Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate at Lourdes
Revelation 11:19 - 12:1, 10 / Luke 1:26-31
Prior to the publication of his novel Lourdes in 1894, Émile Zola was interviewed by the novelist, poet, journalist and biographer Robert H. Sherard. Zola explained in his interview the genesis of his novel, his accidental coming to the village of Lourdes during a holiday in the Pyrénées. There the skeptic was impressed by the site of the masses of pilgrims thronging to the site of the Virgin's appearance. No believer himself, indeed overtly hostile to the faith, Zola could not avoid being moved by this witness to hope in he midst of suffering. All the same, Zola said: Lourdes, the Grotto, the cures, the miracles are, indeed, the creation of that need of the Lie, that necessity for credulity, which is a characteristic of human nature. ... But Lourdes grew up in spite of all opposition, just as the Christian religion did, because suffering humanity in its despair must cling to something, must have some hope; and, on the other hand, because humanity thirsts after illusions. In a word, it is the story of the foundation of all religions.
To be sure, there is a kind of mind which presumes an inverse relation between the attractiveness of something unseen and the probability that it exists. It's too good to be true, we might say. We would like for such a thing to be the case, but in our fear of being disappointed — of feeling twice the fool, once for believing and again for being wrong when we knew we ought not to have believed in the first place — we draw back from the delightful hope dangled before our eyes. We do not prefer the dark, brutal, painful, grim, hysteria which Zola asserts is, sadly, the true story of the human race. But, better the devil you know ...
Surely even Zola would have to admit the captivating beauty of the Virgin in her glorious appearing. Whether as the woman clothed in white before young Bernadette, or the woman clothed with the sun, and the moon ... under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars, or the humble maid in Bethlehem who has found grace with God, chastely pondering in holy fear what manner of greeting this might be. Is it no surprise that the image of the Virgin is so compelling that she has moved not only the greatest artists, composers, architects and poets of Christendom, but even inspired the Buddhists of China to change their image of the bodhisattva of mercy from that of a man to a gentle woman with a child? Who wouldn't want to believe in such a woman? Who would not hope to get even a slightest glimpse of that woman in whom we see, beyond any other of those whose earthly life has been completed, the salvation, and the power and the kingdom of our God; and the authority of His Christ?
So, have we been duped? Ought we to draw back from our hope of the Virgin's gracious apparition to Bernadette, and her merciful intercession for countless suffering pilgrims of the years at Lourdes? Should we be all the more cautious because Our Lady of Lourdes is all fair, the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, the honor of our people?
Zola's error, and one we must guard against, was to presume that because something fulfills a wish, it must not be true. A man might be rightly regarded as painfully deceived if he sought to escape a burning building by sprouting wings and flying away, but does his hope of rescue by helicopter or ladder suggest we ought to doubt the existence of a fire department? A man who is thirsty surely yearns and hopes for water. If he seeks it where those whom he loves, and who he knows love him just as dearly, have told him it can be found, do we call his travelling there a seeking after illusion? So, too, our thoughts about God and his holy ones may indeed be projections, but just because something is a projection does not mean that what is projected does not also really exist.
We have good reason to hope in the Virgin under her title Our Lady of Lourdes. We have certain hope in her intercession under any terms whatever. Calling after her whom we have not seen is not to pursue the Lie. The Lie would be to deny that our longing for spiritual beauty and healing is altogether justified. We need not fear to be made the fool. She, who appeared to Bernadetter in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, is as ready to appear to us. Through her God has indeed visited the earth and plentifully watered it; he has enriched it in many ways.