Saint Catherine of Siena

April 15, 2015

st.catherine of sienna

1347 – 1380
Patron saint of: Fire Protection, Italy, Nursing Services, Activism
Feast Day is April 29.

Action and activism are the essence of Saint Catherine of Siena. Passionately devoted to the salvation of mankind, she left an astounding legacy of four hundred written letters and a devotional Dialogue that are considered great classics in literature. She is credited with influencing the return of the papacy to Rome from Avignon, and for this reason she is the patroness of Italy. Known for her incredible charm, she horrified her wealthy parents by her willingness to express her devotion to Christ through corporal humiliations and long periods of fasting. Counselor and advisor to those in power, it was said that she perfected the art of kissing the Pope’s feet while simultaneously twisting his arm. Saint Catherine struggled against great odds to keep the Catholic Church united. Her novena is a call to faith in troubled times. She is invoked to engender the strength and faith for action in times when action is needed, both political and spiritual.
Born Caterina Benincasa, the youngest of twenty-five children, Saint Catherine’s father was a wealthy dyer. At the age of six she had a mystical vision of Christ surrounded by saints. A beautiful and cheerful child, she alarmed her parents by spending much of her time in prayer and meditation. She grew devoted to Christ and, like him, wanted to take on the suffering of the entire world, secretly mortifying her flesh and fasting for days. Saint Catherine is the patroness of fire protection because her sister saw her deep in prayer in the kitchen, engulfed in flames from the stove. When she was pulled out, there was no evidence of burn marks on her body. Her parents, wanting a normal daughter, were angry at her refusal to marry or to improve her personal appearance. They finally gave in to her religious cravings and allowed her to become a tertiary (lay person) in the Order of Saint Dominic. She lived at home and went out to work, caring for those with the most repulsive diseases when no one else would help them. For this reason, Saint Catherine is also known as the patron saint of nursing services. Because of her great spiritual insight and radiantly happy outlook, she attracted a following in Siena known as the Caterinati. They did much to revitalize an interest in spirituality in Siena and its surrounding regions. On the Fourth Sunday of Lent in 1375, Saint Catherine received the stigmata; the wounds of Christ appeared on her body and then disappeared, visible only to her.
Illiterate, Saint Catherine dictated hundreds of letters and spiritual writings to her secretaries. It was her constant barrage of letters to Pope Gregory XI that influenced him to move the papacy back from Avignon to Rome. She later became the advisor to his successor, the arrogant and difficult Urban VI. When he caused a great schism in the church, the College of Cardinals having voted in a rival Pope to return to Avignon, Saint Catherine remained loyal to Urban. She lectured him in countless letters on how to best improve himself. At his invitation, she moved to Rome to work as a papal adviser. When she died there of a stroke at the age of thirty-three, the wounds of the stigmata reappeared on her body.

Novena to Saint Catherine of Siena
Heavenly Father, your glory is in your saints. We praise your glory in the life of the admirable Saint Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor of the church. Her whole life was a noble sacrifice inspired by an ardent love of Jesus, your unblemished lamb. In troubled times she strenuously upheld the rights of his beloved spouse, the church. Father, honor her merits and hear her prayers for each of us. Help us to pass unscathed through the corruption of this world. Help us always to see in the Vicar of Christ an anchor in the storms of life and a beacon of light to the harbor of your love, in this dark night of your times and men’s souls. Grant also to each of us our special petition. We ask this through Jesus, your Son, in the bond of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Pause to pray for your intentions).
Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us.
Say this novena nine times in a row for nine days in a row.

Feast of St. Vincent Ferrer 1350-1419, April 5

March 30, 2015

St.VFerrer “Christ, master of humility, manifests his truth only to the humble and hides himself from the proud.”

Patron of: Builders, Construction Workers, Brick Makers, Epilepsy, Fields, Headaches, Inn Keepers, Lightning Strikes, Penance, Plumbers, Preachers, Tile Makers, Reconciliation, Roofers, Vineyards.

