By Father MieczysЕ‚aw Piotrowski TChr,
Love One Another! 11/2008 → The main topic
For those who live as if God did not exist, the miraculous spiritual
and physical healings occurring at Lourdes stand as a clear sign
of contradiction. They serve as an urgent call to conversion, which
Christ, who really did “love us to the end” (John
13:1), never ceases to send out to us.
At a time when the world is doing everything possible to deny the existence and activity of God, the Creator has, through Our Blessed Mother’s apparitions at Lourdes, given us a visible sign of His presence in the world and of His love and concern for mankind.
Our Lady’s apparitions at Lourdes, and the miracles occurring there, stand in clear contradiction to a concept of the world that has no place for a loving personal God. Small wonder, then, that the world Masonic movement felt threatened and launched a massive propaganda campaign against Lourdes, ridiculing and discrediting the apparitions by representing them as a great deception perpetrated on a gullible world by the Catholic clergy. To accomplish tthis aim, they resorted to the most unscrupulous methods, including the falsification of documents — fortunately, now long since unmasked.
In 1906, the writer Jean de Bonnefon, a freemason exuding hatred for the Catholic Church, published a feuilleton entitled Lourdes and its Owners. In it, he called for the closing down of the shrine, since in his opinion the apparitions were a sham the brainchild of ecclesiastical swindlers. De Bonnefon tried to convince his readers that the Catholic clergy invariably resorted to lies and falsehood. At first blush, his work gives the impression of being based on historical documents. It did not take long for a sharp-eyed historian to discover that among the authentic documents contained in the pamphlet there was a letter supposedly written by Pierre-Claude Falconet, the Procurator General of Pau. Researchers subsequently proved that it was de Bonnefon himself who had falsified the letter in order to support the main thesis of his pamphlet. However, the author of the pamphlet failed to notice that the contents of Falconnet’s real report to the minister completely discredited his claims.
The author of one of the greatest attempts at literary deceit was Emile Zola, the famous French novelist. In August of 1892, he made a visit to Lourdes in order to write a book about the shrine. Zola was an atheist who vehemently denied the possibility of miraculous cures. He believed in science alone. Only science could life’s mysteries. His purpose was to expose “the great deceit permitted by the Catholic clergy at Lourdes.” Zola’s blind faith in the dogmas of secular culture disqualified him from being an impartial observer of the events at Lourdes. He was incapable of seeking truth objectively. Matter was all that concerned him — that and an overpowering need to prove his preconceived view that miracles did not exist.
During his stay at Lourdes, the writer became interested in two women who were in the terminal stages of tuberculosis. Both women, Marie Lebranche and Marie Lemarchand, experienced a miraculous cure while praying in the grotto. Zola was an eyewitness to this incredible event, yet in his book on Lourdes he flatly contradicts this fact. He lied with premeditation, for not only did he deny the miraculous healing of the two women, but he also stated that both women died soon after returning from their pilgrimage. When he later realized that his lie might be exposed, he went to visit the cured women and persuaded them to move to Belgium. As it turned out, the publication of his deceitful book proved to be counteractive. Amazingly, more, rather than fewer, pilgrims ended up going to Lourdes.
More and more journalists, scientists, doctors, and men of culture began to visit the shrine. Many of them experienced conversions on seeing the cures taking place there. For example, after his visit to Lourdes, the French writer Joris Karl Huysmans, a personal friend of Zola, cast off his atheism and became a Catholic. Later he would enter a monastery. Another example was that of Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel. In 1903, Dr. Carrel set out for Lourdes with his patient Marie Ferrand, who was dying of tubercular peritonitis. But when he, an atheist, witnessed the miraculous healing of his patient, his atheism lay in ashes. He understood that God lay beyond the ken of science, and that the only way of reaching Him was by fostering a personal relationship with Him through faith, prayer, and living the Gospel values. “After passing through the darkness of reason, we reach Him by longing for, and loving, Him. There is no other way of experiencing God’s love, which is an experience akin to that of artists and lovers.” Carrel’s conversion evoked a hostile reaction from his superiors at the University of Lyons. Since he was unwilling to change his views, he was forced to move to New York, where his research at the Rockefeller Institute culminated in his being awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine.
Emile Zola witnessed a miracle but chose not to believe it. Alexis Carrel saw in the miracle a sign calling him to conversion. In an act of devout faith, he opened himself to the mystery of God’s love. Thus, miracles are signs only for people of good will. Yet in the end, even Zola, a grand master of a Masonic lodge, was converted.
