Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Holy and Healing Water of Lourdes

"I want to be purified. I want to be cleansed. I go to the baths. There, two men instruct me to undress. They wrap a blue apron around my waist, ask me to concentrate on what intercessions I want to ask of Mary, then lead me into the bath and immerse me in the ice-cold water. When I stand again, they pray the Hail Mary with me and give me a cup of water from the spring to drink."

~Henri Nouwen, Jesus and Mary: Finding Our Sacred Center

I'd been spiritually sick and in need of healing for some time and was struggling to cope with the darkness in my soul. My friend, Bishop Hying went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and while there he visited the baths of holy water. As he was immersed in the water he brought me with him in prayer. What spiritual power a few words of prayer carry with them! Upon his return he told me about his prayer for me at the baths of Lourdes.

I took a few days to ponder and consider his words, his story of prayer for me. I let the thought of it sink deep within me and returned to the visual image in my mind of Bishop Hying being helped down into the water and giving my name to God through the love of the Blessed Mother, and it felt as if I could actually feel the holy, healing water within my soul, as if I were really physically and spiritually there, and I am changed. The ever-present fear, anxiety, tears and depression that had become a part of me are gone. For the first time in years I feel a real joy and peace like I have never known. I don't know if I would have felt that change in me had he not told me what he had done; I am left to wonder if I would have felt the effects of his prayer without the knowledge of it. That will always remain a sacred mystery, I suppose. I also don't know if this peaceful feeling will last. But I do know that I am deeply grateful that God has chosen to use the Blessed Mother as a source of comfort and love in my life and in the lives of so many others who turn to her in faith. What a treasure we have in Blessed Mary and in the gift of healing waters and the intercessory prayer of our friends in the communion of saints!

Please enjoy Bishop Hying's story about his experience in Lourdes from the October 27th Milwaukee Catholic Herald:

Several weeks ago, I was blessed to be part of a spiritual pilgrimage to France with 32 other people. We visited many places associated with great saints, like St. Margaret Mary at Paray-le-Monial, St. John Vianney at Ars, SS. Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal at Annecy, St. Therese at Lisieux and St. Joan of Arc at Rouen.

We also went to Lourdes, the beautiful shrine of healing, nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains. Highlights there included celebrating a Mass in the grotto at 6 a.m. with a full moon shining, participating in the rosary candlelight procession, going into the baths and climbing up to the fortress which overlooks the town.

The most compelling and moving part of Lourdes is the vast number of people who are suffering a wide variety of illness, maladies and disabilities. They come to this remote French town in the tens of thousands, triumphing over obstacles and enduring discomforts just to get there. As pilgrims, they have come to pray and to bathe in the waters of the spring which the Virgin Mary had instructed St. Bernadette to discover in 1858.

Most will not find a physical healing, although thousands have over the years, but they will come away with a deeper experience of God’s love for them, a stronger resolve to bear the cross of their suffering, a deeper peace that comes from acceptance and surrender.

One of the things that strikes me about Lourdes is that the sick and disabled receive preferential treatment, in the baths, processions, Masses and walkways of the shrine. They are the most important people there. Such a practice is a startling inverse of how the “world” often is, where the powerful, beautiful and elite often receive the pride of place.

Lourdes is a profound incarnation of the Catholic conviction that Christ comes to us in the disguise of the poor, the sick and the weak and awaits our merciful response through them. An attendant at the baths drove this point home to me, as I awaited my turn to go in, saying, with tears in his eyes, that his work at Lourdes was a privilege, as it allowed him to bathe and care for the Body of Christ on a daily basis. This holy shrine is a divinely chosen site where the fullness of human weakness and suffering converge in a startling fashion with the fullness of God’s merciful and healing power.

It may be tempting at times to wish we lived in a world completely free of suffering, poverty, weakness and illness, yet would that be a good thing? Obviously, in the name of the merciful Christ, we seek to eradicate disease, malnutrition, unemployment and homelessness, but we can never fully escape the cross. As maddening as that may be on a human level, could it be that we all need some level of suffering to humanize us?

If I was completely self-sufficient, living with no neediness, weakness or dependency, I would be tempted to shut myself off from other people and maybe even God himself. Suffering in those we love opens up deep reservoirs of compassion in us, as our own inadequacies compel us to reach out to others. How often in our lives, has a harsh encounter with the cross led us to a deeper faith, prayer and awareness of our radical need for God?

Societies that do not tolerate human weakness and imperfection often end up eliminating those who do not measure up to some mythical standard of sufficiency. The Third Reich comes to mind. Our rich Catholic spirituality and theology of suffering can deeply inform and shape our national debate on end-of-life issues, euthanasia and health care. Pope John Paul’s letter on the meaning of human suffering, “Salvifici Doloris,” serves as a foundational document to deepen our understanding of how God and our human weakness intersect in Jesus Christ.

Lourdes reminds us that we do not have to be perfect, strong, healthy and beautiful to be loveable, that God actually finds our disabilities to be attractive, that he is drawn to our weakness, that our sin arouses his compassion.

Ted Turner famously said that Christianity is for losers. I could not agree more. Only those who know they need a Savior can find the crucified and risen One who can heal, forgive and love us into eternal life.

3 comments:

  1. That's awesome, Anne!!! You are blessed to have a friend like Bishop Hying and I was deeply touched by the way he interceded for you at Lourdes. I am so thankful that God has lifted your anxiety and depression and I pray that it is permanent. May God continue to bless you, my friend, and hold you close. Sending you a big hug!!

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  2. Yay! I want to be one of those losers! This is such a rich post and there is so much I want to comment on ... I scarce know where to begin. Mary is right, we are rich in the spiritually gifted friends we have and the insights they are willing to share with us. We are rich in the experiences God allows us and the time we are given to see them for what they are and not necessarily for how the world sees things, i.e., how an easy superficial quick glance reveals something to us. And yes, we are even rich in our infirmities, physical, emotional, financial, etc. It often takes us years to see some of these things but blessed are we when God gives us the vision 'to see as He does'. This is the sight I pray for. Happy All Hallow's Eve Anne!

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  3. Anne, how happy I am for you! Praise God that you were healed though the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the prayers of your dear Bishop Hying.

    May God's Peace and Joy abide with you for a long time to come. You are such a special person! Oh what gifts you have! I can't begin to imagine all you will be "up to" now that you are feeling better. But I know it will all be good, and for the Glory of God!

    Love and hugs,
    Patricia : )

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