Born in Valencia, Spain to an English father and Spanish mother, Vincent Ferrer’s time on earth was spent during an extremely tumultuous period in history. The Black Death had ravaged Europe, decimating the population and the church was divided in a Great Schism, with three men claiming the papacy at one time. Because of his work in healing this rupture and his untiring labors in revitalizing the faithful, as well as his charismatic ability to convert thousands, he is the patron of builders and those in all of the construction trades.

With encouragement from his parents, Vincent realized his dream of becoming a Dominican friar at an early age. His intellectual gifts were immediately apparent and he soon became an expert on theology and scripture. His advice was much sought after by bishops and cardinals, and eventually, Vincent was summoned to Avignon to advise the schismatic pope Benedict XIII. In 1398 he suffered from a near fatal fever where he had a vision of Christ, Saint Dominic de Guzman (founder of the Dominicans), and Saint Francis of Assisi advising him to unite the world by evangelizing throughout it. Always a popular and skillful preacher, Vincent’s talents were said to have become supernatural after this vision. He left his political duties and took it upon himself to travel throughout Western Europe preaching about the Final Judgment, earning him the title “Angel of the Apocalypse.” Though he could only converse in his native Catalan, he was clearly understood by the tens of thousands who thronged to hear him preach. The Moslem-controlled city of Granada invited him to speak there resulting in 8,000 conversions.

At a time when many were left reeling and faithless by the plague which had killed off one fourth of the population, Vincent Ferrer’s message of hope in the face of despair was wildly popular in cities and towns in England, France, Italy the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Spain. Throngs of religious pilgrims drawn from every level of society devoted themselves to a life of penance, following him wherever he went. Along with his spectacular success as an evangelist, he also had the ability to heal the sick and hours were put aside every day for his prayers and cures. Because many of his miracles took place where thousands could gather in fields, one of his patronages is the protection of fields. Because lightning was such a threat to crops, he is also invoked against lightning strikes.

Vincent Ferrer is credited with helping to heal the great schism in the church when he realized that his friend and benefactor Benedict XIII should relinquish his claims on the papacy when he refused to submit himself to a vote among cardinals. Vincent withdrew his support and recognition of him and Benedict XIII was deposed in favor of Gregory XII in Rome.

Novena Prayer to St. Vincent Ferrer

O Saint Vincent Ferrer, our guardian, because God, our eternal Father, has blessed you with and inexhaustible fountain of grace and blessing, we beg you to hear our prayers and to assist us with your powerful intercession which is even more effective now that you are in heaven than it was when you were on earth. Full of confidence in your mercy and compassion, we kneel in prayer before you, and commend to your powerful intercession all our needs, those of our families, our friends, relatives, and especially (your request here).

Glorious Saint Vincent Ferrer, let not our hope and confidence in your protection be deceived. Intercede for us before the throne of God. Watch over our eternal welfare. If our trials and tribulations in this world multiply, may they serve to give us spiritual joy and happiness. If God will only grant us the grace of ever increasing patience to the end that we may save our souls.

Saint Joseph’s Day Celebration in Menfi, Sicily March 19, 2015

March 20, 2015

Thank you Erica De Mane for sending us Judy Witt Francini’s excellent photograph.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2015


St.Patrick
389 – 461

His Feast Day is March 17.

Saint Patrick is Patron Saint of Ireland, Fear of Snakes, Faith

Though not usually considered a novena saint, Saint Patrick is called upon by many for faith in the most trying of circumstances. Since he himself was forced to submit to living in a country not of his own choosing, he assists in accepting difficult situations where there is little hope of change. The patron saint of Ireland, he is credited with single-handedly changing the beliefs of the entire Irish nation through the purity and intensity of his faith. Saint Patrick’s following has spread to wherever the Irish have settled, especially in North America and Australia. He could never have imagined the astounding impact that his work in Ireland would have on the world.

