Saturday, March 7, 2015

A New Holy League for Catholic Men

For the convenience of those who don’t have the Internet bandwith to watch videos, I’ve transcribed the text of the video (embedded at the bottom of this post). If you’d like to share my transcription on your own blog, website, FB page (etc.), kindly link back to this post.
My transcription now follows:


“Hi, I'm Doug Barry, founder and director of Radix and Battle Ready.

“March 7, 2015 is the 440th anniversary of the formation of the Holy League, called for by Pope St. Pius V. This movement of prayer and solidarity united Catholics throughout Europe in defense of Christendom. On this anniversary, we announce to you the launching of a new Holy League.

“And now, a very important message from the spiritual head of the Holy League, His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke.”


I want to commend to you in a very particular way a spiritual activity of the Holy League. It draws its name from the historic Holy League which was an activity of intense activity and prayer during the time of the threat and the overtaking of Europe by Islam, and through prayer and especially through Eucharistic adoration and through the praying of the Holy Rosary, a great victory was won at the Battle of Lepanto, a victory that we recall every year on October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

“The Holy League is a very simple and tremendously powerful movement in the Church, founded in 2014—last year—and it is basically one thrust, and that is that WE AS MEN to be in the state of grace, being the state of friendship with God, through the confessions of our sins and the even greater welcoming of those graces which God gave to us by our Baptism and Confirmation, and the actual graces that He gives us every day to live faithfully as Christians, and, out of the Holy League, propose to help us to be in the state of grace and to remain in the state of grace so we can be a source of strength for the Church in these very troubled times. It is by way of the Holy Hour, a monthly Holy Hour, during which the Sacrament of Confession is available, a Holy Hour concentrating on our relationship with Our Lord, Jesus Christ, growing in our closeness to Him so that He can help us to be strong and holy men for our time.

“And so I want, in my message today, to say how important you are to the Church and to the world in our time. The Church and our world has always depended upon strong Catholic men.

I want to encourage you in all that you are doing to be strong Catholic men of our time, for the transformation of our culture, for the building up of the Body of Christ, to be that leaven in the world which transforms it and prepares the world for Our Lord’s final coming—for that Final Consummation of His saving work.

So please be of good courage. I ask you in a very particular way to consider becoming a part of the Holy League-giving your time once a month to the Holy Hour and time also for a very sincere and humble celebration of the Sacrament of Confession and a time to be reinforced in your daily prayers and devotions.

May God bless you all and, in blessing you, may He make you a blessing for the Church today and for our work." 

[MR. DOUGLAS BARRY speaks again, below]

“What more needs to be said? Every Catholic man can be a part of this work. There is a great need in our world today for unity and support of this movement.

“The goal of the Holy League is nothing short of establishing a network of monthly Holy Hours for men with Confession and fraternity in every parish throughout the world.

“This is building on the call of Pope St. John Paul II to establish Eucharistic Adoration in every parish, as well as the call of Pope Francis who called for 24 hours of Eucharistic Adoration with Confession for March 13-14.

“This is a call to all men, to all Catholic apostolates, to every man involved in Catholic ministry of any kind, to join this alliance, this Holy League.”

“For more information, visit Holy

“You [will] need to join the Holy League Information Network by texting the word EPIC to 84576.

Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities of darkness.

“We need to remember the words of St. Paul: ‘Put on the armor of God.’

Gentlemen, the Holy League needs you. God bless and strengthen you.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Secret of Lent

The young and old may not be bound by the fast, but they are bound by the spirit, each according to his capacity. If we feel that it is unnatural to ask penances of children while they are still very  young—penances within their reach—we forget that self-denial must be learned very young, that it is the forming of character, that the very grace of their Baptism flows from the Cross.

The end (that is, the ultimate reason) of the penitential seasons imposed by the Church is not mere performance. The Church is a wise mother, who knows that the cutting away of self-will frees our souls for a more radiant love affair with Christ. If we think of the penance without pondering the effect, we misunderstand it. It is not over and done with the doing, but will bear fruit, if it is done with the right spirit; not alone by the piling up of treasure in Heaven but by an increase in our taste for God; a change in the habits of our souls.

Our Lord tells us how to behave during Lent when He speaks to us in the Ash Wednesday Gospel (Matt: 6:16-21): 

“When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to thee, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth; where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven; where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.” 

