Tuesday, February 11, 2014 marks the 156th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes, a small village in southern France. Young Bernadette Soubirous was waiting for her companions to return from their search for firewood. She heard a frightening sound, and looking toward the grotto of Massabielle, she saw a beautiful young lady at the mouth of the grotto. The lady looked at Bernadette, smiled and motioned that she should draw closer. Bernadette complied and, kneeling and waiting for the lady to begin, she prayed the rosary with her. When the rosary was finished (the lady prayed all but the Hail Mary’s), the lady, and the accompanying golden cloud, retired to the interior of the cave. Thus began a series of eighteen apparitions in which Bernadette received instructions from Our Lady who revealed herself as “The Immaculate Conception” (The dogma had already been declared by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854).
Even as I write this, I recall my first visit to Lourdes in 1958: the all-night vigil, working at the baths, the joy and peace even on the part of those who came for healing. Let us never forget the message of Lourdes: “pray for sinners.” This has been the constant call in all the ensuing apparitions of Mary over the last 156 years. She has urged us to pray the Rosary for this world, thus joining her in the most profound form of almsgiving we can offer.