The Year of Saint Bernadette
Fr Jan Robakowski
The present year – 2009 – after the celebrations of the Great Jubilee in Lourdes is especially dedicated to St. Bernadette.
Extending the jubilee to preserve its fruits
The great jubilee of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Mother of God at the grotto in Massabielle was an exceptionally big success: the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, nine million pilgrims… Therefore, according to Bishop Jacques Perrier it would be a mistake to let this great enthusiasm not be properly used and you should show the wonderful fruits that the apparitions yielded in Bernadette’s heart. The 130th anniversary of her death falls this year.
Bernadette’s way to sanctity
Proposing pilgrims to follow the spiritual way of Bernadette they are encouraged to pay special attention to four aspects of her life: the relationship with the Church: faith and its practice; the Eucharistic life: meeting Christ in Holy Communion; love of your neighbour: meeting Christ in your neighbours who need help; religious vocation: following only the Kingdom of God by realising every kind of vocation: religious, marital… Reflecting on these four aspects in Bernadette’s life pilgrims should get inspiration and occasion to look at their behaviours and to experience conversion.
Faith and its practice
Bernadette has always belonged to the Church. She was born to a Catholic, deeply believing and practicing family. She was baptised two days after her birth and received Christian names: Marie-Bernarde. She could not go to school or to catechism lessons because of extreme poverty of her parents. She had to help them and care for her younger brothers and sisters as she was the eldest child. However, she always went to church: she regularly attended Mass, Vespers and other services. She prayed the rosary daily with her parents.
Lord God looks at the heart and can see what is hidden from the world; that’s why he providentially chose Bernadette, who was poor, ill, illiterate, not knowing the catechism, for Mary to be her confident and intermediary in passing an important message to the world. Following the command of the Mother of God she went, many times, to the parish house since she was sent to priests with an ecclesiastical mission: to organise procession and build a chapel. In turn, on behalf of the parish priest (the Church) she asked the Lady what her name was.
Her great desire to participate in religious instruction preparing her for First Communion was the main reason why Bernadette went to her foster mother in Bartres. Having seen that she had no chances to realise her pious plan there she returned to Lourdes towards the end of January 1858, where she began attending school in the hospice run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, and at the same time she attended catechism lessons taught by Fr Pomian. Bernadette, being properly prepared by Mary during the apparitions and by her diligent participation in catechism lessons, met Christ for the first time on the feast of Corpus Christi on 3 June 1858, receiving him to her heart during her First Communion in the chapel of the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction in Lourdes.
Religious vocation and its realisation
Exactly 15 years later, on 3 June 1873, following the voice of vocation and out of love for Christ, she took the first religious vows in the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers. Bernadette always felt a religious calling; she always wanted to become a nun. Her only problem was which congregation to choose; where she could, in spite of her poor health, fulfilled her calling to love God and neighbour. Living for six years in the hospice run by the Sisters of Charity in Lourdes Bernadette gradually found out her vocation. Finally, she chose the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers since she liked their rules and sacrifice for the poor and the sick. She spoke to the superior about her decision for the first time in the hospice on 4 April 1864, i.e. on the solemn day of dedication of the statue of the Mother of God at the grotto in Massabielle by Bishop Bertrand Laurence. Bernadette received most graces for herself and other people when she joined the congregation. Throughout all her religious life she eagerly fulfilled the commands of our Lady: she prayed for conversion of sinners and dedicated all her sufferings for them, and at the same time she worked in the infirmary, lovingly caring for the sick.
Twenty-one years of Bernadette’s life after the apparitions – 8 in Lourdes and 13 in the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers – were the time of her pilgrimage in faith.