SYMPHONY OF SUFFERING column for July 17-18, 2000
SYMPHONY OF SUFFERING
The healing begins
Pray that the Holy Spirit permits me to recount our experiences in Lourdes worthily, for the mysteries of God, and His Mercy and Wonders are often without words. I am so eager to share these things with all of you. The Holy Spirit desires that I share with all of you the wonders of Lourdes that are available to all peoples, and the blessings, miracles and healings that occurred for us while there.
When last I wrote, our pilgrimage was enroute to this Heavenly shrine in the Pyrannees in the far reaches of southern France. We had reached the Italian Riviera,
but we still had a long way to go by bus. Another long, long, long, bus ride brought us into Nice. We had made one stop enroute, which was Alassio in Italy, along the Mediterranean. It was a beautiful place, very much like San Diego, and the people there were delightful. By the time we got into Nice it was already after seven. Our hotel was small, cramped, and a place simply to freshen up and lie down for a good night's sleep after a quick meal in an out-of-the way restaurant that provided us with a meal. It was our first experience with French cuisine and, to be perfectly honest, we longed for the Italian pasta. We were so tired we ate the salad, and immediately went back to get some sleep.
The next day we set out for Lourdes. We boarded the bus at 7:30 am, and we drove and drove till all of us ached from sitting so long. I was concerned for my huband Michael for he had been sitting so long on the bus. The countryside changed when we left Nice, it became flat and was really unremarkable. We were due to arrive in Lourdes by 3 p.m., but once again we didn't arrive till nearly seven o'clock in the evening. Everyone on the tour was so exhausted. We drug ourselves (Michael still in a wheelchair) to dinner, and found to our delight that the people in Lourdes were as friendly as any people you could ever meet, and the meals were wonderful there! This was the night of the 18th. The schedule for the following day was packed. The Miraculous Baths are open only from 9 till 11 am, and then again from 2 until 4 pm. This is what we had come for, this was what Our Blessed Mother had asked of us ten years before, and this was a moment of great excitement, deep prayer, and more than a little anxiety, for none of us knew what to expect, only that God was in charge and He would do what He needed to do for our own welfare, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
As we went to bed that night, we discovered that it was Volunteer Military Week in Lourdes, with representatives from around Europe and America present. These military personnel were some of the friendliest, most respectful, and very reverent people we have encountered, and although that first night the endless playing of military bands on the street kept us awake for our room looked out over Avenue Saint Bernadette, the mood was joy, peace, and celebration. It was hard to get to sleep with one band after another playing religious hymns and marches, but we grew accustomed to it, and relished it during our stay. Yet, that first night, with Mike's legs in worse shape than they had been in Rome, and the boys anxious over what would happen to them after the Miraculous baths, we all fell into bed absolutely exhausted, simply thanking God for allowing us to get to Lourdes. No one had the slightest idea of what the next day would be…and it was best for us, for God's wonders and blessings, healings and miracles are His to make known in His time…and in this case, ignorance was truly bliss, for we could but abandon ourselves to Him, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The wonders of Lourdes are so immense. To say the least, the pilgrimage was rigorous from the start. There were many, many crosses, including Michael's extremely life-threatening condition of blood clots. I remember very clearly that all four of us said, right before we retired for the night, that if we were all to die there, then it would be Heaven on earth for us, for Lourdes is not of this world. That was a tremendous statement for us, but particularly for both our sons Kevin and Kellin, who were exhausted, homesick, and very, very anxious.
We had arrived late on the evening of May 18th. After hours of traveling by bus, very few in our pilgrimage had any strength left to participate in the nightly solemn procession which winds through the streets of Lourdes, coming to the Grotto just off the main square.
The priest who accompanied us on the pilgrimage was to concelebrate Mass on the morning of May 19th at the Grotto with hundreds of other English-speaking bishops and priests for the English Mass at approximately 8:30. We were told by the tour guide in Lourdes to arrive very early if we hoped to get one of the few seats available. We arose early, ate a bit of breakfast, and then bundled ourselves in the few sweaters and windbreakers we had packed. The day began overcast, with a stiff wind that chilled the temperature into the low 50's, perhaps the upper 40's. After having come from Italy, which was downright hot, it was a shock to the system to be in winter-like conditions for those of us who had come from California. When one lives in southern California one's blood thins out and even the slight ocean breeze we receive daily off the Pacific is cause for a light windbreaker. In short, we were all freezing that morning.
