What I took from Lourdes

I bought this postcard in Lourdes.  It was July of 2002, and my husband and I were on our honeymoon throughout France.  It was a great chance for us to combine our respective skills:  he drove the rental car (a stick shift; I’ve never bothered to learn) and I was the communicator, drawing on the French I’d learned to speak during my two stays in Paris.

We didn’t actually plan our trip around Lourdes.  It just happened to be there, a stop on the way up to the mountain town where we hiked up jagged beautiful peaks and rattled around a huge almost-empty hotel.  But on the way back down, we stopped in Lourdes for an afternoon.

What can I say about Lourdes?  It was so many things: busy and peaceful, tacky and graceful, souvenir shops and churches coexisting in this once-sleepy town at the base of the Pyrenees.  We stopped at the grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette, and I touched the dark rock below the statue of Bernadette’s beautiful lady (or “girl,” as the saint always insisted).  It was a point in my life before Mary had inched her way into my heart; she felt distant from me.  Though I wanted to feel a close connection to her at that holy place, I left Lourdes feeling rather flat.

And yet that wasn’t the end of the story.  Lourdes ended up being the catalyst for my first real, adult reflections on Mary.  In the weeks following the trip, she began to figure more and more prominently in my thoughts.  I won’t go into the details here, mostly because it’s just too much to fit into a blog posting.  I do hope to tell that story in my next book.

But it showed me that faith can begin in us quietly, without our even suspecting it.  I remember reading once about the seeds that clung to the hems of pioneers as they traveled across the country, unseen by those who carried them along, only to later take root in a new place.  The seed of my love for Mary came to me in Lourdes, and I carried it back to California, little suspecting that it was there.  It’s set out sturdy roots since then; boy, has that love of Mary grown.  I had no idea how much it would end up changing the landscape of  my life.

I’d love to go back to Lourdes someday.  It hasn’t changed, but I have.  I’d love to see it again, through new eyes: not just as a tourist but a pilgrim, grateful for the gift I never expected to receive.

NOTE: If you are interested in reading an excellent explanation of the apparitions at Lourdes, check out Sarah’s wonderful column at Today’s Catholic Woman.

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