The State of Virginity

The State of Virginity
I should like you to be free of all worries. The unmarried man is busy with the Lord's affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord; but the married man is busy with this world's demands and occupied with pleasing his wife. This means he is divided. The virgin - indeed, any unmarried woman - is concerned with things of the Lord, in pursuit of holiness in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has the cares of this world to absorb her and concerned with pleasing her husband. I am going into this with you for your own good. I have no desire to place restrictions on you, but I do want to promote what is good, what will help you to devote yourselves entirely to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

THE VALUE OF SUFFERING


Every year, about 70000 sick and disabled pilgrims travel to Lourdes in the hope that they would be miraculously healed. In Lourdes, they can be seen everywhere - along the road and at every corner of the town, in the sanctuary area as well as the outside of it. There are always long queues of them at the grotto, waiting at the baths and in processions. In a way, it may be true to say that their sufferings actually enrich the sanctuary spiritually. Their presence tend to make us think and reflect on our own lives. Perhaps, for the first time in their lives, the healthy pilgrims would learn to appreciate their good health and offer thanksgiving to God. Perhaps, for the first time in their lives, these healthy pilgrims would realize that their cross is not the heaviest. Amongst the sick pilgrims themselves, many would have learnt how to bear their burden courageously and thus be healed spiritually in this place of grace. I snapped the above photo myself during a procession in Lourdes. Never have I seen so many sick people in my life. As I was reflecting on my own life that day, I said to myself, "I have nothing else to ask for."

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.

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