Saint Patrick was born on the west coast of Great Britain of Roman-British parents. Though his father was a deacon, and his grandfather a priest, early on, Patrick showed no interest at all in God or religion. At the age of sixteen he was abducted by pirates and taken to Ireland, where he was sold into slavery. For six years he was forced to live under the direst of conditions, subject to the elements and hardship, herding sheep. When he began to pray for deliverance, he dreamed of a ship docked two hundred miles away. By following the dream’s directions, he was able to escape from captivity, find the ship, and prevail upon the sailors to take him with them. He eventually returned to his family, and in gratitude for God’s help he became a priest. In A.D. 432 he again had a dream that changed the course of his life. In it, he was instructed to return to Ireland and to convert as many people as possible to Christianity. Though he would have preferred to perfect his studies and remain in Britain, he surrendered to the guidance of the dream and put all his faith in God by returning to Ireland. Living there at a time when the Druid religion was in decline, he nonetheless had to compete with the “wizardry” of the Druid priests.

There are many fantastic tales of his magical powers. It was said that Saint Patrick could turn people into deer and that he could turn day into night. He is still invoked today by those afraid of snakes, because he was said to have obtained a promise from God that no poisonous reptiles would be allowed to live on that island. Saint Patrick expelling snakes is a common image. Another one of his symbols is the shamrock, or three-leaf clover. This symbolizes how he explained the Holy Trinity in his preaching. Saint Patrick built his main church in Northern Ireland. Realizing that the landowners chose the religion of their serfs for them, he set upon converting the major families first. His life as a former slave and fugitive taught him to trust God completely, and those living in similarly miserable circumstances have always been able to identify with him. He died in 461 in the monastery of Saul, and his remains are buried with those of Saint Brigid in Ulster.

Novena

O great apostle of Ireland, glorious Saint Patrick, to whom under God so many are indebted for the most precious of all treasures, the great gift of faith, receive our fervent thanks for the zeal and charity that have been to thousands the blessings so invaluable. We ask your intervention in receiving(Mention your request here).

Ask for all who dwell in this land and the land of thy labors the precious light of Faith, and beg for us on whom its glorious rays have long since beamed, the grace to regulate our lives by its sacred maxims. Amen

Say this novena nine times in a row for nine days in a row.

Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, First Century AD

March 11, 2015

St.Joseph copysmall“I know by experience that the glorious Saint Joseph assists us generally in all necessities. I never asked him for anything which he did not obtain for me.” —Saint Teresa of Avila

Patron of: Fathers, Carpenters, Catholic Church, Families, Homeless, Pregnant Women, Unborn Children, Workers, Family Protection, To Find Work, A Happy Death, To Sell A Home.

A righteous man who never shirked his responsibilities as protector of his family, Saint Joseph offers a perfect example for fathers everywhere. He is invoked by families for all matters of support needed to sustain a household, both material and spiritual.

A descendant of the House of David, there is very little written about Joseph in the gospels. He was said to be betrothed to Mary when she became pregnant with Jesus. Instead of leaving her in scandal, he accepted the word of the angel Gabriel who told him that the child was divinely given and Joseph and Mary were chosen by God to be his earthly parents. It was Joseph who protected Mary on the journey to Bethlehem when Jesus was born. He also suffered the frustrations of a man who could not find proper shelter for his family as his wife was about to give birth. Upon returning to their native city of Nazareth, Joseph was once again visited by an angel warning him of the impending slaughter of the innocents. On faith alone, he dispensed with his business and personal effects, taking Jesus and Mary to Egypt where they stayed for seven years until Herod’s death. It fell upon Saint Joseph to support his young family in this foreign country.

The last mention of Joseph comes when Jesus is twelve years old and strayed from his family while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It is thought that he died well before Jesus began his mission with Jesus and Mary at his deathbed. For this reason, more than any other saint, he is invoked for a happy death, one where a person is older and has their family at their side.

