day she shared with
the other sisters the same desire to
love Christ and neighbour, helping the
other sisters when they were in pain or
vision of the Church went beyond the
confines of her religious community.
Bernadette had a keen sense of the
communion of saints - or rather
communion with sinners. She implemented
throughout her life the request of the
Lady 'Pray to God for sinners', offering
all her sacrifice and sufferings for all
sinners. In her sleepless nights, she
felt united to the Masses celebrated in
the early hours of the morning in other
wish to consider:
- our experiences, positive and negative
of Church life
- we speak of 'parish community' - can a
parish be a community?
- what do the words 'Adhere to the
Church' mean to you?
III - The Eucharist
the Tent of Adoration
The Eucharist is linked to the
apparitions at least chronologically.
Bernadette returned form Bartrès in
January 1858 to prepare, at last, for
her First Holy Communion. It took place
on 3rd June, the Feast of Corpus
Christi, in the Oratory of the Hospice.
Furthermore, it is possible to see a
logical connection between the
apparitions and the Eucharist: On 18th
February, the Lady said that Bernadette
would be happy, not in this world, but
in the other. The Eucharist is the
foretaste of that other world.
At a time when the reception of
Communion was infrequent, Bernadette
received from her confessor permission
to receive Communion three times a week.
At Nevers, she was a frequent
communicant. The sisters in her
community have spoken of the beauty of
her face during the lengthy thanksgiving
she made after receiving Communion.
The Eucharist nourished Bernadette far
more than her memories of the grotto.
Through the Eucharist she remained
united with the Virgin Mary, receiving
the risen body of the One who was born
of her: Ave verum corpus natum de Maria
Those who would like to meditate on the
link between Mary and the Eucharist
might read the encyclical of
Pope John Paul II 'ECCLESIA
DE EUCHARISTIA', where, in chapter
six, he describes Mary as 'Woman of the
Bernadette was well enough to attend
Mass, she participated with all her
uniting the offering of
her life and suffering to the offering
of Christ. But she often had to spend
long periods in the infirmary at Nevers
where she was unable to attend Mass. Her bed
there was surrounded by white curtains
and she called this place her 'white
time of her death in 1879, the Basilica
of the Immaculate Conception had already
been built and plans for the larger
Rosary Basilica had been unveiled. But
it is the Christian heart that is the
real temple where prayer is grounded in
Christ and built on the Holy Spirit.
wish to consider:
- Holy Communion has become 'frequent'
since the time of St Pope Pius X: for
this reason the underground basilica was
dedicated in his name
- how can we guard against frequent
reception of Holy Communion being
considered a right or becoming something
that is automatic?
we still value and treasure the
- what can we do in practice to help the
younger generations to discover
- in Lourdes, how can we best spend the
afternoons of Eucharistic devotion:
procession, worship and blessing?
IV - Service
the Acceuils, the City Saint-Pierre
Holy Thursday Jesus instituted the
Eucharist and washed the feet of his
disciples. In both cases he told them to
do likewise. 'Do this in memory of me'
and 'I have given you an example so that
you may copy what I have done to you'.
Hospice of the Sisters of Nevers,
Bernadette engaged in both a Eucharistic
spirituality and service of the sick. Her care of the sheep
during the time she lived at Bartrès
conjures up an attractive image, but the
reality of caring for the sick, aged and
bedridden in the mid-nineteenth century
was far less attractive. It was in her
own family at Lourdes and among her
relatives and neighbours that she had
first been introduced to a life of
Bernadette had an inner strength within
her fragile body. She had experienced
much of the underside of life. But her
love of the poor did not flow solely
from her own experiences, nor just from
her natural qualities. Along with all
the saints, she loved Christ suffering
in his members. Even when care for the
sick was not part of their charism,
those like St Ignatius of Loyola and
Frederic Ozanam showed a tender love and
effective care for those in need. In the
Gospels we read that the most numerous
of those who gathered around Jesus were
sick or disabled.
For the love of Christ, Bernadette had
to overcome her natural revulsion to
certain illnesses. This gave other
Sisters the courage to overcome their
fear and hesitation in the face of
sickness. From starting in the infirmary
as no more than a helper who served the
tea, she became the head of the
infirmary. The doctor who visited the
convent spoke of his esteem for her and
his confidence in her abilities.
By her inner joy, her common sense, her
spiritual insight, her humility and the
example of her prayer, Bernadette was
serving the whole community without even
realising it. In fact, she likened
herself to a broom: "Our Lady used me.
They have put me back in my corner. I am
happy there, and stop there . . ."
The hardest part for Bernadette was to
surrender. She remained in the
Congregation House in Nevers treating
the poorest; her superiors thought it
imprudent to allow her to leave Nevers.
Illness forced her to give up serving
her sisters as a nurse and forced her to
accept being cared for herself.
Bernadette was humble - but a certain
pride made it difficult for her to learn
to be dependent on others.
It is difficult not to draw a parallel
with Pope John Paul II, who, in the last
days of his pontificate, thought that
the greatest service he could render to
the Church was to offer his suffering in
union with Christ our Saviour.
We may wish to consider:
- what kind of service we can render -
to our community, to the Church, to
- what kind of service can we render
within our parishes - what service does
the Lord expect of us?
- Christ is present in our brothers and
sisters who are sick or in distress -
suffering is something that at times we
all have to bear
- is our service of others itself a