We went directly to the Grotto, intending to hear the Mass for the English speaking pilgrims. We arrived just before the Gospel at a Mass being said in Italian. We felt right at home, for the Italian language is quite close to Latin and we had been in Italy a week prior to this, so the Mass was not foreign to us. We participated fully in the Mass, even having one of the many priests in attendance bringing the Holy Eucharist directly to us, because Michael was still in a wheelchair. Having Our Lord with us, we moved immediately from the Grotto to the Miraculous Baths, which were just opening for the day.
By the grace of God we were among the first pilgrims to arrive. Of course, Michael and the boys were in a separate section, so I went to the women's section and sat next to a woman on our pilgrimage who had gone to Lourdes because she was dying of terminal cancer. I don't know what my face looked like-I suspect I was so cold I looked numb-but the face of this woman I will never forget. It was filled with the pain of her illness, but also the hope and joy of being bathed in the Miraculous Waters which have flowed unceasingly since 1858. The procedure is most reverent, and very, very modest. I was asked what language I spoke, so that when I was called to enter the first room where one undresses, there was one person who spoke fluent English. I unrobed, while the attendant carefully, and with great tenderness, placed around me a thin blue robe. I must remind you that the temperature was in the upper forties with a stiff wind, and I was absolutely shaking with the cold. As I awaited my turn to enter the next room, where I would be bathed in the waters, I was truly so overwhelmed by the majesty of Lourdes that I could only sigh the name of Jesus. All the thoughts, the petitions for myself, my family, and for many whom I took with me in my heart, along with many pictures and written petitions which I carried in a plain white envelope and held next to my heart, were all a blur. I was in Lourdes. I was going to be bathed in the Miraculous Waters, and I couldn't find any words to pray. I simply sat there, sighing the name of Jesus, and through that sigh, giving myself totally to Him out of Love, for the sake of Love, permitting Him to do with me as He saw fit, not what I wanted, or thought I needed.
Suddenly, it was my turn. Very gently, the English speaking volunteer took me by the arm and gently led me through the blue curtain which separated the dressing room from the bath. As I entered, I saw before me the large bathing place where the miraculous spring water flowed. Very discreetly, I was disrobed from the blue robe and placed into a thin white cotton robe. I was still pressing to my heart the envelope which contained the pictures and written petitions of many whom I took with me on this pilgrimage. I made the sign of the cross, and then was helped down to the first of three steps into the bathing tub. The water barely covered my feet, but it was a shock because the water was absolutely freezing. It couldn't have been any warmer than 40 degrees. I was allowed to stand there for the space of a minute, then the two other attendants in the room came toward me. Taking me by the arms, the led me gently down the next two steps, and forward into the miraculous waters to its deepest end, where the water reached mid-thigh. There, on the wall before me was a tiny statute of Our Lady of Lourdes. Standing in ice-cold water, shivering from head to toe, I leaned forward and kissed the feet of Our Lady. Then, I was led backward about four steps, then with the help of the attendants, I was immersed up to my neck in the waters. Remember, I was till clutching the envelope to my heart, and the water reached all the way up to my neck, wetting the hair on the back of my neck.
Then, before I could realize it, I was lifted up, turned around, and gently led back up to the top of the three steps. I couldn't believe it. I wasn't the least bit cold. In fact, I felt quite warm and toasty. By the time my feet reached the top of the three steps, I wasn't even wet. Miraculously, I was warm and dry. It was all too much to comprehend at the moment. I was taken back to the dressing room, where I proceeded to redress, then went immediately in search of my husband and my sons.
My sons had already been bathed, and there was a look of wonderment and awe and overwhelmed feelings on their faces. I looked for Mike, and just then he emerged, still in his wheelchair, from the baths. All of us were stunned! It was as if time stood still at that moment for all of us. What had happened? Had anything happened?
Mike wanted to proceed to the Basilica to give thanks, but the Holy Spirit was pushing me to return to the quiet of our hotel room, to have time to literally rest in the Spirit. This is what we did. All of us were very quiet on the way back, we spoke very little to each other.
Once in our rooms, the boys having their own, I helped Michael out of the wheelchair and into bed where I could prop up his feet. Within minutes of returning to the hotel, Michael began to feel great pain in his feet, legs, and particularly his calves. He was in misery. He was near to tears, and so was I. The questioning began within ourselves. Had Michael's condition with the blood clots been made worse because of the long hours of travel and then cold, cold water? Was the Good Lord going to have Michael hospitalized in Lourdes? Would we ever get back home? What was going on, Lord?!
Next week: Healing by God's Timetable
July 17-18, 2000
volume 11, no. 122
SYMPHONY OF SUFFERING
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