Though of noble lineage, Joseph was a carpenter and it was from him whom Jesus learned his trade. Because he worked with his hands and frequently put his family ahead of any personal ambitions, workers everywhere who live similar lives call on him as a patron. It is no mystery that the cult of Saint Joseph became more popular in modern times with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Many saints throughout the ages have declared him to be a powerful advocate as well, since it is thought that Jesus obeyed him in his earthly life, he is inclined to listen to Joseph in his heavenly life. Teresa of Avila always buried medals with his image when she needed land for a new convent. This tradition has extended itself to realtors of all faiths who bury statues of Saint Joseph on properties they wish to sell.

It is assumed that since Joseph respected his wife’s virginity that he was an older man when he married. He is depicted in art with a staff, which he led his family ( precursor to the bishop’s staff) a lily for purity, and with carpenter tools or holding the baby Jesus

Novena

O glorious Saint Joseph, faithful follower of Jesus Christ, to you we raise our hearts and hands to ask your powerful intercession in obtaining from the compassionate heart of Jesus all the helps and graces necessary for our spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly the grace of a happy death, and the spiritual grace for which we now ask.

(Mention your request.)

O guardian of the Word Incarnate, we feel animated with confidence that your prayers for us will be graciously heard at the throne of God. (The following is to be said seven times in honor of the seven joys and seven sorrows of Saint Joseph.)

O glorious Saint Joseph, through the love you bear for Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his name, hear our prayers and grant our petitions.

A Lenten Novena

February 18, 2015

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, 
During the Holy Season of Lent 
You call us to a closer union with Yourself. 
Help me to prepare to celebrate
The Paschal Mystery 
With mind and heart renewed. 
Give me a spirit of loving reverence
For You, our Father, 
And of willing service to my neighbor. 
As I recall the great events
That gave us new life in Christ, 
Bring the image of Your Son
To perfection within my soul. 

This great season of grace is Your gift
To Your family to renew us in spirit. 
Give me strength to purify my heart, 
To control my desires, 
And so to serve You in freedom, 
Teach me how to live 
In this passing world with my heart set
On the world that will never end. 

I ask for the grace 
To master my sinfulness 
And conquer my pride. 
I want to show to those in need 
Your goodness to me by being kind to all. 

Through my observance of Lent, 
Help me to correct my faults 
And raise my mind to You, 
And thus grow in holiness
That I may deserve 
The reward of everlasting life. 

In Your mercy grant me this special favor: 

(State your intention(s) here...)

The days of the life-giving Death 
And glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ, 
Your Son, are approaching. 
This is the hour 
When He triumphed over Satan’s pride, 
The time when we celebrate
The great event of our Redemption. 
The Suffering and Death of Your Son 
Brought life to the whole world, 
Moving our hearts to praise Your glory. 

The power of the Cross reveals
Your judgment on this world 
And the kingship of Christ crucified. 
Father, through His love for us 
And through His Sufferings, Death and Resurrection, 
May I gain eternal life with You in heaven.

Happy Mardi Gras from Novena.com!

February 17, 2015

Saint Valentine

February 14, 2015

st.v2Feast Day: February 14

Patron of: beekeepers, engaged couples, greeting card manufacturers, happy marriages, love, lovers, young people

Invoked against: epilepsy, fainting, plague Symbols: birds, martyr’s palms, rose, sun, sword

