Lourdes: The Veil Is Thin


We took the night train from Paris and rumbled south through the countryside until we arrived in Lourdes just as day was breaking. My two friends and I were in the middle of our fall break from classes at the University of Dallas campus in Rome. When we walked out of the train station, I really didn’t know what I’d see or even, to be honest, what this whole Lourdes thing was all about. I’d just become Catholic a few months before moving to Rome. Most of what I knew about St. Bernadette and the miracles at Lourdes had come from watching the movie, “The Song of Bernadette” (Note: I still love this movie and highly recommend it). We found a room at a little hotel near the train station and had breakfast. Then we walked the few blocks to the Shrine. 

Lourdes is a small village in the mountains near the Spanish border and its business is the healing waters of the spring that began to flow in 1858. The Virgin Mary appeared to the 14-year-old Bernadette on 17 occasions that year. Since that time, millions of pilgrims have made their way to Lourdes to pray for healing and to wash themselves in the water of the spring. My friends and I bought bottles at a shop and went to the spring, where we drank the water and filled our bottles to take more home. As 19-year-olds in good health, we weren’t really looking for a physical cure. Towards noon we walked up a winding path to the huge Basilica located over the cave where the Virgin appeared. The church seats 25,000 people and is truly immense. I was overpowered by the size of it. Hanging on every bit of available wall-space were crutches left there by those who have proclaimed themselves cured over the years. Religious medals and notes written in every language hang there too, in thanksgiving for answered prayers. During the days we were there in Lourdes, there were thousands of pilgrims coming to pray and to be anointed and to take the waters. The place was overwhelming and intense and confusing to me. The pilgrims seemed so devout and needy. Did I really believe the Virgin Mary came here to speak to a peasant girl and to cure sick people with spring water? I didn’t know. My visit had, in many ways, suffocated me.

It would be more than 20 years before I would visit Lourdes again. So much had changed in my life since those college days. Marriage, career, the deaths of loved ones and, thanks be to God, years of a deepening faith had made me into a much different person. I was a lot less sure of myself and a lot more sure of God. When I knelt in the cave where the Virgin had appeared to St. Bernadette, I prayed to have the eyes of faith that allowed her to see heaven on earth. When I drank the spring water, I asked God to heal me of my selfishness and doubt and, most of all, my pride. The crowds seemed smaller (they weren’t), the church more intimate (it wasn’t) and the pilgrims seemed more like me. We had all come to this place out of our need for God. All of us wanted healing. All of us wanted to be touched by heaven. I believe there are places in the world where the veil between heaven and earth is thin and, in some circumstances, even transparent. Lourdes is one of those places. If you can’t travel to France, visit your local Catholic church. At every Mass, heaven comes to earth again. In every confessional, we meet the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. These are thin places, too. Lourdes taught me that. We are all on this pilgrimage together and it is never easy. But God and His Blessed Mother walk among us along the way. We’re never alone. Heaven’s breath is always calling us home. 

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner.”

 —the last words of St. Bernadette 


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Catherine Geldart
    Jun 15, 2015 @ 16:02:34

    I’ve been to Lourdes many times. Each time something new happened to strengthen my faith.


  2. Ursula
    Jun 15, 2015 @ 17:08:49

    I was never all that Ken to visit Lourdes. Even though my confirmation name is Bernadette. I went because my friends were going. We arrived late one evening off the train and after dinner walked down to the grotto. It was dark and it was raining. I fell on my knees and whispered “She’s here!”


    • tiberjudy
      Jun 15, 2015 @ 17:10:49

      What a beautiful memory! Thank you for sharing this.


      • Ursula
        Jun 15, 2015 @ 19:01:11

        I’ve been back once since then. She really is there. For all the tacky souvenir shops and the plastic rosaries and some of the pretty awful services, you can’t take that away. Our Heavenly Mother is there waiting for us. If you don’t feel her, she’s just behind you. Xx

  3. Ursula
    Jun 15, 2015 @ 17:09:22

    That should read keen. Not Ken!


  4. Hugh Hubble
    Jun 15, 2015 @ 17:40:50

    Thank you so very much for the inspiring story. Isn’t Ursula’s’ comment lovely?


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