So let us remember, when we choose something to give up: no moaning and groaning! Hypocrites (Our Lord was talking about the Pharisees) make much of their performances because they want attention. That being their motives, He says, they already have their reward: attention. There will be opportunities, before Lent is over, for us to attract attention, but so long as this is not our motive, we can accept and use whatever God permits to come to us.

A father will be asked by business associates why he, too, doesn’t order steak for lunch. One mother will be asked by fellow club-members why she doesn’t eat sandwiches and cake after their evening business  meeting. Some children will be asked why they say “No, thank you,” to proffered candies at school, to decline and invitation to a Lenten movie, to not join with others to watch a television show. These are the opportunities, with many more, to give reasons “for the faith that is in you.” (1)

The Main Tips: We know that, if pressed or if asked why we refuse certain activities or foods, we need not say, “Because I’m fasting” or “Because I gave that up for Lent.” If, however, someone continues to urge us, we can say (with a smile!), “Thank you for offering, but at the moment I don’t care for any or something to that effect, so that we don't (1) shame the person who is urging us and (2) give the impression of being a bit of a braggart, a "holier-than-thou." Otherwise, we have found another way to draw attention to ourselves. 

“Anoint thy head; wash thy face…” Show your happiest face, because Lent is a time of making grateful reparation to God for our sins and that of others. Do not groan or moan or find a way to complain. Be careful not to inadvertently brag. Our Lord teaches us to hide our sacrifices, and to keep them secretwith God.

(1) Mary Reed Newland, The Year and Our Children

Thursday, April 17, 2014

St. Bernadette: A Life of the Beatitudes, Part 2

Bernadette, the Little Maiden of Lourdes:
A Life of the Beatitudes (Part II)

“I must become a saint. My Jesus wants it.”
– St. Bernadette

by Marianna Bartold

 “At fourteen, not knowing how to read or write, a complete stranger to the French language and ignorant of the Catechism, Bernadette looked upon herself as the most worthless child of her years.” [1]  On Thursday, January 28, 1858, the 14 year-old Bernadette returned to her parents, joyfully exclaiming, “Now at least I shall be able to go to school and Catechism! That’s why I’ve come back.” [2]
Circumstances were no better for the Soubirous family, but her parents gave their promise. The next day, Bernadette was in school. Upon hearing the child’s motive and determination, the Sisters enrolled her as a future communicant.
Coincidentally, on Thursday, February 11, 1858 – exactly two weeks after her return because she greatly desired her First Holy Communion - the humble girl was graced to see a “most beautiful Lady.” Bernadette would see this Lady a total of 18 times, the last vision occurring on July 16, 1858.

That particular Thursday was a school holiday, so Bernadette was home with her family. Although a bitterly cold day, the air was still and there was no wind under the sunless sky. Shortly after 11 a.m., Bernadette set out on a necessary, tiresome task, accompanying her sister Toinette and a younger, impulsive classmate, Jeanne Abadie. The trio went in search of two things: fallen branches and twigs that they could rightfully take and use in the Soubirous’ fireplace and old bones to sell to the rag-and-bone man. [3] Their expedition led them into a forest and then over a foot-bridge to the Lafitte family’s property, which formed an island. One side was enclosed by a bend in the Gave River, the other by a canal which powered a saw-mill and flour-mill, called the Savy. The extreme point of the triangle was a tall, rocky formation known as “Massabielle” (Old Hump).

Massabielle was “naturally shaped into an arch from which a cave ran backwards, and to the right, about fourteen feet up, there was a small niche where a wild rosebush was growing.” [4]   In the spring season, the bush was “ablaze with white blooms.” This wild outgrowth of rock, with its little oval niche, was also called “the grotto.” In the small space before the grotto, Bernadette was forced to wait, as her healthier companions decided to remove their shoes and stockings, cross the freezing cold stream, and continue their search for dead branches and discarded bones.

They were already on the stream’s other side when, anxious to help, Bernadette resolved to join them. She removed her shoes in anticipation of walking through the water. “I had hardly begun to take off my stocking when I heard the sound of wind, as in a storm.” [5]  (Two days later, Fr. Pomian – an assistant priest to Fr. Peyramele, the parish priest at Lourdes – was particularly struck by Bernadette’s mention of the “sound of wind, as in a storm.” It reminded him of Acts 2:2, when the Holy Ghost descended upon the Virgin and the Apostles: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.”)