His feast day is embedded in Western civilization. His name has become synonymous with a certain type of romantic card, yet few realize that Valentine actually existed. As a saint, his first great work was to unite young couples in marriage. In the year a.d. 269, when the Roman Empire was under constant attack from barbarian tribes, Emperor Marcus Aurelius Claudius issued an edict outlawing marriage for young men. He speculated that more soldiers would join the legions to defend it if they were unfettered by wives and children. Valentine was a respected healer and priest in the outlawed Christian faith. He had great sympathy for those young couples whose plans for a life together were shattered by the state and he encouraged anyone who wished to wed to come to him to be married in secret. He was arrested and imprisoned in Rome for defying the emperor. But his reputation as a learned man remained untarnished and many of his followers would visit him in prison for counseling; others came for health cures. Personally afflicted with epilepsy, Valentine was particularly drawn to treating those also suffering from the disease. The jailer, having witnessed many successful healings at Valentine’s cell door, asked the saint to treat his daughter, who had been blind since birth. During her subsequent visits to the prison, Valentine read to the girl, taught her mathematics, and beautifully described the natural world. Valentine’s wisdom and kindness so impressed the jailer and his family that they converted to Christianity despite the fact that the young girl remained blind. This conversion established Valentine’s status as a true threat to the state, a charge punishable by death. His execution came on February 14, the eve of the Roman festival of Lupercalia. Valentine was beaten with clubs and then beheaded. Before his sentence was carried out however, he sent a yellow crocus to the jailer’s daughter enclosed with a note that read, “With love, from your Valentine.” The bright color of this flower was the first thing she ever saw, her eyesight having been miraculously restored. She is said to have planted an almond tree on Valentine’s grave, and to this day the almond tree is considered a symbol of friendship and devotion. Valentine was buried on the Flaminian Way in a catacomb that still bears his name. A church was dedicated to him there in a.d. 496. The wall of the city, the original Flaminian Gate, was a pilgrim’s first stop upon entering Rome and was known as Porta S. Valentino until the seventeenth century, when it was renamed Porta del Popolo.

In the ninth century, relics of the early martyrs were removed from the catacombs and transferred to local Roman churches. Valentine, too, was reinterred in the church. His body was moved to the church of Saint Praxedes, very near his original burial place. Many cities besides Rome claim his relics, among them Terni, Italy; Madrid, Spain; Dublin, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland; and Rocamador, France. It is no coincidence that the liturgical feast day of the patron saint of love falls on the eve of Lupercalia, an erotic Roman fertility festival. It was common practice for church holidays to coopt pagan celebrations. The Romans considered this the official beginning of Spring, a time of reawakening fertility and warming weather. One of the activities held in honor of the goddess Februata Juno consisted of the city’s bachelors drawing the names of unmarried women out of an urn. They would then become a couple for the rest of the year, with many of these matches resulting in marriage. In twelfth century southern France, this practice was reawakened as part of the Langue d’Oc poetry movement. This was a time when art and literature took on a heightened importance to the ruling classes. Noble youths known as gallants wrote missives of love they called galantines. The local pronunciation confused this with the word valentine and Valentines clubs sprang up. On February 14, after a Mass in honor of Love, a silver casket containing the names of unmarried local men was presented to the single women in town. The men whose names each woman drew was required to be the guardian of that lady, providing her with flowers, poems, and gifts throughout the year. He was to guard her honor chivalrously. Marriage between these Valentines was strictly forbidden. Because of the wide dispersal of his remains, the cult of Saint Valentine became extremely popular in Northern Italy, southern France, and England. His head, which was reputed to be in England, was said to bestow incredible miracles and healings on those who kissed it. Since the middle of February was considered the time of year when birds began to pair, the English, like the Romans a thousand years before them, looked upon this as the beginning of mating season. Celebrating the Feast of Saint Valentine by citing the fidelity of doves seems to be an English tradition.

The oldest valentine note in existence today was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415, while he was imprisoned in the tower of London. By the middle, nineteenth century sending and receiving anonymous Valentine’s cards and poems declaring one’s love became common in both America and England. By then, the story of the saint who had inspired this industry might have faded away, but his name and feast day is celebrated universally. In art Saint Valentine is sometimes depicted as a bishop since it is believed he could possibly be the same person as the first martyred bishop of Interamna (Terni, Italy). Frequently a pair of doves symbolizing faithful unions, the sword he was martyred with, the sun of honest knowledge, and the rose of ardent love can be found as part of his portrait as well as martyr’s palms. Because he suffered from epilepsy, he is invoked against that disease, as well as fainting spells.

