Gradually, she weakens and is increasingly confined to her bed. A cancerous tumor is discovered on her leg, and she declines rapidly. On her deathbed, her mind returns to Massabieille. "I have told the events," she tells her sister. "Let people abide by what I said the first time. I may have forgotten and so may others. The simpler one writes, the better it will be." At her death, Bernadette is 34 years old.

For most of her life, Bernadette patiently endured endless questions about her visions, consistently refused gifts, and occasionally faced jealousy from some of her sisters in the convent. Always an obedient person, she tried to do her best in a difficult situation, but grew weary of repeating the same details to both the faithful and the doubtful. Reading her story, with its details of a poor and hungry childhood, constant demands to answer questions about the apparitions, and even a difficult life in the convent, Bernadette seems at peace only when she is in the grotto. As Ruth Harris writes, "Like the photographs that tried to capture her during the apparitions, Bernadette obeyed, but seemed to leave her heart somewhere else." 

The story told by Bernadette Soubirous is difficult for even devout Catholics to accept. Of course, it's not essential that a Catholic believe in this story or in the apparitions at Lourdes, as one needs to believe in, say, the Resurrection. But the beauty of the story, and Bernadette's character, has always made it easy for me to accept. 

Excerpted from My Life With the Saints, by James Martin, S.J.