Although the trees across the way were not moving at all, Bernadette said, “I had half-noticed, but without paying any particular heed, that the branches and brambles were waving beside the grotto.” She returned to removing her stockings and was already putting one foot into the water when she again heard the same sound of wind, this time in front of her. She looked up and saw the branches and brambles “underneath the topmost opening in the grotto tossing and swaying to and fro, though nothing else stirred around.”

The Lady at the Grotto
It was within the oval niche that Bernadette saw a “golden cloud” and then a beautiful light, instantly followed by “a girl in white, no bigger than myself, who greeted me with a slight bow of the head; at the same time, she stretched out her arms slightly away from her body, opening her hands, as in pictures of Our Lady; over her arms hung a Rosary.” Bernadette described that the Lady was “smiling at me most graciously and seemed to invite me to come nearer. But I was still afraid. It was not, however, a fear such as I have had at other times, for I would have stayed there forever looking at her; whereas, when you are afraid, you run away very quickly.”

The Lady wore “a white dress reaching down to her feet, of which only the toes appeared. The dress was gathered very high at the neck by a hem from which hung a white cord. A white veil covered her head and came down over her shoulders and arms almost to the bottom of her dress. On each foot, I saw a golden rose. The sash of the dress was blue and hung down below her knees. The chain of the Rosary was yellow; the beads white, big, and widely spaced. The girl was alive, very young, and surrounded with light.” [6]
When asked for additional details, Bernadette would also describe the girl’s face as oval in shape and of “an incomparable grace.” The Lady’s eyes were blue, and her voice, “Oh, so sweet!” The Rosary held by the Lady was not the usual length for the Psalter of all 15 decades but a five-decade Rosary. As Bernadette prayed the Rosary, the Lady let Her own Rosary slip through Her fingers, silently counting the beads with Bernadette. The Lady, however, did not pray the Our Father or the Hail Mary, but She did pray the Glory Be.

Abbé Trochu, her foremost biographer, noted: “This last detail, which the little one in her ignorance could not have invented, reveals an accurate and deep theological truth. The Gloria, which is a hymn of praise to the Adorable Trinity, and is Heaven’s Canticle, is indeed the only part of the Rosary suitable for Her, whose name Bernadette would not learn for another month. The Pater is the prayer of needy mortals, tempted and sinful, on their journey to the Fatherland; as for the Ave, the Angel’s greeting (to the Virgin Mary), this could be used only by the visionary, as the Apparition had no need to greet Her own self.” [7]

In the first two apparitions, the Lady did not speak to Bernadette, although She greeted the girl with a noble, yet inviting, bow of the head. During the third apparition, the Lady spoke for the first time, asking Bernadette, “Will you do me the favour of coming here for a fortnight?” [8] Bernadette said, “After asking permission from my parents, I will come,” to which the Lady replied, “I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the other” (a literal French-to-English translation).

As Bernadette would soon understand, the Lady did not state that She herself would always appear. Rather, the request applied only to Bernadette.  A brief summary provided by the first inquiry of the ecclesiastical Commission which later investigated the Lourdes apparitions thus states: “Bernadette was faithful to her appointment: she went most punctually to the grotto for a fortnight.  She always obtained the same favours there, except on two days when the Apparitions did not appear.” It was from this time forward that the young Bernadette was “accompanied by an ever increasing crowd. When she had the happiness of seeing the Vision, she forgot everything: she no longer noticed what was taking place around her: she was entirely absorbed.” [9]
This World and the Other
As for the Lady saying, “I do not promise you happiness in this world, only in the other,” her words quickly became self-evident. From the first day of the Apparition and until the end of her brief life, Bernadette would suffer misunderstandings, humiliations, false accusations, open derision, and many other trying circumstances.

For example, when her mother, Louise, first heard the story from the younger sister, Toinette, she questioned Bernadette and then took a rod to discipline both girls. At school, a much younger student slapped Bernadette across the face, while some of the teaching sisters taunted her to learn her catechism from the Lady. For many hours, the secular authorities would discourteously treat her, not even offering her a chair while they interrogated her. Even Fr. Peyramele was, at the first, very gruff with Bernadette.

