4 Powerful Lessons from St. Bernadette
On Monday, April 16, the Church will celebrate the feast day of St. Bernadette Soubirous, who received apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes in the mid-1800s. During the series of apparitions, Mary revealed herself to St. Bernadette as the Immaculate Conception, and she led the French teen to uncover a spring that would become a source of miraculous cures. There are some important lessons we can learn from this humble, unassuming saint who obediently received the graces that God offered to her:
1. Hold firm to the convictions directed toward God.
When Bernadette first saw Our Lady of Lourdes, she did not realize that it was the Blessed Virgin she was seeing. Yet her immediate response was to begin praying the Rosary, right there with the vision before her. She trusted that the experience was coming from God. In response to her claims of the vision, local authorities put her under intense scrutiny, and the public flocked to the grotto at Lourdes. In the face of all this attention, which was very unpleasant for the humble teen, Bernadette held fast to the truth.
2. Be an instrument of service.
During the experience of the apparitions and continuing through the end of her life, Bernadette never thought that she was special for having received the apparitions or had merited them in any way. She saw herself simply as an instrument through which God could work. It is clear from Bernadette’s life that dedicating herself to service was not simply a response to the apparitions she witnessed, but was an essential part of who she was. This began when she cared for her siblings as a young girl and continued as she took on humble jobs as a religious sister. It was Bernadette’s steadfast disposition toward service that allowed her to respond as she did to the apparitions—she allowed herself to be open to God’s grace.
3. Do all that you can in your circumstances.
From childhood, Bernadette was afflicted with illness. There were things she simply could not do. Her poor health prevented her from entering certain religious orders. Once she did enter an order, there were jobs that she could not do, until she was finally limited to just needlework. Yet Bernadette was known for her humility and for her dedication to the work she was given. She understood what her limitations were, but she did not take advantage of them to avoid work. Instead, she beautifully accepted them and skillfully formed a life that allowed her to do the most good in the context of her constraints.
4. Don’t be overly concerned with finding happiness in this life.
Today, Lourdes is almost synonymous with miraculous cures from illness. One might expect that the visionary who cooperated in the initial grace at Lourdes would be a recipient of healing, especially considering that she herself was chronically ill. But Bernadette was never cured of her ailments. Thanks to her great trust in the Blessed Virgin, Bernadette helped to create a place of pilgrimage that would offer healing to many people, but she accepted that she had to suffer in illness in this life. Following God’s will did not mean that she would be free from suffering. Ever obedient, Bernadette accepted what she was given. Her simple obedience has prompted the conversion of countless people, and now, she receives God’s joy in the Communion of Saints.