“Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!”
Thus spoke the Mother of God herself to Bernadette Soubirous at the Grotto of Massabielle near Lourdes, France, on February 24, 1858, the eighth time that she had appeared there to Bernadette Soubirous, the first being on this very date one hundred fifty-six years ago.
Having been in first grade at Saint Aloysius School in Great Neck, New York, fifty-six years ago on the occasion of the centenary of this continuation of Our Lady’s apparitions in the Age of Mary that had begun with her apparition to Sister Catherine Laboure in the convent of the Daughters of Charity on Rue de Bac in Paris, France, in 1830, I can only express profound gratitude to have been brought back over the course time to the very same Mass of the ages that I was privileged to assist at fifty-six years ago in the beautiful church that is Saint Aloysius Church. That Mass fifty-six years ago was offered by Father Robert E. Mason, who had been ordained to the priesthood in 1956 and would later be the pastor of Our Lady or Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park, New York.
My very life as a Catholic began in the Baptismal font at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village, New York, on January 27, 1952, some two months, three days after my birth (I never understood why my parents let me be a pagan for so long), just fifteen days before the ninety-fourth anniversary of Our Lady’s first apparition to Saint Bernadette Soubirous (known in the religious life as Sister Marie-Bernard Soubirous). There has been, you see, a lifelong connection between this terrible sinner and Our Lady of Lourdes.
“Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!”
The words spoken by Our Lady to Saint Bernadette Soubirous on February 24, 1858, are a summary of what we should be doing every day of our lives, especially during these days of preparation for the penitential season of Lent in which we are to prepare ourselves by prayer, penance fasting, mortification and almsgiving for deep penetration into the mysteries of the Paschal Triduum of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is never “too extreme,” as some Catholic minimalists who are enticed by the spirit of this passing world contend, to do penance for our sins, to increase our fervor in prayer, to say as as many Rosaries each day as our states-in-life permit.
None of us realize the horror of what our sins did to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in His Sacred Humanity during His Passion and Death and what they caused His Most Blessed Mother’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Although our sins are absolved when we make a good, full and integral Confession of our sins to a validly ordained priest and thus assured that our sins exist no more, we do nevertheless owe a debt for each one of our sins even after they are absolved. Sin an offense against the Infinite God. We do not know how our sins have wounded Him once in time and have wounded His Mystical Body, Holy Mother Church, in time. We must, therefore, live penitentially at all times in addition to doing the particular penance assigned by a priest in the confessional as the condition for his absolution of our sins. We just do no know how much we owe. We must take upon ourselves voluntary penances, especially during Lent, in order to make reparation for our sins and those of the whole world.
Take it from a sinner who is keenly aware of his many sins, which, sad to say, has diminished my credibility as a witness to the Catholic Faith on so many occasions in my life, we must never pass up any opportunity to embrace penance with love and joy. I pray each day to live long enough to do penance here on earth so that I can have some hope, if God willing and Our Lady interceding, I die in a state of Sanctifying Grace, of spending as little time in Purgatory as possible, recognizing that even one moment would be rather painful in comparison to anything I could ever suffer in this passing, mortal vale of tears.
“Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!”
This is the Mother of God speaking. It is not to be a Jansenist to love penance and to live penitentially. Our Lady, the Mother of God herself, has told us that we must do penance, something she stressed in approved apparition after approved apparition, including her apparitions in the Cova da Iria near Fatima, Portugal, fifty-nine years after she appeared the impoverished fourteen year-old Bernadette Soubirous as she was gathering wood near the River Gave not far from the Grotto of Massabielle. Shouldn’t that be good enough for us.
After repeated entreaties by Saint Bernadette Soubirous to reveal her identity, Our Lady said, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” on March 25, 1858, the sixteenth apparition and the Feast of the Annunciation (as well as the traditional date on which her Divine Son was Crucified on Good Friday). These words were uttered by the Mother of God three years, three months and seventeen days after Pope Pius IX had solemnly defined the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus. Our Lady was ratifying that solemn proclamation of her own perpetual freedom from sin, begging us as well to try to live as sinlessly as possible in cooperation with the graces that have been won for us by the shedding of every single drop of her Divine Son’s Most Precious Blood and which flow through her own hands (as she had shown Sister Catherine Laboure in the convent at Rue de Bac twenty-eight years before) as the Mediatrix of All Graces.
