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