Throughout her life, Bernadette was many times cross-examined about the Apparitions. In fact, she “wrote and signed numerous accounts of her visions In addition, she underwent repeated interrogations by both ecclesial and civil authorities, during which her testimony was transcribed. In none of these accounts did she contradict herself; on the other hand, there is no one single version that includes every detail.” [10]

What is consistent is Bernadette’s fidelity to testifying to the Virgin’s message and in living it. In the total of 18 apparitions, the Blessed Mother only spoke a handful of times. Once, She delivered three secrets that were for Bernadette alone – “a commission which, on her deathbed, she [Bernadette] declared she had carried out.” [11] For the public, however, the main message was one of penance, prayer for the conversion of sinners, and a request that the priests build a chapel and that processions come to the grotto. There was also the Lady’s gift, through the hands of Bernadette, of a hidden spring of water where graces of spiritual and bodily healing are to this day bestowed.

When the fortnight ended, the Lady had still not identified herself. During that interim, Bernadette had, at Father Peyramale's insistence, requested two things of the heavenly visitor – Her name, as well as a sign to confirm that the Apparition’s request for a chapel was truly from God.  On Thursday, February 25, 1858, the Lady had already instructed Bernadette, “Go and drink at the spring and wash yourself in it.” From young girl’s hand, the miraculous spring of Lourdes would come forth.  To the request for Her name, however, the Lady only gave Bernadette a gentle smile.

After March 4, Bernadette felt no inner call to return to the grotto until March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. When she arrived, she found the Lady was already waiting for her. On this day, Bernadette thrice implored the Lady for Her name.  Then came the final confirmation of Lourdes, for the Lady raised Her eyes to Heaven as She joined Her hands, brought them close to Her heart, and said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” After the briefest moment, She then smiled at Bernadette and disappeared.

Life after Lourdes
The Holy Communion so ardently desired by Bernadette was received on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Then, on July 16, the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Lady appeared to Bernadette one last and unexpected time. To deter pilgrims, civil authorities placed boards around the grotto, including the spring. Bernadette was by the Gave River when suddenly the Lady appeared: “I saw neither the boards nor the Grave. It seemed to me that I was in the grotto, no more distance than the other times. I saw only the Holy Virgin. I had never seen her so beautiful.” [12]

Bernadette’s actions during the apparitions emphasized both the Rosary and humiliating penance for sinners, but the Vision’s requests also tested her humble piety, fortitude, spirit of penance, and perseverance. Thus her coming years were foreshadowed, for she would continue to practice and interiorly grow in these and many other virtues.

The future saint was well aware that the grace of seeing the Mother of God did not grant her automatic access to Heaven. She would later write in her spiritual diary: “Often remind yourself of this word that the Most Holy Virgin said to you: Penance! Penance! You should be the first to put it into practice. For this intention, suffer trials in silence so that Jesus and Mary may be glorified…” [13]
Bernadette learned to read, write, embroider and sew. She became a Sister of Charity and Christian Instruction at Nevers, France, and was given the name of Sister Marie-Bernard. She worked in the infirmary as a nurse’s aide, and was later given the lighter task of altar sacristan. In the convent, she lived a life of both interior and physical suffering. She was often ill and frequently misunderstood and humiliated by her superiors and, on occasion, her fellow sisters. Abbé Trochu noted that “for the space of eleven years – much as she was esteemed and loved by her companions – she had been subjected to an undeserved coldness by those in authority over her. She always refused to speak of her suffering, which was a mixture of bewilderment and pain. She put up submissively with being reprimanded in public and more frequently than was her share.” [14]

Due to Bernadette’s lack of higher education and her frequent illnesses, to cite just two examples, she was called a “good for nothing” and “a lazy lie-abed.” Deeply hurt by such uncharitable comments, Bernadette never retaliated, although on occasion she might respond with a brief, appropriate remark. Once, when a passing superior flung a quick jest that the ailing Bernadette needed to arise and get about her business, the saint calmly replied, “It is my business to be ill.”

St. Bernadette understood that hers was an apostolate of suffering. A brief glimpse into her diary reveals the hidden gem of her interior life: “My divine Spouse has made me desire a humble and hidden life. Jesus has often told me that I will not die until I have sacrificed all to Him. And to convince me, He has often told me that when it is over, He alone, Jesus crucified, will console me.” [15]

At the young age of 35 years, on April 16, 1879, St. Bernadette died an agonizing death from tuberculosis of the bone. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI on December 8, 1933.  Enclosed in a glass casket in the convent chapel in Nevers, France, her incorrupt body sleeps, as it awaits its reunion with her holy soul at the final Resurrection.

