It is very tempting and easy, when we think of Our Lady of Lourdes, to think Her reason for visiting the Grotto was simply to bring healing to the sick. In reality, there was much more to Her message than just this.
There was another part of the message of Our Lady at Lourdes which tends not to get so much atention, and yet it is the only element of the appearances which was repeated on three separate occasions.
At the third appearance, the Blessed Virgin said to Bernadette – ‘pray for sinners’.
At the eighth appearance, Bernadette – repeating the words she had just heard the Lady say – echoed to the assembed faithful, ‘pentience, penitence, penitence’.
And at the tenth apearance, the Lady commanded Her little confidante to ‘go and kiss the ground in penance for sinners’.
And so clearly, the call to pray and do penance for sinners featured heavily and very explicitly in the message of Lourdes. Why, then, do we forget about this element of the message?
Part of the reason is no doubt the many miraculous cures which have taken place at Lourdes over the years; at the present time, around seventy such instances have ben fully documented, investigated and determined to be truly miraculous in the strict sense of the word. Many more bear features suggesting they may well be in much the same category, although there has been no formal investigation or else they have not been formally declared miraculous. And there are many, many more instances which remain personal to those who have received little miracles of grace and of nature. We tend to be focussed on the miraculous, especially if there is a possibility that we might have something to gain by it – who, after all, would not wish to be healed of an illness or an infirmity, ot be cured of something which ails them? Perhaps we are not quite so focussed on this more ‘mundane’ part of the message, that of praying for sinners.
Another part of the reason is perhaps that we are all too well aware that we, too, are sinners; how, then, can we pray for others much like us? Well, in the same way that we pray for any other person. Doing so does not mean that we think of ourselves as saints or as being in some way better than the other person. The poor can give to the poor while remaining poor themselves; we see this in the Gospel with the woman who gave the small coin, even though she had nothing. As the Gospel also tells us, in giving all she had – even though it was nothing very much – she amassed real treasure for herself. I cannot help think that something similar applies when we pray for sinners.
Regardless, the Mother of God specifically and repeatedly asked us – through Bernadette – to ‘pray for sinners’. Years later, at Fatima, She made the same request of us, although much more explicitly and directly.
Perhaps this is something we could make a special effort to do, in response to this triple request of the Lady of Lourdes? If She is asking us to do so, there must be a reason, and sinners must really be in need of our prayers, or else the request would be redundant. In all humility, and aware of our own sinfulness, still let us ‘pray for sinners’.
Perhaps, some day, we will be grateful that somwhere, another sinner prayed for us, as we did for them.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. Saint Bernadette, pray for us.