Prayer to Saint Valentine

O glorious advocate and protector, Saint Valentine, look with pity upon our wants, hear our requests, attend to our prayers, relieve by your intercession the miseries under which we labor, and obtain for us the divine blessing, that we may be found worthy to join you in praising the Almighty for all eternity; through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

February 11, 2015

115_GrottoLourdes, an ancient village in the valley of the Pyrenees mountains, is in the extreme southwest of France near the Spanish border. It is the site of the most famous series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary and the most visited pilgrimage shrine in Christendom. Credited with exuding a powerful healing energy, it is inundated by those in need of physical and spiritual renewal. Attracting well over 200 million visitors since its discovery, Lourdes is a relatively modern holy site, having only been recognized by the Church as an official pilgrimage place since 1862. It became famous after a poor, illiterate local 14 year old girl, Bernadette Soubirous saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near a great rock mound called Massabeille. Despite much ridicule and persecution inflicted on her by the local authorities, Bernadette could not be shaken from her story. While communing with the Virgin, Bernadette uncovered a trickle of muddy water in a place where water had never been. Today, that tiny spring gushes forth with thousands of gallons of water daily. Considered to contain inexplicable healing properties by the devout, many terminally ill people of all faiths flock to Lourdes as a last resort in curing their ailments. Catholics go to spiritually refresh themselves and to honor this visitation by the Mother of God.

Though officially ruled over by France, the villages of the Pyrenees had little to do with their country on any cultural or social level. Most spoke in patois, their own language, never learning French at all. They dressed in their own local costumes, disdained the central government and were known as the ‘Indians’ of France for the exotic way they lived. While the 19th century was celebrated as a great secular age, when France was finally freed of all political domination of the Catholic Church and science and logic replaced faith, the villagers of the Pyrenees defied all official teachings and held on to their religious beliefs. They were hostile to the French government and suspicious of any forms of official beauracracy. Living in a harsh, mountainous landscape, they held much of nature as sacred. They had little faith in modern medicine and combined ancient Celtic beliefs with their Catholic prayers. The love of the Virgin Mary was at the heart of their religious life. Since the 13th century shepherds and shepherdesses had reported direct contact with her, either through visions or the miraculous discovery of statues of her. Shrines to the Madonna were abundant and most towns had a special day of pilgrimage honoring her.

Bernadette Soubirous was a 14 year old girl who’s impoverished family lived in a dank former dungeon. Stricken with asthma, she was considered slow and held back from receiving her First Holy Communion because she had trouble learning her catechism. On February 11, 1858 her mother needed firewood for cooking and could not afford to buy any. She sent Bernadette, her younger sister and a friend out to look for some. So that they would not be accused of stealing, the girls had to go outside of town to public lands. There was an outcropping of rock facing the river with a grotto at its base known as Massabielle. The pigs of Lourdes grazed there and respectable residents did not go to that area because it was considered filthy. According to legend, the Massabeille had been sacred to the pagans in prehistoric times and those passing by it always crossed themselves to ward off the aura of evil that they felt emanated from it. Because of her illness, Bernadette stayed behind while the two younger girls waded across the river to get wood. She decided to join them and began taking off her stockings. It was at this point she heard the sound of a wind and then saw a soft light coming from the niche in the grotto. A beautiful, smiling girl in white seemed to beckon to her. Bernadette was startled and instinctively reached for her rosary. She was unable to pick it up until the young girl produced one herself. They made the sign of the cross together and as Bernadette prayed the rosary, the young girl passed her own beads through her fingers in silent prayer. When Bernadette finished, the young girl smiled and disappeared. Despite her mother’s opposition, Bernadette returned to the site that Sunday after mass. She was joined by a group of friends. The girl in white appeared and Bernadette said, “If you come from God, stay. If you don’t, go away.” She then sprinkled holy water at the girl to make sure she was not from the devil. Bernadette was relieved when the girl laughed and inclined her head to receive more water. Bernadette was the only one who could see or commune with the girl. Her friends were astounded by the physical change in her demeanor. She had fallen into a beautiful rapture and seemed totally relieved of her asthma. One threw a large stone in the direction of the niche and Bernadette did not flinch. Fearing she had had some sort of fit, they ran to get help. The towns residents who came were shocked at the beautiful transformation in Bernadette. Word of her visions started to spread.