What was the secret of Bernadette? She tells us in her own words: “To love what God wills always, to will it always, to desire it always, to do it always: this is the great secret of perfection, the key to paradise, the foretaste of the peace of the saints!” [16]

---In case you missed it, you can also read St. Bernadette: A Life of the Beatitudes, Part I

   [1] Trochu, Abbé Francois. St. Bernadette Soubirous: 1844-1879 [Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1985. Translated and adapted by John Joyce, S.J. First published in France under the same title by Librairier Catholique Emmanuel Vitte, Paris, 1954. English edition copyright 1957 by Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., London. Published by TAN in arrangement with Longman Group Limited, London. Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, June 21, 1957): p. 36.
  [2] Ibid.
  [3] Bones were used “for knife handles, toys and ornaments, and when treated, for chemistry. The grease extracted from them was also useful for soap-making.” Rag-and-bone man, Wikipedia []
  [4] Foley, Donal Anthony. Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World. [Herefordshire, England: Gracewing, 2002. Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur]: p . 159.
  [5] Trochu, loc. cit., p. 42.
  [6] Loc. cit., pp. 42-43.
  [7] Loc. cit., p. 44.
  [8] A fortnight is 15 consecutive days.
  [9] Trochu, op. cit., p. 63.
  [10] McEachern, Ph.D., Patricia A. A Holy Life: The Writings of St. Bernadette of Lourdes [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2005. Kindle Edition]:  Loc. 116.
  [11] Foley, op. cit., p. 160.
  [12] McEachern, op. cit., Loc. 2354.
  [13] Ibid., Loc. 573.
  [14] Op. cit., Loc. 284.
  [15] Op. cit., Loc. 330.
  [16] Op cit., Loc. 542.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

St. Bernadette of Lourdes: A Life of the Beatitudes

Bernadette, the Little Maiden of Lourdes:
A Life of the Beatitudes

 Humility is the secret of God’s glory.”

– St. Bernadette Soubirous

by Marianna Bartold

In reading the lives of the saints, St. Bernadette once mused, ““I think that they ought to point out the faults the Saints had and indicate the means they employed to correct them. That would be helpful to us. We would learn how to set about it. But all that is mentioned is their revelations or the wonders they performed. They cannot serve our advancement.” [1]

However, her most famous biographer, Abbé Trochu, did not quite agree. “She failed to add that, even so, these imperfect authors are to be commended for raising the pre-eminent qualities of the Saints, and that she found in them examples to imitate. The Church in its infallible decisions was one day to adopt the well-founded verdict of a Superior General of Saint-Gildard: ‘It is my own opinion that during her life Sister Marie-Bernarde [the saint’s name in religious life] put into practice the virtues that constitute sanctity.” [2]

What is sanctity? It is the “state of Christian perfection,” which is the result of a “fervent surrender of one’s self to God and the practice of virtue. It does not require extraordinary works. The Blessed Mother of God, the most holy of mortals, never performed any extraordinary works to excite worldly admiration.  ‘Love is fulfilling of the law.’ ” [3] 

A saint is a person who “fulfills all the demands of the law” (Rom. 13:10) which is accomplished by charity, the virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbors as ourselves. Charity is considered the queen of all virtues, since it is the one virtue that will always exist in Heaven. In the Beatific Vision, souls will no longer possess any need for the other virtues. Charity, however, will remain, since it perfectly unites God and man, just as it perfectly unites man to man. [4]  Those souls who are canonized as saints by the Catholic Church are those who were known to practice all of the virtues to a heroic degree – i.e., heroic virtue.

What is meant by heroic virtue? Pope Benedict XIV, “whose chapters on heroic virtue are classical,” thus describes it: “In order to be heroic, a Christian virtue must enable its owner to perform virtuous actions with uncommon promptitude, ease, and pleasure, from supernatural motives and without human reasoning, with self-abnegation and full control over his natural inclinations.” The 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia comments,  “A heroic virtue, then, is a habit of good conduct that has become a second nature, a new motive power [that is] stronger than all corresponding inborn inclinations, capable of rendering easy a series of acts each of which, for the ordinary man, would be beset with very great, if not insurmountable, difficulties.” [5]
In reading the lives of the saints, time and prayer are needed to assess, study, and contemplate in them the supernatural virtues and the gifts and fruits of the Holy Ghost. In addition, “the Holy Ghost also grants certain extraordinary gifts, which are given only on rare occasions and to selected persons. Such extraordinary graces are granted principally not only for the benefit of the recipient, but of others.” Among these graces are included the gift of visions, of miracles, and of prophecy.