This took place several years after writing his defamatory book about Lourdes. In 1896, he suffered a compound fracture to his leg. Despite intensive treatment, the wound grew worse, and amputation of his limb seemed imminent. On Christmas Eve, Zola had a dream that he was in a church singing a carol before the Madonna and Child. On awaking, he heard his wife singing the same carol. He asked her to go to church and light a votive candle for him before an image of the Blessed Mother. That same day, the writer experienced a miraculous healing. This proved to be such a great spiritual shock for him that he immediately reconciled himself with God in the sacrament of Penance. After that, he began to pray earnestly, attend Holy Mass, and receive the Eucharist. He issued a public declaration stating that for the past thirty years he had lived in great error. He also warned his readers against the dangers of freemasonry, whose doctrines he had avowed and spread for so many years. After breaking off all ties with the Masonic movement, he begged God’s forgiveness for his sins. He also turned to Pope Leo XIII, asking him to forgive him for his anticlerical publications and speeches. The liberal-Masonic attacks on the apparitions at Lourdes would continue until 1958.
God’s peculiar language
For 150 years Lourdes has been the scene of countless gospel-like healings: spiritual healings from sin and lack of faith as well as physical healings from every illness imaginable. Lourdes continues to be an extraordinarily powerful locus of God’s action. Between 1858 and 1914, Lourdes reported 4445 miraculous physical healings; and these continue to this very day. The blind regain their sight, the deaf, their hearing, the lame walk, cancers disappear, etc. Every instance of healing is duly registered in the Bureau medical de N.D. de Lourdes, formerly (until 1947) the Bureau de constatations médicales. Here we find a treasury of priceless materials attesting to the miraculous healings that point to the supernatural character of the healings occurring there. The bureau is made up of leading specialists in various medical disciplines. Their task is to examine scientifically every alleged case of miraculous healing. The actual number of recorded cures occurring in the 150 years since the apparitions at Lourdes is in the tens of thousands. For various reasons, only a small fraction of these cures ever reach the attention of the international medical commission and the bishop of the diocese in which the cured person lives. It is only then that a long, complex process of examination is launched, on the basis of which a specific healing can be certified as a miraculous occurrence. The great number of miracles taking place at Lourdes is God’s special way of speaking to a world enslaved by liberal and materialistic values.
This special “language” of God is comprehensible only to those
who sincerely and humbly seek the truth, to those who are open to
receiving God’s mystery and are ready to surrender themselves
to Him, when they see a clear sign of His agency in the world.
The Holy Father, Pius XII, stated that the miracles at Lourdes “evoke universal amazement and confirm that the Catholic religion is the only religion given to the world by God” (Fulgens corona, September 8, 1953).
Physical healings are not the only miracles at Lourdes. Healing a man’s soul and heart, i.e. forgiving his sins and freeing him from enslavement to Satan is a miracle that only God can perform, for, as Jesus Himself states: “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’” (Mt 9:5). Of course the first is harder. Only God can heal a human soul. Perhaps there is no place on earth where people go to Confession as much as at Lourdes. Precisely here, at the Massabielle Grotto, Christ’s all-powerful love is constantly at work. His love brings the most hardened sinners to contrition and forgiveness. This is the greatest of all miracles.
God allowed fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous to see Our Blessed
Mother and thus call us to conversion and prayer. He chose precisely
her to carry out this important mission, despite the fact that she
came from the poorest family in the town, and was uneducated and
sickly. From the purely human point of view, she was the least suited
to undertake this mission (cf. 1
Corinthians 1:20, 25; 2:14; 3:19). Only Bernadette saw the Immaculate
Virgin. Only she talked with her. No one present during the apparitions
actually saw Our Blessed Mother. That is the God’s way of
acting. God reveals Himself to people with great meekness and respect
for their freedom. He enslaves no one by the greatness of His power,
beauty, and goodness. In the same way, after His resurrection, Christ
did not reveal Himself to everyone, but only to His apostles and
to certain chosen individuals. He did this so as to enslave no one,
but rather to lead all to the certainty of His existence through
an act of faith. God is love and wants us to forge a loving relationship
with Him. Where there is love, there must be freedom — without
coercion, enslavement, or fear. We cannot forget that God Himself
bridged the infinite distance that separates us from Him, by becoming
true man in Jesus Christ.
And yet even after His incarnation, He remains a hidden God, capable of being known only through the effort of daily prayer and life lived in accordance with the Gospel. He remains a hidden God precisely because He wants us to “work” on our loving relationship with Him. At the same time, He gives us clear signs of His divine presence so that everyone who sincerely seeks the truth may find Him and enjoy a personal bond of love and friendship with Him, and thus allow Him to free us from our slavery to sin, Satan, and death.
Blaise Pascal observed that if God “had wished to overcome
the obstinacy of the hardest hearted among us, He could have done
it by revealing Himself to us in such a manifest way that we could
not doubt the truth of His existence.” He did not do this,
because He respects our freedom and wants us to discover His presence
and infinite mercy through “faith, which works through love”
5:6). All those who sincerely seek the truth will correctly read
the clear signs by which God calls us to conversion. By contrast,
to all those who refuse to undertake the effort of seeking the truth,
God’s signs will remain dark and unreadable. Pascal observes
that“there is enough light for those who wish to see, and
enough darkness for those who remain contrarily disposed.”
As we read in Holy Scripture: “Be zealous and repent. Behold,
I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens
the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me”