The Fifteenth Apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes
In fact, Thursday (March 4th), which was the last of the wonderful fifteen days, was marked by an extraordinary gathering. From every quarter, in view of what would certainly prove extraordinary in this wonderful episode, caravans flocked there by night, so that the Mayor of Lourdes thought it prudent to call in troops to reinforce the local gendarmes.
But the crowds of Lourdes did not need any persons in uniform. Up to the psychological moment (7:00 a.m.) we can say that veritable waves of humanity poured incessantly into the too narrow glen where Heaven held commune with this earth. When Bernadette arrived, there had come to see her, question her, kiss the hem of her humble robe, and to raise to her a colossal Hosanna, nearly 30,000 pilgrims a really portentous number, considering the seventy of the winter, and also that the railway did not yet traverse the steep Pyrenees mountains. Police and soldiers were on duty, but there was no need of them. From beginning to end, not a shadow of an accident or incident called for their services.
But amid the general commotion what were the Soubirous family doing, whose name flew from mouth to mouth? What had become of their child, the focus of all this religious excitement? They were, as usual, silently occupied in their obscure work, that barely sufficed to earn a piece of brown bread for the little ones. She, having finished her morning prayer before her copper crucifix, that hung above her wretched pallet, feeling her time draw near, took her Rosary, and calm, recollected, without noticing the immense crowd, directed her steps to the Grotto.
As soon as her well-known outline was perceived on the threshold of her damp home, an electric thrill seemed to pass through the crowd, as this password was handed on from group to group : “The Seer! The Seer!” Thence all along this new Via Sacra gendarmes had to guard the modest heroine against the outburst of a mystical delirium, who, after her audience with the Queen of the Earth, would only have a plate of porridge (literally, boiled maize, a common dish among the French peasantry) for her meal in her kitchen. Immersed in God and in the Lady of her dreams, she passed along, her head hidden in her white hood (as Henri Lasserre once told us) “like simplicity, quite unconscious of itself.”
Meanwhile, the familiar scene was soon taking place as usual : the child crossed herself, kissed the earth, drank at the spring, ate the grass herb, extended her arms in the form of a cross, said her Rosary. She was beginning the second decade, when the sudden transfiguration of her whole being told the crowds closely watching her that she was rapt in ecstasy.
It was during this delightful transport that a third time she was bidden to go, as the messenger of Heaven, to ask for the chapel and procession from the proper authority. But today, as the prudence of the priests must exceed their devotion (it seems), authority never stirred, either at Lourdes or at Tarbes, at the risk of scandalizing the conscience of Catholics, preferring to wait and pray, inquire into the matter, and thus gain time, which (we may remark in parenthesis) was truly the best method of acting for the accomplishment of the Divine wishes ; and from this point of view the true one the attitude, or, if you prefer it, the way of acting, of a Laurence and a Peyramale was remarkably providential. Just as, according to St. Augustine, the first incredulity of Thomas has done more for the faith of the world than the enthusiasm of St. Peter or the poesy of St. John, so by hesitating so long about the supernatural at Massabielle, these two religious leaders, whom Heaven had placed there for that very reason, paved the way undoubtedly for its more rational triumph.
It is true that the civil power showed much less circumspection speaking of putting an end to the imposture or folly, guarding the Grotto and its approaches manu militari (in a military manner), even threatening to imprison the Seer. But what availed all the ukases of the so-called liberal Empire against the decrees of Heaven? But to return to the Vision.
Whilst it continued a little longer than usual, it was not marked this time by any particular circumstance. It seemed that in these final days it was more to strengthen and console, than to instruct her, that Paradise opened above the head of Bernadette, in proportion as her inevitable martyrdom drew near. Meanwhile, the mere sight of her sweet Queen, even when she remained silent, was enough to thrill this innocent soul, inspiring her with courage and a surpassing peace. Providence has always a foretaste of delights for its chosen workers, especially when trials are near.
All these cures, which followed rapidly in the footsteps of Bernadette what a charter they were for her mission! Already people were everywhere talking about the amazing cures of Louis Bourriette, Justin Bouhohorts, Blaise Maumus, Therese Crozat, Marie Daube, Bernande Soubies, Jeanne Crassus, Benoite Cazeaux, Blaisette Soupenne, etc. So unmistakably, I may say, from the beginning Divine Power entered on the scene to throw down the gauntlet to sage Incredulity and inscrutable Policy.
Confronted by this mass of evidence, what did the swashbucklers of local cynicism do? In order to discredit the true miracles by ridicule they invented false ones. Already, ye freethinkers, bond-slaves of Reason this is your work! Only, as it is always the fate of iniquity to lie to itself, it so happened that these startling phenomena were witnessed not merely by a people full of enthusiasm, but by cold and calculating men of science a Dozous, a Peyrus, or a Vergez whose relentless official reports, made on the spot, sounded the death-knell of materialism at length brought to bay, and who thus started at this date that Criticism of the Supernatural which learned and conscientious doctors like Saint-Maclou and Boissarie have brought to its present high level under the eyes of a skepticism that is completely baffled.
Before taking leave of the Lady to visit once more Fr. Peyramale, the child who, even in her ecstasies, never lost the use of her reason, ventured this morning to ask her name. The moment was not yet come for this final revelation, and the disappearance of the shining Form was her only reply for the present.
From now till March 25 there were no more apparitions, but this did not deter Bernadette from frequently repairing to Massabielle. How often, when school was over, she would slip away from her schoolmates, and hasten by stealth to the holy rocks to say her prayers there! When there was a holiday she took the opportunity of spending sweet hours in the crypt, where her heart was now centered. Already, by the piety of the people, the interior of the cave had quite changed its appearance ; a rustic altar had been reared there, on which stood the statue of the Blessed Virgin, and all around it were sweet-smelling flowers and burning tapers, with the almost uninterrupted strains of fervent prayers or melodious hymns. With a view to the chapel soon to be built there, alms poured in from all sides into the hollow, and no profane hand ever dared to steal the smallest coin from it; for everyone, high and low, was fain to look upon this favored spot as the vestibule of Heaven!