In St. Bernadette – handmaiden of the Lord’s Handmaiden, the Blessed Virgin Mary - we will discover all of these things: the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity); the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude); the seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), the twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost (charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity) and the extraordinary graces of visions, miracles, and prophecy. Of St. Bernadette’s many virtues and gifts, space will permit that only a few examples can be spotlighted – especially her fortitude and long-suffering.

The Saint’s Early Years
Bernadette Soubirous, the firstborn of her parents, was born about two o’clock in the afternoon, as the bell was ringing for Vespers on Sunday, January 7, 1844 in Lourdes, France, a small market town near the Pyrenees in the country’s southwest.  Her parents had named her Bernarde Marie, but the priest who baptized her kept referring to her and registered the name as Marie Bernarde. Her father reminded the priest that the child’s name was already registered at the Town Hall as Bernarde-Marie, but history shows that the priest never did change the register. Her family, however, considered her first name to be Bernarde, although she was called by the diminutive of Bernadette.

As for the parents, neither had ever gone to school but they were known to be good Catholics who faithfully carried out their religious duties and respectable people of irreproachable integrity. Of the nine children born of the marriage between Louise Castérot and Francois Soubirous, not all lived to adulthood.

In Bernadette’s sixth year, she began to suffer from asthma, which afflicted her until the end of her life. She was small for her age but she was a happy and lovable child with a sweet smile. She easily took to caring for her younger siblings so her parents could work. She, like her parents, received no education.

By her tenth year, 1854, the family was in serious financial straits. For various reasons, their mill was lacking customers and so the father sought odd jobs, as did her mother. Bernadette remained at home, taking care of her younger siblings. (On an important and related note, it was in this same year that Pope Pius IX defined as a dogma the Immaculate Conception.)

In the saint’s 11th year of life, Bernadette became one of many children who were stricken by a cholera epidemic. Since cholera is usually fatal, her recovery truly must have been a miraculous one. In her 12th year, her godmother Aunt Bernarde took her home, where she was fed well but also became nurse-maid to her younger cousins.  Once again, her education was neglected. Her aunt would later say that Bernadette knew the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Credo. However, she had never been taught to read, so her only prayer book was a small Rosary.

By the winter of 1856, Bernadette insisted on returning to her family. By this time, the Soubirous became so impoverished that they were forced to accept the free lodging of a cold, damp room known as Le Cachot (The Dungeon), once used to hold prisoners. Everyone in the town knew the family’s situation, but this “was an age of scant help for the poor. For example, no conference of St. Vincent de Paul was established in Lourdes till 1874 (three years before Bernadette’s death). It was a harsh age when too many of the wealthy, lacking pity because they lacked the Gospel, exploited the labour of the poor; and mothers of large families received only ten sous for a whole day’s work!” [6]
Bernadette’s father found work from day to day with the baker or the horse-and-coach service, while her mother worked in the fields, or gathered wood in the forest and later sold it to buy bread, or did the washing and housework for people in town. Previously, Bernadette and her sister Toinette stayed at home, caring for the younger brothers. Now, however, Toinette at age ten was able to attend school with the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, who had come to Lourdes in 1834.

For her part, the 13 year old Bernadette would often say that books were not meant for her, that the Sisters did not know in which class to put her since she could not read and could hardly scratch out a few letters. There was also her asthma and the fact that she was needed at home. Her only real desire for herself was the reception of her First Holy Communion.

Little Shepherdess of Bartres
Louise Soubirous thought of what seemed to be a good solution. In June of 1857, Bernadette was sent to Bartres, to the household of Marie Lagües, who had been Bernadette’s wet-nurse after Louise suffered an unfortunate accident with a candle. As a baby of 10 months of age, Bernadette was brought to live with the Lagües and there she stayed until her 20th month of life. Considering Marie’s supposed affection for the child, as well as her home’s proximity to church and school, Louise had thought it would be easier for Bernadette to attend school and Catechism at Bartres.

In reality, however, Bernadette again became a nursemaid, this time to her former “foster mother’s” four young children. By August, she was also entrusted with the care of the family’s lambs, and so she became a shepherdess. When school opened in September, she was not sent to class. Instead, she was given the additional care of the sheep.

