In the seventh apparition at Lourdes which occurred on the 25th of February 1858, St. Bernadette was asked by the Blessed Mother to go to the fountain and wash. Mistakenly Bernadette went towards the river Gave but the Lady pointed to a spot beneath the grotto. Bernadette scratched the soil and some muddy water came forth. She cupped it in her hands covering her face with mud, much to the horror of onlookers. Finally, she was instructed to eat some bitter tasting herbs beside the little pool which again horrified and amused the onlookers who declared the little girl was insane. One of the onlookers would in time say about Bernadette in such a filthy state that, “We could have said that she bore all the sorrows of the world.”
We must remember that Bernadette resembles here Christ who spat on the ground making mud with his saliva in order to daub the eyes of the blind man in St. John’s Gospel. That poor muddied faced man was asked by the Lord to later wash in the pool of Siloam. (Jn 9:6-7) If we remember back to the book of Genesis it was with the soil of the earth that man was created, and in the waters of baptism we were washed into a new creation. The Blessed Mother asked that Bernadette would pray for sinners, and these small acts which brought her condemnation were a physical and yet symbolic reparation for the offences of mankind. The crowds that gathered at the grotto, jeered and mocked the young seer who was obedient to instructions of the Lady dressed in white. Christ Jesus too was jeered and mocked by his accusers both at the pillar of scourging and lastly upon the cross. Christ was offered bitter vinegar in his last moments of life again as a mockery but to fulfil the scriptures and here Bernadette eats bitter herbs, which symbolises the bitter herbs used to stuff the paschal lamb during the Passover feasts.
To scratch the soil and bring forth water reminds us of Moses striking the rock in the desert which brought forth water to refresh the people of Israel in the midst of their desert journey. Christ Jesus upon the cross will have his side pierced through with a spear bringing forth blood and water, the symbols of baptism and Eucharist, cleansing and nourishment for our life’s journey. Bernadette of Lourdes in this single apparition takes upon herself in obedience the face which becomes the icon of Christ in the world. Here in this muddied dark Grotto she will be instructed to have a church built where people will come with lighted lamps in honor of the Mother of God and for the worship of Christ our Redeemer. The Grotto is a place where Bernadette was ridiculed and laughed at, yet she was obedient to the words of the Lady. In that place where the waters continually flow, millions of people, both sick, suffering and sinners have washed in the waters which now run clear. In this great year of Mercy, let us draw near to the sacrament of reconciliation. Let is bring our muddied and stained souls to the fount of grace, the rock which was pierced out of love for us. The Virgin of Lourdes and her handmaid Bernadette invite us to repentance and to become the face of Christ in our world. All of us have the heritage of mud in us, but in Christ Jesus we have been set free and washed clean in the baptismal fount of his blood. Come to the water anew, which is Christ Jesus. The Virgin points to him, the true source, may his kingdom reign in our hearts, our families and our world.
Fr. John Hyacinth Walsh, O.P.