Each time she returned to the grotto she was joined by a larger crowd. Many thought the apparition was either the ghost of a devout townswomen who had recently died or a soul who had wandered away from purgatory. Bernadette’s third vision was on the 18th of February and two important townswomen brought along a pen and paper. The girl in white laughed when Bernadette held out the writing instruments and for the first time spoke to her, addressing her with great politeness, “Boulet aoue ra gracia de bie aci penden quinze dias?” she asked in the patois dialect. (“Would you have the grace to come here for fifteen days?”) When Bernadette replied that she would ask her parents’ permission, the girl said, “I do not promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.” During these next two weeks news rapidly spread through Lourdes about the apparitions and the civil authorities felt obliged to take action. Bernadette was taken to the local police station for questioning. The authorities tried to make her admit that it was all a hoax. When she refused, they began to threaten her family. The Church was also skeptical and embarrassed by what they regarded as superstitious worship. The local pastor, Father Peyramale did not want to give the apparitions any credence. Even though the girl in the visions had not named herself, the belief that she might be the Virgin was growing among the townspeople.

For her part, Bernadette did not speculate on the mysterious girl’s identity, always referring to her as ‘Aquero’, the patois word for indescribable being. It was on February 25th, the ninth apparition of the girl that Bernadette was told to go drink at the spring and wash in it. Thinking the girl meant the river, she went towards the Gave. In her words, “…Aquero called me back and pointed to a spot beneath the rock. I found some moisture there but it was mud. Three times I threw it away even though the Lady said to drink it. Then I washed in it only to have my face besmeared with mud. When the Lady left, my Aunt Bernarde slapped my face. ‘Stop your nonsense,’ she said as she sent me home to the jeers of the people…” By the afternoon the muddy area was flowing with pure water and many in the laughing crowd were amazed.because they had never seen a spring there before. In subsequent apparitions the girl asked for penitence and the conversion of sinners. Bernadette said that she was afraid that the people climbing all over the grotto would disturb the rosebush where the girl stood. “I was afraid she might fall, but she kept on smiling at the people. She loved them, and she always seemed sorry to leave them.” At 13th visit Bernadette was told to tell the priests to come to the grotto on procession and to build a chapel. Father Peyramale was enraged and told her that if the girl in white wanted a chapel she should say who she was and she should make the wild rose bush in the niche blossom. It was after this 13th visit that the water in the spring was first accredited with healing properties. A pregnant woman with a paralyzed hand became totally cured and a stonecutter had his sight restored after he bathed his eyes in the water. Before this, there had been no physical proof of Bernadette’s visits.

The vast crowds that had started to accompany her did not see or hear the girl in white. They only believed in these visions because of Bernadette’s great physical transformation. Thursday, March 4th was the last of the 15 days. Over 8,000 people went to the grotto expecting to see something miraculous. At the end of her vision, 45 minutes, Bernadette put out her candle and went home. The rosebush did not bloom, the girl in white did not declare any message. Bernadette, unconcerned about the wild emotions she had aroused, went home content. For the next three weeks, Bernadette later wrote, “The people pestered me, the police watched me, and the public prosecutor almost crushed me…” Then, on the night of March 24th she awoke with the familiar urge to return. On March 25th,the day of the Annunciation, she returned to the grotto at 5AM. The girl in white appeared and Bernadette asked her four times to say who she was. “Aquero extended her hands towards the ground, swept them upwards to join them on her heart, raised her eyes, but not her head to Heaven, leaned tenderly towards me and said, ‘Que soy era Immaculada Concptiou.’ (‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’) She smiled at me. She disappeared. I was alone.” Father Peyramale was astounded at this announcement. This expression meant nothing to a simple peasant girl like Bernadette. The Catholic tradition that Mary had been conceived without original sin so that she might be worthy to be the Mother of God had only been formally defined as Church doctrine in 1854. Eventually, the parish priest would be Bernadette’s greatest defender as she was harassed and examined by government officials, psychologists and church hierarchy.