Yes, Our Lady was conceived without stain of Original Sin. She committed no Actual Sin in her life. We must aspire to root out sin and selfishness from our lives by embracing our crosses with joy, yes, with joy, for each and every one that comes our way. Each cross has been fashioned for us from all eternity by the very hand of God Himself. It is the means of our purification from sin, the means of sanctifying and thus saving our own souls, the means by which we can offer to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus through her own Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart whatever merit we gain for bearing it without gratitude and with love, recognizing the truth of this passage from Saint Paul Epistle to the Hebrews:
For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin: And you have forgotten the consolation, which speaketh to you, as unto children, saying: My son, neglect not the discipline of the Lord; neither be thou wearied whilst thou art rebuked by him.
For whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth; and he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons; for what son is there, whom the father doth not correct? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. Moreover we have had fathers of our flesh, for instructors, and we reverenced them: shall we not much more obey the Father of spirits, and live? And they indeed for a few days, according to their own pleasure, instructed us: but he, for our profit, that we might receive his sanctification.
Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield, to them that are exercised by it, the most peaceable fruit of justice. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, And make straight steps with your feet: that no one, halting, may go out of the way; but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12: 4-13.)
Abbe Francois Trochu wrote the following in Saint Bernadette Soubirous: 1844-1879:
One might have expected to see Sister Marie-Bernard engaging in unusual austerities for she had a lasting memory of the call three times repeated by the Lady of the Apparitions: ‘Penance, penance, penance!’ Sensibly and submissively she complied with her confessor’s directions: in view of her feeble health there were to be no corporeal penances beyond those permitted by the rule: abstinence on the days prescribed, the constraints of obedience, the discomforts of common life, then the practices of daily self-denial: custody of the eyes, silence of the tongue, finally, resigned endurance of infirmities and sickness . . . . Those ‘mortifications that are not served up with the sauce of our own desire,’ as Saint Francis de Sales says so prettily, ‘are the best and most excellent, and also those that are met with in the streets–or in the gardens or cloisters–without our thinking about them or looking for them; and such as we meet with daily, however trifling’.
In the course of the Retreat of 1874 given at Saint-Gildard by Father Condalon, S.J., Sister Marie-Bernard accumulated notes on mortification:
Serious attention to all our duties necessarily involves the exercise of incessant mortification. . . .
The mortification God asks of us is the exact observance of our Rule, of the practices, customs and instructions given by superiors. A Sister who is faithful in all this is practising a high degree of mortification and with no risk of vanity. In my opinion [here the preacher is speaking] she would be able to enter Heaven without passing through the flames of Purgatory.
There are many daily mortifications which a recollected and attentive souls does not let slip: that of rising during winter at the fixed hour and with no delay, without turning over and over in bed, is most pleasing to God. . . . Again, if anyone comes in, don’t look or ask who it is. As for the sense of taste there is an infinity of mortifications one can do, without anyone noticing them. A nun should never make know her likes or dislikes for this or that food. . . .
Before the close of the Retreat of the 1875 Sister Sister Marie-Bernard went again to Father Douce, who had already heard her confession. She desired his advice about a life of greater penance. ‘Your mortification,’ said the Marist, ‘should be that of the sense of taste. Never complain about food. . . .”
The sick are inclined to give way to little self-indulgences: Sister Marie-Bernard, on the contrary, used illness to mortify herself. ‘If she was offered anything unpleasant to the taste,’ reported Sister Viguerie, ‘she would take it willingly and seize the opportunity of making a sacrifice.’ How many mornings she woke up–supposing that she had managed to sleep–with a disgust for any short of food! ‘When I brought her breakfast,’ relates Sister Marcillac, then second infirmarian, ‘she would say with a smile: “That’s my penance you’re bringing me!” But she used to take it all the same.’
From from advertising her ailments, she tried rather to conceal them out of virtue. Her practice of mortification consisted in hidden sacrifices incessantly renewed. This perseverance was in itself heroism, nor did God ask more of her. (Abbe Francois Trochu, Saint Bernadette Soubirous: 1844-1879, first published in 1954 by the Librairie Catholique Emmanuel Vitte in Paris, France; published in English in 1957 by Longmans, Green and Company, Ltd., of London, England; reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers, 1985, pp. 334-336.)
Saint Bernadette Soubirous knew that the spring that she dug up at the insistence of Our Lady during the latter’s ninth apparition, on February 25 1858, and which would be prove so miraculous for so many souls, was not for her. She knew that she would be truly happy only in the next life, that her path to Heaven ran through the Cross of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Saint Bernadette recounted the following after the latter’s third apparition on February 18, 1858:
She told me also that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next.
