When you arrive in Lourdes, France, everything else seems to slip away — preoccupations, preferences, anxieties. You have the same life with its responsibilities and burdens, of course, but it’s all so much better and clearer and more hopeful.
This may seem strange to hear if you happen to know that the sick and suffering flock to this place for healing from its waters and peace from being present and receptive here. But that’s exactly it. There is something that is calming and focusing about this place.
I’m with a group of pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. For most, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Everything here seems to have them emotional. The one word they all seem to mention is “gratitude.” I remember a peace my friend Kate Goodwin wrote, a few years before she died, about her trip to Lourdes. She received no cure from cancer, but there was an unmistakable radiance about her. There always had been, but now it was unmistakable, like a beacon. And all you wanted to do was catch some of the resplendent beauty that clearly was connected with the Blessed Mother and their communion.
Karen wrote about “Eucharisteo, the deepest kind of gratitude.” She wrote: “Was I healed? Most transformations occur over time. Epiphanies such as St. Paul’s on his journey to Damascus are rare, but however long it takes, the point of a journey to Lourdes is the same: a conversion of the heart more than a cure of the body. And some passage of time is usually required for either outcome.”
And she quoted C.S. Lewis on heaven, writing: “More often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”
“It is the secret signature of each soul,” Lewis explained, “the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.”
At Lourdes you are surrounded by and enveloped by Marian love. You are who you were made to be — and more acutely aware of your identity as beloved by God. You want nothing other than to live that life, to live for him.
When Pope St. John Paul II visited here in 2004, he said words that should continue to resonate as a rallying cry even from the profound necessary silence of Lourdes: “Dear brothers and sisters! From this grotto of Massabielle the Blessed Virgin speaks to us too, the Christians of the third millennium. Let us listen to her!”
He said: “Our Lady of Lourdes has a message for everyone. Be men and women of freedom! But remember: human freedom is a freedom wounded by sin. It is a freedom which itself needs to be set free. Christ is its liberator; he is the one who ‘for freedom has set us free’ (cf. Gal 5:1). Defend that freedom!”
He concluded: “Dear friends, in this we know we can count on Mary, who, since she never yielded to sin, is the only creature who is perfectly free. I entrust you to her. Walk beside Mary as you journey towards the complete fulfilment of your humanity!”
It’s humanity in its fullness that is present here. Her “yes” — and ours — are on display and in communion. She’ll help us because it’s all about living the will of God — just as she did. And she does not leave us on our own to do it. We have a mother, and she’s as close to the heart of Jesus as it gets. Let us listen to her!
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).