The apparitions at Massabielle both encompass and surpass the exchanges which took place between Mary and Bernadette. They point to a wider horizon. They direct us to that fundamental and indispensable context in the light of which every message from God has to be read; that of the Gospels. As we follow in Bernadette's footsteps this is where we are led - to the Gospel.
Poverty, for this is the sign of God's presence. He comes to us, not in a wondrous and mighty glory that would blind our eyes, but in a poverty that allows Him to draw close to our hearts. Before the apparitions, Bernadette accepted life with a certain kind of stoic resignation, albeit deeply motivated by faith: "You shouldn't complain," she would say. But after the apparitions, when she realized more deeply the ways of God she went this to say: "I want to remain poor." It was the answer she gave to anyone and everyone who wanted to take her out of this condition, like the journalist who wanted to take her to Paris where, in relating the story of the apparitions, she could have made herself a fortune.
In spite of her ignorance of the catechism, the light of the apparitions enabled Bernadette to read the sense and purpose of all the poverty which she and her family experienced. Did they not resemble the true God, who, through Jesus, came as a poor man among the poor? This is the first message of Lourdes.
Then we discover true PRAYER
The friendly meeting with the "Little Lady", as she so often called her, revealed to Bernadette, and today reveals to us, that a God of love and tenderness is the image of the true God, a God who searches to embrace and to converse with men within a heart-to-heart encounter. True prayer is our response to this God and expresses our desire for a dialogue of love in which we too can talk to God "heart-to-heart".
"Virgin of Light, you are the smile of a God who loves us." So begins an evening hymn to Mary frequently sung at Lourdes. True prayer is this - to go beyond the mere recitation of words and discover "the smile of a God who loves us", to find ourselves in loving company with a God of tenderness. This is the second message of Lourdes.
Then we realise the true meaning of PENANCE
The world in which we live is a hard, violent and at times hideous world. The disgusting mud of the "pig-sty" symbolizes it rather well. Bernadette, with her face disfigured by the mud of the pig-sty, becomes a symbol of the deep love that led Jesus to his Passion"for sinners". She invites us to become aware of the true nature of sin, to see clearly the ugliness of evil and to courageously seek a true conversion of heart that goes far beyond the practise of a few occasional penances. True penance avoids the hypocrisy of the righteous for it enables us to see ourselves as the sinners that we are, and helps us, as we recognize our mutual misery, to be more compasionate towards each other. This is the third message of Lourdes.
This beautiful and meaningful article is taken from the book entitled "LOURDES: In Bernadette's Footsteps" by Father Joseph Bordes (Rector Emeritus of the Lourdes Shrine).