The first words of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Bernadette are, "I do not promise you happiness in this world but the next." The meaning of these words can be found in the Bible: "Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps. Whoever would save his life would lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Luke 9:23-24. These words clearly suggest the essence of Bernadette's Calvary, a journey made of poverty, sickness, pain, misunderstanding and humiliation.
The message of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette was a simple one. Poverty, prayer and penance - these are the keys that would open the gates to the Kingdom of God. Bernadette accepted the destitution of her family and her own sufferings because God willed it. In the midst of our materialistic world, she has chosen poverty, altruism and charity as her way of life. The healings in Lourdes were not meant for Bernadette. She was merely the privileged witness and the faithful messenger of the Church. Although Bernadette was sick most of the time, she did not ask for her own healing. She bore her sufferings bravely all her life.
To define this sanctuary as simply a "place of miracles" or a "centre of pilgrimage" is to reduce its true significance. Lourdes is not merely a place of miracles. Rather, it helps us to understand the glorification of suffering in all its forms. Its purpose is not to rid us of our cross, but to help us to understand it and carry it with great fortitude. Every pilgrim, especially every sick pilgrim, should remember the two phrases uttered by Bernadette in the final moments of her life, "I am happier here in my bed of pain than any queen on her throne. To obey is to love; suffering in silence for Christ is love. To love sincerely is to offer up everything. Especially pain." Healing is important but knowing how to bear suffering is far more important! In this place of grace, Mary reminds us that veritable wealth is that of the heart. True happiness can only be found within us and that it may be acquired through honesty, responsibility and goodness if God is placed at the centre of these values.