Saint Bernadette Soubirous suffered much in life even before she entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers, France. Even putting aside the doubts of her parents and the relentless questioning of her by the authorities of the City of Lourdes, France, Saint Bernadette was ridiculed by her school mates after the apparitions, ridicule she accepted as part of her penances. She suffered from asthma, which weakened her considerably. She was besieged by visitors who asked for her autograph (she signed, “Priez Pour Bernadette,” pray for Bernadette) and for her to tell the story of the apparitions for them. Saint Bernadette Soubirous was truly a victim soul, teaching us that we must be victim souls that unite ourselves to the Sacrifice of the Chief Priest and Victim of every Mass, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as we give Him our offerings through the Immaculate Heart of the Queen of Martyrs who appeared to Saint Bernadette eighteen times between this day one hundred fifty years ago and July 16, 1858, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Who is any one of us, myself most especially included, to complain about anything that happens to us?
Our Lady of Lourdes told Saint Bernadette on March 2, 1858, the occasion of the thirteenth apparition, that she wanted a chapel built in her honor in the site of her apparition, that is, the Grotto of Massabielle, which had been the town dump prior to her apparition. Our Lady had requested the Servant of God Juan Diego to request then Administrator [later Bishop] Fray Juan de Zumarraga, O.F.M., to be a chapel on the place, Tepeyac Hill, where she appeared to him for the first time on December 9, 1531. Lucia dos Santos recounted Our Lady’s request, made on the day of the Miracle of the Sun, October 13, 1917, for a chapel to be built in her honor in the Cova da Iria near Fatima, Portugal:
Lucia: What do you want of me?
Our Lady: I want a chapel built here in my honor. I want you to continue saying the Rosary every day. The war will end soon, and the soldiers will return to their homes.
Lucia: Yes. Yes. Will you tell me your name?
Our Lady: I am the Lady of the Rosary.
The Lady of the Rosary was adorned with her Most Holy Rosary when she appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous, praying only the Our Father and the Glory be prayers with the visionary (as Our Lady has no need to pray the Hail Mary herself; it is addressed to her and she is not a sinner in need of prayers from her at the hour of her death!). Our Lady wants us to give her public honor in shrines and to have public processions wherein her children by adoption, to whom she gave birth spiritually in such great pain at the foot of the Divine Son’s Most Holy Cross, pray the Rosary in reparation for their own sins and for those of the whole world, helping to save poor sinners from Hell in the process. Yes, Our Lady wanted public honor given to her in Guadalupe and in Lourdes and in Fatima. Public honor. Nations must not only recognize Christ the King, you see, they must recognize Our Lady as their Immaculate Queen.
Pope Pius XII emphasized this point in his Le Pelerinage De Lourdes, July 2, 1957:
Every Christian land is a Marian land; there is not a nation redeemed in the blood of Christ which does not glory in proclaiming Mary its Mother and Patroness. This truth is brought into sharp relief by reflection on the history of France. Devotion to the Mother of God dates back to the early days of France’s evangelization, and Chartres, one of the most ancient Marian shrines, still attracts a great number of pilgrims, including thousands of young people.
The Middle Ages, which, especially through Saint Bernard, sang Mary’s glory and celebrated her mysteries, witnessed a marvelous flowering of French cathedrals dedicated to our Lady: Le Puy, Rheims, Amiens, Paris, and so many others. . . With their spires upthrust they announce from afar the glory of the Immaculate; they heighten its splendor in the pure light of their stained-glass windows and in the harmonious beauty of their statues. They bear witness above all to the faith of a people which outdid itself in a magnificent display of energy, erecting against the sky of France the permanent homage of its devotion to Mary.
In the cities and the countryside, on the hilltops and overlooking the sea, shrines consecrated to Mary — whether humble chapels or splendid basilicas — little by little enfolded the country in their protective shadow. Princes and shepherds of souls and the faithful without number have come to these shrines through the centuries, to the holy Virgin whom they have greeted with titles expressive of their hope or gratitude.
Here they invoke Notre Dame de Misericorde [Our Lady of Mercy], de Toute Aide [of All Help], de Bon Secours [of Prompt Succor]. There the pilgrim seeks refuge near Notre Dame de la Garde [Our Lady of Watchfulness], de Pitie, or de Consolation. Elsewhere the pilgrim’s prayer rises to Notre Dame de Lumiere [Our Lady of Light], de Paix, de Joie, or d’Esperance [of Hope]. Or he implores the intercession of Notre Dame des Vertus, des Miracles, or des Victoires. It is a wonderful litany of invocations whose unceasing recital tells, from province to province, the blessings which the Mother of God has bestowed on the land of France through the ages.
