Saint Bernadette Soubirous: a Quiet Riot – UPDATED

Today is the feastday of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes — a woman brought up in such mean poverty that her whole family lived in the equivalent of a jail cell. She was a shepherdess; a poor student who could barely learn her catechism, yet was able to burst into her pastor’s office with the words “Immaculate Conception” pouring forth; a visionary who faced public ridicule for digging with her hands, until the healing spring showed forth the next day.

I love Bernadette. Her life was not long, and after the remarkable events at the grotto at Massabielle, it really wasn’t her own. Harangued for the rest of her life by theologians and churchmen who either doubted her story or could not accept that someone so ignorant would be blessed with visions of downright biblical proportions, and so connected with a dogma of such complexities and depths of nuance. They forgot, apparently, that throughout scripture God uses the most surprising and often humble people to do his will. But Bernadette had a sense of humor and a completely self-effacing way, and she possessed the forthrightness that is so characteristic of us Catholic peasants. When these theologians and bosses doubted her to her face, she countered, “my job is to inform, not to convince.”

She said it with perfect politeness, but there is such a shrug of detachment contained within those words. She answered their questions and kissed it up to God as to whether anyone believed her. Once we’ve had a taste of heaven, who cares for the opinions of the falsely exalted on earth? And Bernadette — who was remarkably grounded — would have counted herself among the falsely exalted. Told that pictures of her were being sold at Massabielle for ten sous, she sighed, “I am not worth that much.”

Can’t you just hear the shrug?

A while back I did a podcast on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Because Bernadette is so intimately connected to that dogma, she appears about 60 seconds into the thing, as I recount exactly how Bernadette blew her pastor’s mind. Give a listen, if you like — I wish I still had time to do those!

Father James Martin, who also has a great fondness for Bernadette (his chapter on her in My Life with the Saints is particularly good) shares more, here:

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And Father Dwight on “The Day I Met St. Bernadette

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  • Joan M

    Yes, today is the Feast of St. Bernadette in the Universal Church, but, my birthday, February 18th is the Feast of Bernadette in France. My middle name is Bernadette.

  • Sherry Maghsoodloo

    I have always loved the story, of Bernadette. I am a catholic convert and even before I knew anything about Catholicism, I believed that story. I have the old movie and watch it with the same amazement I did when I was younger. Thank God for these amazing miracles of his grace extended to us as we sojourn here on earth.

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  • Elisabeth McDonald

    Thank you for posting this, and the video from Fr. Martin. I had chosen Bernadette as my patron saint at confirmation some 30 years ago simply b/c she was a young girl, as I was. In this past year I felt that I needed a friend in heaven and revisited her asking for her friendship. This past year she had led me to Mary, which has brought a major shift in my spiritual life in that I experienced transformation, not just hope for transformation. Several of the days when these breakthroughs occured “coincidentally” were feast days related to her – Dec 8th, for example. Then I learned that she is the patron saint of nurses (of which I am one) and then, that I was baptized in St. Bernadette’s church as a baby of only a few days old! She has truly befriended me, with the happiness of a true and willing friend. I enjoyed spending yesterday showing her my affection and asking her to bring me and my loved ones and special intentions, to greater fruition. She is, to my great and embarassing surprise, much more than ‘just a young girl like me’. She is amazingly deep, a source of endless profound lessons in holiness, faith and the Cross. And, in fact, it was not I who chose her, but she who chose me, at the tender age of just a few days old. In her characteristic way, she didn’t need any attention for all she has done for me, and she led me to Mary. Thank God for the communion of Saints! And thank you St. Bernadette for being my special friend.

  • Bill Foley

    The contrast between the Holy Spirit-generated wisdom in St. Bernadette and the bookish knowledge of theologians is well written about by the great Dominican Father Juan Arintero in the second volume of his classic work The Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church.

    “On seeing in the Church so many illiterate souls suddenly transformed by the prodigious light which they receive in contemplation and filled with a superior science by which they confound even the most learned men, who could sincerely deny that the finger of God is present there in some way? With the greatest facility, accuracy, and precision these souls speak of the most abstruse theological questions, although they have never studied theology and perhaps have never heeded such things. Meanwhile the greatest theologians, who have studied such matters all their life and are extremely careful in measuring their words, fall into confusion and inexactitude.”