Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Suffering in ourselves, family members, friends…and Lourdes

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 20, 2023 | In Reviews

It typically takes a parent about five minutes to learn that the deepest sorrows come when a spouse or child has serious medical, psychological or spiritual problems. For those who are not parents, the sorrows may arise from the condition of a parent or a sibling or even a beloved friend. One way or another, most of us know this sorrow, and we also know there is all too little we can do about it.

I should amend that last sentence. There is often all too little we can do about it here and now, but there is always a great deal that we can do about its eternal consequences, even if we do not see the results of our prayers, sacrifices and holy sorrow in this world. Speaking as a parent thinking of his children and their children and their children (and so on) in a very fallen world, I can only echo the intention of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: I hope to spend my heaven doing good on earth—indeed, more good than I was ever able to do in this life.

At the moment, of course, that lies beyond my control, though such a spiritual intention is in itself salutary. And very often, here and now, our own efforts and prayers seem inadequate for the task of physical or even spiritual healing. Perhaps this is why I took special notice of two new books about Lourdes, that most famous of all healing “locations”. The memorial of Our Lady’s appearances to St. Bernadette has come and gone for this year (it falls on February 11th). But this does not reduce the relevance of the books.

As I said, it does not take us long to realize how little we can do to alleviate the suffering of those we love. In the face of the paltry character of our own interventions, we are forced to take prayer more seriously, along with resignation to God’s will. But those are two excellent lessons which, while they may not seem to do much here and now, can make all the difference in eternity. Nonetheless, we have both a natural and a spiritual yearning for something that will be effective in this world.

Either way and both ways, one of those things may be a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

All kinds of healings

The worth of these two new books about Lourdes consists in their understanding that the healings for which the blessed waters are so famous are more often spiritual—and therefore both psychological and behavioral—than they are necessarily physical. Certainly it is the inexplicable physical healings that we tend to regard as the most stupendous of the Lourdes miracles; nor is that unreasonable, because such healings are more difficult to explain away. But if we ask ourselves whether a suffering person would rather find physical healing or a deep inner peace—especially if they are psychologically or spiritually troubled—then we can see the importance of the less visible, or at least less physically measurable, healings that are apparently even more common at Lourdes through the intercession of the Mother of all mothers.

If we have grown spiritually to the point of having our priorities mostly right, we will also treasure spiritual healing more ourselves. So we must ask ourselves if we are looking for a proof to help our weakness of faith, or we are actually trusting God to work his best miracle of grace in the case we have in mind. God’s ways are not our ways. I hate to see my loved ones suffer; I rebel against it. But more than anything else, I want them in Heaven.

The first of these two new books is from EWTN Publishing, Everyday Miracles of Lourdes, by Marlene Watkins. This is a standard paperback, but it has an interesting genesis. The author experienced her own healing at Lourdes, where she finally began to feel warm and safe after years of severe agoraphobia, unimaginable stress, and consequent erratic behavior. The experience led Marlene to found the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers, whose growing membership now spends a great deal of time in Lourdes helping other visitors to find their place there, prepare themselves for grace, and to immerse themselves in the famous waters.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this book is that it recounts the similar experiences of twenty men and women with a wide variety of illnesses, disabilities, psychological and spiritual problems—each of whom responded to the grace-filled experience of Lourdes by becoming a Hospitality volunteer, devoting significant amounts of time to helping others to experience what they themselves experienced in the healing waters. I mean the cure that went to the heart of the problems they were experiencing, whether physical or psychological or spiritual, the cure that came from the tender closeness of Mary and the even greater healing closeness of God Himself.

You will find a range of accounts here, touching nearly every type of need that has drawn desperate souls to Lourdes. There are, at Lourdes, miracles on every level. Those who come may or may not know what it is they truly need, but they do know when their need has been met. And many of them apparently want to help others to experience the same thing—which is always a uniquely personal gift, a uniquely personal result.

Lourdes for the Coffee Table

The second book, from Ignatius Press, is a translation of an original French edition published by Les Éditions du Cerf in Paris in 2021. This deluxe coffee table book (albeit in glossy paperback) is introduced by the well-known French priest, Thierry Hubert, OP, who produces a popular weekly French Catholic TV program called Le Jour du Seigneur (Day of the Lord). It features the French photographer Sophie Delay, who has accompanied the annual Dominican-led Rosary Pilgrimage to Lourdes for years.

The title is Lourdes: Healing and Rebirth. The photos are mostly of pilgrims and various aspects of the pilgrimage site. As such, they hardly take the breath away, but they do get you into the book and keep you turning pages until you begin to realize this is no ordinary coffee table book with a text as glossy as the photos. It is actually a collection of reflections which highlight different aspects of the apparitions of Our Lady and the experience of Lourdes, written by an astonishing array of twenty-seven men and women since 1854—half of them, if I counted correctly, before 1900.

These highlights, essays and Church documents are spread through the six sections of the book, which include a suitable “Opening”; Bernadette; the Sanctuary of Lourdes; the Immaculate Conception; Pilgrimage; and Miracles. Among the more famous writers are (in order presented) Paul Claudel, Pope Pius XI, Pope Blessed Pius IX, François Mauriac, Pope Pius XII, and Émile Zola—but there are twenty-one others, including one anonymous witness to the Lourdes experience in 1876.

Both of these books bring not only spiritual hope but hope for a miracle (the two are not always precisely the same). If you are suffering from your own misery or from the too-little that you can do to reduce the misery of others, these words and images in themselves can be a healing balm. Perhaps a sincere pilgrimage to Lourdes is in your future. It may not turn out as you expect, but when undertaken with a plea for greater faith, hope and love, I am convinced that the result will not disappoint.

Marlene Watkins, Everyday Miracles of Lourdes. EWTN Publishing, 2022. 252pp. Paper: $19.95.

Thierry Hubert, Sophie Delay, Lourdes: Healing and Rebirth. Ignatius Press, 2023. 248pp. Glossy Paper, overisize: $26.96

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: EiLL - Feb. 21, 2023 8:20 PM ET USA

    Such a timely article. ...we are actually trusting God to work his best miracle of grace in the case we have in mind. Thank you for this encouraging word.