In many ways the nineteenth century was to become, after the turmoil of the Revolution, a century of Marian favors. To mention but a single instance, everyone is familiar today with the “miraculous medal.” This medal, with its image of “Mary conceived without sin,” was revealed to a humble daughter of Saint Vincent de Paul whom We had the joy of inscribing in the catalogue of Saints, and it has spread its spiritual and material wonders everywhere.
A few years later, from February 11 to July 16, 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary was pleased, as a new favor, to manifest herself in the territory of the Pyrenees to a pious and pure child of a poor, hardworking, Christian family. “She came to Bernadette,” We once said. “She made her her confidante, her collaboratrix, the instrument of her maternal tenderness and of the merciful power of her Son, to restore the world in Christ through a new and incomparable outpouring of the Redemption.”
You are quite familiar with the events which took place at Lourdes at that time, the spiritual proportions of which are better measured today. You know, Beloved Sons and Venerable Brethren, the astonishing circumstances under which the voice of that child, the messenger of the Immaculate, compelled the world’s recognition despite ridicule, doubt, and opposition. You know the steadfastness and purity of her testimony, wisely put to the test by episcopal authority and approved as early as 1862.
Think about this for a moment: the Age of Mary, which began with Our Lady’s apparition to Saint Catherine Laboure to commence the wearing of and devotion to the Miraculous Medal, dawned upon us in France, the eldest daughter of the Church, the country where the Social Reign of Christ the King had been undermined by the corrupt rule of King Louis XIV and overthrown by sons and daughters of Judeo-Masonry in 1789 and 1792 (and in various revolutions thereafter). Yes, the land that had been blessed by the nobility and the sanctity of Saint Louis IX and Saint Genevieve and Saint Joan of Arc and Saint Martin of Tours and Saint Denis and Saint Clotilde and Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and Blessed Claude de la Colombiere and Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint John Francis Regis and Saint Louise de Marillac and Saint Jane Frances de Chantal and Saint Francis de Sales, among so many others, the land that produced the North American Martyrs who gave up their lands to Catholicize the northern reaches of North America, yes, the land that had within its very midst Saint John Marie Vianney and Saint Therese of Lisieux and Saint Catherine Laboure and Saint Bernadette Soubirous at the very time that the Age of Mary began, the land of France had to be chosen by the devil to be attacked so that the word “French” would become forever attached not to the Faith but to the Revolution, a revolution to which the now retired “Benedict XVI” believed that his counterfeit church of conciliarism had to make its “reconciliation:”
Let us be content to say here that the text serves as a countersyllabus and, as such, represents on the part of the Church, an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789. (Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, p. 382.)
One can see how this dastardly concept of a “reconciliation” had been condemned so prophetically by Pope Leo XIII in Custodi Quella Fede, December 8, 1892:
Everyone should avoid familiarity or friendship with anyone suspected of belonging to masonry or to affiliated groups. Know them by their fruits and avoid them. Every familiarity should be avoided, not only with those impious libertines who openly promote the character of the sect, but also with those who hide under the mask of universal tolerance, respect for all religions, and the craving to reconcile the maxims of the Gospel with those of the revolution. These men seek to reconcile Christ and Belial, the Church of God and the state without God
It was to France, the land of the modern social Revolution, that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ sent His Most Blessed Mother to plead with the people whom He had redeemed on the wood of the Holy Cross by the shedding of every single drop of His Most Precious Blood to listen to her entreaties for their salvation, permitting her to give us the Miraculous Medal and the Green Scapular, which Our Lady herself said was to be given to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to two different Sisters, Catherine Laboure and Justine Bisqueyburo, of the Daughters of Charity who lived simultaneously in the same convent at Rue de Bac in Paris, France. She appeared to Maximin Giraud and Melanie Calvat on September 19, 1846 near La Salette France, urging them to do penance for their own sins and those of the whole world, weeping over the infidelity of men (blaspheming, eating meat on Fridays and during Lent, missing Mass and working on Sundays), predicting also our own situation of apostasy and betrayal. These appearances, among others, including at Pontmain, France, on January 17, 1871, near the end of the Franco-Prussian War, were permitted in order to turn men’s hearts back to Christ the King who had been overthrown as men indulged themselves in their material and sensual pleasures and their naturalist fantasies about making a “better world” without Him and the true Church that He founded upon the Rock of Peter, the Pope.
