If we are to learn anything from looking at the life of Our Lord and of our beloved Saints, it is that following Christ calls upon us to be Fools for Christ. Christ was born into and lived in poverty, which according to the dictates of this world is a true sign of being an insignificant loser. He took the company of sinners and people of questionable reputation, of prostitutes and the sick, which according to those very same dictates is not exactly a primer on successful networking.
Despite episodes of popularity, in the end He was betrayed by most of His followers which, according to earthly standards, is a sure sign of being made the fool. In the end, at least the end according to the measures of this world, He died a criminal's death, half-naked, hanging on a cross. If we were told that someone seen as a king ended up dying in such a state, we would surely believe that said person had made some foolish mistake, some critical miscalculation, and had paid dearly as a fool of his own error.
How many of the Saints lived lives which made no sense, bore no rational justification, by the standards of this world? Did not Assisi's St. Francis and St. Clare give up great wealth? Did not St. Thomas More give up great influence and power? It is almost as if following the One seen by the earth as a Fool requires that one be the fool as well, that one totally contradict and disregard the standards and dictates by which this world measures success, sanity and normality.
And so we look at Lourdes, that relatively insignificant town in France, which God did decide to favor much as He favored Bethlehem long before. While The Almighty sent us His only Son in the latter case, He favored us with the visits of the Immaculate Conception - our Blessed Mother in the former. Nothing about Lourdes would tell us that it should have been so blessed but, alas, it was, and the lessons emanating from this town have burned a path to Heaven which it is surely our choice to follow if we so wish.
The Lesson of Lourdes
Without recounting the events of the Apparitions to St. Bernadette Soubirous, we can make sweeping observations of the lessons learned through the course of these Heavenly Visits. First, we learn that poverty of the soul in the form of sin is far worse than physical, earthly poverty. We learn that what is of God follows God's Will and Word. We learn that God does not promise happiness by this world's standards, but by Heaven's eternal ones. We learn that being close to God requires that we be in the world but not of the world.
We learn that earthly authorities often mock the sacred and attack the holy. We learn that if we want to be closer to God, we must love others more and love ourselves less. We learn that we must pray for the conversion of sinners. Finally, we learn that God loves us very much and that we must repay that love by loving others and, above all, loving God with all our being, which means we must trust in His Word and His Will.
Faith, Obedience and Mud
When St. Bernadette obeyed Our Lady and rubbed mud in her face, drank dirty water and ate grass, she was mocked and ridiculed by many observers. Many argue that she mimed Our Lord's Passion as she did these things, and that the spring that burst forth was much like Our Lord's Blood that cleansed us of our sinfulness and gave us a new chance for salvation. Whatever the interpretation, one thing is clear. Bernadette played the fool for Her Lord, and she was mocked by many of this world as a result.
Let us recall St. John 9:1-7 wherein Our Lord cured the blind man of Siloe, not by merely curing him directly, but by rubbing mud in his eyes and asking him to walk a great distance to wash off that mud and be cured. Likewise, God does not give us everything we want, as we want it, when we want it and as quickly as we want it. Rather, He asks us to obey His Word, follow His Will, and play the fool for Him on the superficial and temporary stage that is this earth.
It is only when we so obey that we will find God's mission, the purpose of our lives in His service. To the extent that we care or concern ourselves with this world's measure of sanity, popularity, political correctness or normality, we will distance ourselves from the flame that is God's call in our lives.
To the world around her, St. Bernadette played the fool until the world saw something it could get out of Lourdes yet, much before the world saw value in Lourdes, Lourdes had much to offer this world. Likewise, we must play the fool for Our Lord, caring little of its measures and standards, but only of God's.
During one of her visions, St. Bernadette was seen to hold a candle whose flame touched her fingers, yet the fingers did not burn. Ironically, this flame that does not burn according to the measures of this world has a dual representation in eternity. We can choose to be subjected to the flames of hell which also do not burn as earthly flames do, yet which make those fires far more terrible than mere worldly flames. In the alternative, we can choose to be the lights of Christ in this world, burning with love for Him and lighting the way for those in darkness. It is our role to make those in darkness see the eternal poverty of their condition, and seek the light, for how can one choose the light when one does not see it?
This Heavenly fire does not burn us as well, but it is no torture, for that fire is a passion for serving God and saving souls.
A simple town in France with such a profound and powerful message. A simple girl in mud playing the fool for her God so pure and clean amongst the grime of sin from a world that mocked her. As we progress through this Lent, let us willingly and joyfully play the fools for our God as the visionary of Lourdes so elegantly and beautifully did.