What this meant was that the young girl worked from sunup to sundown, caring for children in the early morning and spending the rest of the day outside, in good weather or bad, with the sheep and lambs. At first, she was allowed to attend some catechism classes and the Sunday Masses and holy days. However, her inability to read and her legitimate exhaustion made it difficult for her to memorize the catechism.

Bernadette was a responsible worker, she never complained, she asked for nothing, and she gratefully accepted whatever was given to her. This made it easy to treat her as an unpaid servant, working for her bed and board. The true purpose for which she was sent to her former wet-nurse was neglected. A priest, the brother-in-law of Mr. Lagües, did intervene on Bernadette’s behalf, telling his sister’s husband that he was not treating Bernadette as one of the family. The reproach had little effect. Rarely was she seen at catechism, and never was she seen in school.

It was during these solitary days as a shepherdess that Bernadette made a stone altar at the foot of an old chestnut tree, setting on top of it a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There she would kneel, praying the Rosary with a gift given to her by her mother – a set of poor black beads, threaded on plain string.  She would play with the flock of lambs and then, resting, her eyes would fall on the valley; her ears heard the rustling of the trees, the occasional bird song and the other sounds of nature. “God made all that,” she would think to herself. She did not know she was in the very early stages of meditation or that God was already preparing her soul. She was to be another handmaiden of the Immaculate Mother of God.

In early January of 1858, Bernadette’s 14th birthday found her still at the house of the Lagües. Circumstances continued as they had since August – she still helped with the children, she still retained the entire responsibility of the flock, and she still was not receiving any form of proper catechesis and education.

In humility, Bernadette did all that was asked of her, and she did it well - but eventually her ardent longing for her First Holy Communion began to manifest itself. At least three times, she asked to be brought home, through verbal messages given to her visiting Aunt Bernarde, a neighbor from Lourdes who was passing through the area, and the Lagües servant who one day took a trip to Lourdes. For the Soubirous, however, the situation was no better, so their daughter’s entreaties fell on deaf ears. Finally, Bernadette took matters into her own hands.

On a Sunday near the end of January 1858, she requested permission to go to Lourdes. Although given consent, she was instructed by the Lagües to return the very next day. She came back three days later, humbly yet forthrightly explaining, “I must go home. The parish priest is going to have the children prepared for First Communion, and if I go back to Lourdes, I shall make mine.” In this one example, one should easily recognize Bernadette’s fortitude, that “moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.” [7]

Within two weeks upon Bernadette’s return to Lourdes, the Queen of Heaven would appear to this poor, neglected, and uneducated child. She was obedient, meek, and conscientious and had never insisted upon anything for herself – until now. Her only longing was a spiritual one, and that was to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.  Bernadette was humble and set her sight not on material riches but only those of the interior life. At the age of 14 years, her brief life was already one of which Our Lord taught in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [8]

-Continue with St. Bernadette of Lourdes: A Life of the Beatitudes, Part 2

[1]  Trochu, Abbé Francois. St. Bernadette Soubirous: 1844-1879 [Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1985. Translated and adapted by John Joyce, S.J. First published in France under the same title by Librairier Catholique Emmanuel Vitte, Paris, 1954. English edition copyright 1957 by Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., London. Published by TAN in arrangement with Longman Group Limited, London. Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, June 21, 1957): p. 346.
[2]  Ibid.
[3]   Morrow D.D., Most Rev. Louis LaRavoire, My Catholic Faith: A Manual of Religion [Kansas  City, MO: Sarto House. Third edition published from the 1954 edition by Sarto House]:  p. 85.
[4]  Ibid., p.83.
[5]  BENEDICT XIV, De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione, chs. xxxi-xxxviii, in Opera omnia, III (Prato, 1840); DEVINE, Manual of Mystical Theology (London, 1903); SLATER, A Manual of Moral Theology (London, 1908); WILHELM AND SCANNELL, Manual of Catholic Theology (London, 1906). Cited by Wilhelm, Joseph. "Heroic Virtue." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 6 Jan. 2014 <>.
[6]  Trochu, op cit., p. 17.
[7]  "Divine Mysteries: The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance," Legion of Mary website <>
 [8] Matt. 5:3, The Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims translation. With revisions and footnotes (in the text in italics) by Bishop Richard Challoner, 1749-52. Taken from a hardcopy of the 1899 Edition by the John Murphy Company.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Visitation of the Virgin and the Hidden Jesus

"Thy Blood, the price of our redemption, O Lord Jesus, is indeed most precious and deserving of our special veneration because of its immaculate origin in Mary, thy spotless Mother, on account of its surpassing innocence and its union with Thy divinity."