She never altered the account of her story to any of them, “I do not ask you to believe; I only told you what I had seen.” Three eminent Parisian doctors declared that she was mentally and emotionally sound but that she suffered from asthma. (“My mother could have told them that and saved them the trouble.”) Under increased pressure from the authorities, the grotto was closed off and anyone visiting it threatened with arrest. On the 16th of July, Bernadette saw the girl in white for the last time. She knelt in the meadow on the far side of the river. “…I began my rosary and my Lady stood in the Grotto smiling at me. It was the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her. This would be the last time I would see her on this earth….She left heaven in my heart and it has been there ever since.” While Lourdes developed into a world famous place of pilgrimage, Bernadette, disliking the attention her presence created, joined the Sisters of Nevers in 1866. Her novitiate was difficult and her health deteriorating. She never showed any interest in the miraculous healings promised by the water in the spring. Her insistence that the girl in white was no older than 12 was ignored and priestly experts stated that since Mary had to be between the age of 15 and 17 at the time of the Annunciation, the official image of the apparition should depict her at that age. Bernadette never liked the statue that was erected in the Grotto in 1864, declaring it “too big and too old”. She died of tuberculosis in 1879. When her body was exhumed in 1908, it was found to be uncorrupted. She was recognized as a Saint by the Catholic church in 1933. Gradually, the local officials had to relent and re-open the grotto to the public. The Bishop accepted the apparitions and approved the shrine in 1862. After the railroad line was finished in 1866, pilgrims began arriving in the tens of thousands. After 1873, when incidents of healing at the spring began to be reported, the shrine rapidly developed an international reputation for having healing powers. Bathing pools filled with cold water piped from Bernadette’s spring were created for visiting pilgrims. Much effort was put on the scientific community to repudiate the healings at Lourdes.

Many illnesses were declared to be hysterical in nature and therefore cured by the powers of suggestion. Studies of the water from the spring showed it had no special chemical properties In 1882 a medical bureau was established to test the validity of the cures. Before a cure can be officially considered, a patient’s medical records are studied by a commission of doctors and independent medical professionals. The alleged cure must be immediate and permanent to be regarded as a miracle. When an investigation does occur, the conclusion is placed in one of four possible categories: (1)There has been no cure. (2)A partial cure has taken place. (3)There has been a cure, but there are medical or psychological reasons for it. (4) There has been a cure for which there is not natural or scientific explanation. The pilgrim must then return after a year for further examination. Since March 1, 1858, the Church has recognized 65 miracles at Lourdes. There are countless undocumented healings and over 5,000 documented “inexplicable healings”. Father Peyramale completed the first basilica upon the rock of Massabielle in 1873. After the great “national” French pilgrimages were initiated where Catholics of all classes came to bathe the sick at Lourdes, a larger church had to be built. The Church of the Holy Rosary was consecrated in 1901.

Today, the Basilica rises in 3 tiers over the grotto. Across the stream is a cavernous underground church which seats 20,000. In the grotto the miraculous spring has been channeled into a long row of spigots where visitors may collect the “Lordais water” and take it home. A small hospital and a number of hostels serve the needs of the seriously ill There is a Rosary procession held by torchlight each evening and the entire shrine is active throughout the day and evening with various services, processions and blessings of the sick. At the heart of the Lourdes pilgrimage is service to the sick and the infirm. Many devotees do not go for themselves but to aid others and to commune with God in a holy atmosphere.

There are four traditional gifts imparted by Lourdes: 1) The gift of miraculous water 2) The gift of healing 3) The gift of reconciliation 4) The gift of strength and friendship.

Happy Feast of Saint Agatha February 5

February 5, 2015

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