This morning (10/15/15), I entered the famous baths. I had not done this before. It was cold out (in the thirties), and I sat with about forty other men waiting for it to open at 8:30. There was prayerful song over the intercom and a feeling of peace as we waited about half an hour to actually enter once it was open, then another half an hour on a bench inside. It is very well run and guarded, with many friendly, holy attendants who usher you into a curtained room with six seats (there are five such rooms) and three more attendants who carefully watch everyone, assisting and looking out for pickpockets as one undresses to the underclothes and waits a bit longer while pilgrims are taken one at a time behind another curtain where four other attendants wrap an elasticized towel around you as the underclothes are removed, then lead one into the chilly but refreshing water in a rectangular marble tub, where one says a prayer on the steps as the attendants pray along and then immerse you horizontally up to the chest.
Afterwards, there is no towel. "You will be surprised at how fast you dry," an attendant smiled. And indeed, though I dressed fully wet (except for a handkerchief with which I tamped my feet), I felt instantly dry and I had no trouble exiting into the morning chill. The feeling of Grace is immense -- perhaps a re-baptism.
Following that I walked up the runway to the second level of the main basilica, where I took a spot for prayer under the gaze of a powerful statue of Our Lady. One must be alone and pray with reflection on a pilgrimage or it becomes religious tourism. Upon exiting I felt prompted to look toward the sun and noticed a solar "miracle" similar to what I have seen at other places: a disc-like object blotting out of sun's too-bright center (like a Host placed in front of the solar orb); I prayed with my heart for intentions as streams of light radiated from both sides of the sun (immediately reminding me of the Miraculous Medal) and an amazing beam of light shot torch-like from the sun almost as if to my heart, sometimes accompanied by a second shorter one. I stared at it all (this a sunny day just after ten a.m.) for ten minutes and experienced not a single sun spot when finally I turned away. The day before, aboard our bus, I had glanced at the sun for just a moment over the plains and mountains of northern Spain before I had to look away (immediately experiencing several such spots).
Take from this all what you wish. The natural and supernatural interweave. I lit a candle in the basilica for everyone who views this website. There are quite a few pilgrims here despite the chill (wheelchairs lined up for a tenth of-a-mile, leading to the grotto), which is quite different than the first time I had visited and at one point was alone in the grotto.
Nowhere is more powerful than Lourdes. Those who criticize more recent apparitions for "commercialism" must realize that Lourdes, with three hundred hotels, is an actual metropolis, substantially larger than Fatima and with perhaps five-fold the commercialism of Medjugorje, yet likewise with no compromising of the holiness and Grace.
The first time I was here, in the early 1990s, I had an unforgettable moment, as I did also at Fatima [see previous story]. Saying a Rosary in the Grotto -- at one point alone there, at this famous spot -- I happened to glance at a small train of low-lying clouds wafting by to the west, over the River Gave, and saw a large remarkable resemblance formed by them of the Blessed Mother and Jesus Crucified: large, unlike any pictures of clouds I have seen (I had no camera, and it was in the days before cell phones; but even if I'd had one, I would have opted to remain in a state of silent prayer and wonder).
This is what I recall about Lourdes: a state of smallness, quietude, and deep wonder at the marvels and genius and generosity of God.
Here, in the basilica, I saw symbols I'd seen in a star above Fatima -- ancient kind of Greek or Hebrew-like script -- which I never did have a chance to decipher.
It is a wondrous place, with hidden aspects -- one of which is that Lourdes was instituted, as a great place of pilgrimage and healing, by the Blessed Mother after her appearances elsewhere in France, to Saint Catherine Laboure, and were slow to find Church promotion and the following Mary intended.
This is a remarkable revelation that I first read in a book by the great Mariologist, Abbe Rene Laurentin, who wrote (in Catherine Laboure: Visionary of the Miraculous Medal): "When Catherine heard people talking about the Lourdes apparition, she said, 'It's the same one!'"
According to a close companion, Sister Tranchemer, Catherine said, "You know, these miracles could have happened in our chapel."
What occurred later at Lourdes could have occurred at Rue du Bac!
Wrote Sister Dufes, her superior, "What is most extraordinary is that, without having read any of the published works, Sister Catherine was more conversant with what had taken place there than those who had actually made this pilgrimage."
How many other places
could have been major sites of pilgrimage, including in the U.S., if given a chance?
"According to a Sister Pineau, Sister Dufes found 'in Catherine's belongings a piece of paper; on it were written these words in the sister's own hand: "My kind Mother, here no one wants to do what you want: manifest yourself somewhere else!'" says Laurentin.
Said a religious named Sister Cosnard:
"On different occasions, Sister Catherine went to great
lengths to persuade me that the pilgrimage of
Notre Dame des Victoiries and the Lourdes pilgrimage had been
granted by the Blessed Virgin in order to compensate for those that the
superiors had not seen it necessary to authorize via our chapel.
'However,' she said to me several times and with a remarkable tone to her
voice, 'pilgrimages will come there just the same.'"
A third request made by Our Lady to Catherine was to build a monumental Cross in Paris. It would be called the Cross of Victory and the object of much veneration. People would come from all over the world for devotion and pilgrimages.
Again, Catherine tried in vain to fulfill the Immaculate Virgin's request. And again, the request was denied. To this day, the Cross has never been built.
The Miraculous Medal chapel is spiritual dynamite -- well worth visiting, in the heart of Paris. The Grace is palpable.
But of course we all know what happened at Lourdes, where tens of thousands have been healed, nearly seventy in a way that has passed the most rigorous medical scrutiny possible. Stay tuned for our report from the next stops...
-- Michael H. Brown, 10/15
[resources: A Holy Life: Saint Bernadette]