---From a prayer to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lady, in which the Church remembers the Virgin's unsurpassed charity and humility as she made haste to visit her older and expectant cousin, Elizabeth. Hidden behind this mystery of the Virgin's visit to St. Elizabeth are many rich teachings and examples. One such mystery is the sanctification of St. John Baptist in the womb at the very moment the Virgin Mary spoke to his mother.

Let's see what the Gospel of Luke (Ch. 1: 26-57) records of these wondrous events, beginning with the Incarnation of Christ, which the Church celebrates on March 25, the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin:

[26] And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, [27] To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin' s name was Mary. [28] And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. [29] Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. [30] And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.

[31] Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. [32] He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. [33] And of his kingdom there shall be no end. [34] And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? [35] And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

[36] And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: [37] Because no word shall be impossible with God. [38] And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. [39] And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. [40] And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. 

[41] And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: [42] And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. [43] And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [44] For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. [45] And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.
[46] And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. [47] And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. [48] Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. [49] Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. [50] And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.

[51] He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. [52] He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. [53] He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. [54] He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: [55] As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

[56] And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house. [57] Now Elizabeth' s full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son.

First, the Annunciation, when Jesus incarnated in the womb of the Virgin, is the greatest mystery of the universe. There is much that could be said of this portion of St. Luke's Gospel, but let it suffice for now to say that the Virgin was greeted by the angel (sent by God) with the name by which God Himself considers her:  "Hail, full of grace." This Virgin was the one chosen by God to be the Mother of God, the Word, and hence, she is the grace-filled Mother of God.

Second, St. Ambrose remarks that when Our Lady visited Elizabeth, it was she who first greeted her older cousin. There is no snobbery on the chosen Virgin's part, even though she knows that she is the chosen Mother of the Messiah. It is she who hastens to visit her older cousin who is six months with child; it is the Virgin who enters the house and immediately offers the first sincere "hello." It could have gone quite differently; she could have gone to help her cousin but upon the way, reflecting upon her own prerogatives, pride might have slipped in. She could have treated Elizabeth in a manner that made clear what a great favor she was bestowing on her older cousin simply by visiting her. But that is not what happened.

God had prepared Mary to become the Mother of the Son. She was conceived without sin so that Christ could assume from her His human nature - Body and Blood. Her soul had to be immaculate, because God is holy.  Like Her Son, she never committed any sin but grew in wisdom and grace. She was the first Tabernacle of Jesus Christ.

And so Mary's visit to Elizabeth "brought with it an accumulation of graces," as writes St. Alphonsus de Liguori. "The moment she entered that dwelling, on her first salutation, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost; and St. John was cleansed from Original Sin, and sanctified; and therefore gave this mark of joy by leaping in his mother's womb, wishing thereby to manifest the grace that he had received by the means of the Blessed Virgin, as St. Elizabeth herself declared: As soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy."

Third, while there are many more doctrinal depths to these passages of St. Luke's, may it suffice to say that there are many reasons why we call the Blessed Virgin Mary by the title of "Our" Lady, for the one hailed by an angel as "full of grace" is truly a "channel of grace" to lead others to her Divine Son.

Last but not least, since this is the month of July, the month of the Precious Blood of Jesus, which he assumed from His Virgin Mother, it would not be remiss, when contemplating the mystery of the Visitation, to also consider the following  prayers:

O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! O Jesus! O Mary! All ye blessed angels of God and saints of Paradise, obtain for me these graces which I ask through the Most Precious Blood of Jesus:

1. Ever to do the holy will of God.
2. Ever to live in union with God.
3. Not to think of anything but God.
4. To love God alone.
5. To do all for God.
6. To seek only the glory of God
7. To sanctify myself solely for God.
8. To know well my own utter nothingness.
9. Ever to know more and more the will of my God.
10. (Here ask for any special grace)

O Mary most holy, offer to the Eternal Father the Most Precious Blood of Jesus for my soul, for the poor souls in Purgatory, for the needs of the Holy Church, for the conversion of sinners, and for the entire world. Amen.