In addition to performing penances for our sins and those of the whole world as the consecrated slaves of Our Lady’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, we must pray and work, my friends, to help others honor Our Lady, especially by means of praying with great fervor her Most Holy Rosary each and every day without fail. We must pray for the day when Catholics, especially those who have access to the media, will not be ashamed to speak of Our Lady and her Most Holy Rosary and of the compassion she has shown us at Lourdes and Fatima, of the tremendous gifts she has given us in the Miraculous Medal and the Green Scapular. Nations must not only recognize Christ the King. They must also recognize Mary our Immaculate Queen. We must be instruments in helping to bring this about, planting a few seeds for the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of our Mother and our Queen, of a new Christendom where every community has Marian shrines and every country organizes local and national processions in honor of its Queen.
As we commemorate the one hundred fifty-sixtth anniversary of the first of Our Lady’s apparitions in the Grotto of Massabielle near Lourdes, France, may we realize that to dishonor the Queen Mother is to dishonor the King, who is already so dishonored and despised by “modern” man and his various false “enlightenments.” We are called to do penance, now and always. We are called to live as citizens of Heaven as we fulfill our duties each day as citizens of a particular nation. We are called to invoke Our Lady’s maternal intercession and protection with every beat of our hearts, consecrated as they must be to her own Immaculate Heart and to the Most Sacred Heart of her Divine Son. We are called to live as the children Mary our Immaculate Queen in the service of Christ the King.
We must trust in Our Lady as we undertake our daily battles with the forces of the world, the flesh and the devil, remembering that one glance from her causes the devil and his minions, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls, to flee instantaneously:
On the way back to the Petits-Fosses [after the fourth apparition, February 19, 1858], Bernadette revealed how at a certain moment the Apparition seemed different from before. Suddenly loud yells, belched from the Gave, had rent the sacred silent of Massabielle. The ‘challenged, crossed, collided with one another, like the clamour of a brawling crowd’. One voice, more furious than the rest, dominated them all and roared out: ‘Get out of here! . . . Get out of here!’ Bernadette guessed rightly that the threatening curse was by no means addressed merely to her humble self, but was an attack directed beyond her to the Vision of Light standing above the eglantine.
The Vision merely glanced in the direction of the rushing stream. This single look, one of sovereign authority, reduced the invisible mob to silence: the enemy of all good would not drive her from the grotto where she gave her audiences. ‘He is in a rage. So much the better!’ the saintly Cure d’Ars used to say of the grappin. ‘He lets me know himself when big sinners are coming!’
At Massabielle, the future was to prove that the Spirit of evil, in this burst o fury, had admitted his defeat; he was not to extinguish the great radiance that would issue from this dark, peaceful nook, where so many sinners would renounce sin! (Abbe Francois Trochu, Saint Bernadette Soubirous: 1844-1879, p. 64.)
The body of Saint Bernadette Soubirous remains incorrupt at the convent of the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction in Nevers, France. Aspiring to the sinlessness of the Lady of Lourdes who proclaimed herself to be the Immaculate Conception, Saint Bernadette never stopped doing her daily duties in a loving spirit of penance. Her sanctity was noted by Father Dominique Peyramale, the Cure of Lourdes, when he saw her the Communion rail at the time that the apparitions were occurring in 1858:
I noticed at the altar rails someone with a bright halo round her head. I was very struck by this sight. I gave her Holy Communion without realizing who it was. But I followed her with my eyes until she was back in her place, and when she turned round to kneel down, I recognized Bernadette Soubirous. From that moment my anxieties ceased and I no longer had any doubts about the Apparitions. (Father Dominique Peyramale, quoted by Sister Aurielle Gouteyron, as found in Abbe Francois Trochu, Saint Bernadette Soubirous: 1844-1879, p. 209.)
Our voluntary embracing of our own daily penances–and our absolute fidelity to Our Lady’s Most Holy Rosary as we keep ourselves and our children unspotted by the world–now and up to the hour of our deaths is the path by which which we can be greeted by the Lady of Lourdes and then crowned with a halo of sanctity for all eternity in the glory of the Beatific Vision of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.
Isn’t it time to pray a Rosary now?
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
This was taken in Connecticut in October of 2007 at a roadside shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes
Saint Bernadette Soubirous, priez pour nous!
Vivat Christus Rex! Viva Cristo Rey!
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.