Acta Sanctorum: St. Bernadette Soubirous (April 16)
April 16, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S


April 16

St. Bernadette Soubirous

Life (1844-1879)

We can’t think of Lourdes without thinking of the 14-year-old girl to whom Our Lady appeared there in 1858 - Bernadette Soubirous.

St. Paul wrote, “God … singled out the weak of the world to shame the strong.” (I Cor. 1:27). In her apparitions to various people, Mary has followed the same policy. She has never revealed herself to presidents or potentates or plutocrats. She has chosen simple but substantial people, whether men or women or children.

Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes was just such a person. A teenager who was physically frail and who, at that point, had not yet learned to read or write, or even studied her catechism or made her first Holy Communion! Bernadette was nevertheless solid, balanced and docile. A good one, in other words, to be sent as Mary’s ambassador to urge Catholics to prayers and penance for sinners, and to urge the local clergy to set up a chapel at the riverside grotto of the apparitions.

In exchange for Bernadette’s prophetic role, Mary did not promise her to make her happy on this earth, only in the next. Bernadette began to experience frustrations during the apparitions themselves, in the form of excessive pestering by the curious people who flocked to the new shrine. But when the apparitions ceased, the young girl sought to escape from this turmoil. By then her embassy was basically accomplished. Now she wanted to hide from the world - to be retired, she said, as an old broom is retired behind the door.

At the age of 18, Bernadette sought entrance into the Sisters of Notre Dame at Nevers. However, she could not be completely anonymous even there. The very nuns of her religious community sometimes expected her to be proud because of her special graces. But she would point out, “Don’t I know that the Blessed Virgin chose me because I was the most ignorant? If she had found anyone else more ignorant than me, she would have chosen her.”

Although St. Bernadette’s mission was officially finished in July, 1858, she had the continuing duty of living up to Mary’s injunctions, and of thus setting an example for others. As a nun, she sought to fulfill perfectly the rule of her community. She accepted even her chronic illness in that light. Thus, on a certain day, one of her superiors, finding her in bed because of her serious ailments, twitted her, “What are you doing there in bed, you lazy little thing?” Sister Marie Bernarde (her name in religious) replied, “Why my dear Mother, I’m doing my job.” “And what is your job?” “Being ill” said Bernadette.

Always a vital part of her own “prayers for sinners” was the rosary, which she constantly recommended to all. Part of the rosary was the sign of the cross. Whether in the rosary or at any other time, from the days of the Lourdes apparitions on, Bernadette was noted for the wonderful way she made the sign of the cross. One observer at the grotto later wrote, “If the sign of the cross is made in heaven, it can only be made in this manner.” Everybody marveled at the way she crossed herself - slowly, reverently, “with majesty.” “It is important to make it well,” she told one of her fellow novices in the convent. The sisters respected the way she blessed herself, because they knew who had taught her. It was Our Lady herself, during the Lourdes apparitions.

Do we make the sign of the cross often? (Do you know that we can obtain a partial indulgence, applicable, if we choose, to the souls in purgatory, every time we make it?) Why not take on the project of always blessing ourselves slowly and reverently, pondering meanwhile what that sign means?

If we offer up these signs of the cross for the conversions of sinners, we will also be corresponding with what Our Lady of Lourdes asked of us through her humble ambassadress, Bernadette Soubirous.    --Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture (Song of Songs 2:1014)

My beloved spoke and said to me,
    “Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.
 See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
 Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.
 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.”

 My dove in the clefts of the rock,
    in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
    let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
    and your face is lovely.


(Year B). Despite my great desire to write Your Holiness, I, a poor little Sister, would never have dared take up my pen if our worthy bishop, Monsignor de Ladoue, had not encouraged me. Most Holy Father, I throw myself to my knees at your feet to pray for your apostolic blessing. Surely it will give renewed strength to my poor, weak soul.
At first, I was afraid of committing an indiscretion by writing to you. Then it occurred to me that Our Lord loves to hear the prayers of the little as much as the great, the poor as much as the rich and that he gives himself to each of us without distinction. This thought gave me courage and I am no longer afraid. Most Holy Father, I come to you as a poor little child freely and confidently approaches the most tender of Fathers. What can I do to show you my daughterly love, Most Holy Father? I can only continue to do what I have done all along: suffer and pray. Only a few years ago, I offered myself up as a little Zouave for Your Holiness. My weapons are prayer and sacrifice, and I shall pray and sacrifice until my last breath. In Heaven, sacrifice will no longer be possible, but my prayers will be even more powerful than they are in this land of exile.
Each day I pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary to keep you with us for a long time since you make them so well known and loved. I have the sweet confidence that their Sacred Hearts will deign to grant this prayer, the dearest to my heart.
When I pray for the intentions of Your Holiness, it seems to me that surely the Holy Virgin must cast her maternal eye on you from Heaven, Most Holy Father, because you have proclaimed her Immaculate. I like to believe this good Mother loves you in a special way since four years after that proclamation she came to earth to say:
"I am the Immaculate Conception"
At the time, I did not know what this meant. I had never heard those words before. Since that time, when meditating on this, I have often said to myself: how good the Most Holy Virgin is. It seems that she came to confirm our Holy Father’s words. This is what makes me believe that she must protect you in a very special way. I hope this good Mother will have pity on her children and that she will deign to crush the head of the cursed serpent beneath her feet once more and thus put an end to the cruel trials of the Holy Church and the sorrow of her August and Beloved Pontiff.
I very humbly kiss your feet with the deepest respect.
Most Holy Father, The very humble and very submissive daughter of Your Holiness.  (Letter to Pope Pius IX; Dec 17, 1876)
Musical Selection
There was a child named Bernadette
I heard the story long ago
She saw the Queen of Heaven once
And kept the vision in her soul
No one believed what she had seen
No one believed what she heard
But there were sorrows to be here
And mercy, mercy in this world
So many hearts I find, broke like yours and mine
Torn by what we've done and can't undo
I just want to hold you, come on let me hold you
Like Bernadette would do
We've been around, we fall, we fly
 We mostly fall, we mostly run
And every now and then we try
To mend the damage that we've done
Tonight, tonight I just can't rest
I've got this joy inside my breast
To think that I did not forget that child
That song of Bernadette
So many hearts I find, broke like yours and mine
Torn by what we've done and can't undo
I just want to hold you, won't you let me hold you
Like Bernadette would do
I just want to hold you, come on let me hold you
Like Bernadette would do
O God, protector and friend of the humble,
who filled your servant, Mary Bernard, with joy
by the apparition and the conversation of the Immaculate Virgin Mary,
grant, we pray, that by the simple way of faith
we may be counted worthy to see you face to face in heaven.  
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.