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The Gifts of the Saints

The Gifts of the Saints

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

– Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

One of the great treasures of the Catholic Church are our Saints. These luminous figures who are now in eternal glory in the presence of God, oobtain for us a little bit of that heavenly light to encourage and console us in life.

Each Saint is unique; while the broad message they propose to us is the same – for it is nothing more than the echo of the Gospel itself – still they do so in a way that is particular to each of them. And because of this, each of us will be attracted to particular Saints, who resonate with us in some deeper way.

Presently, our Diocese is being visited by the Relics of the Little Flower, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Already, she is drawing a great many souls to – or back to -the Lord.  And this is quite astonishing; hidden away in a cloistered Carmelite convent in France for nine years before her death at the age of 24, how is it that we even know of her existence?

It is said that as she lay dying, she heard two of the Sisters, who had been charged with writing an obituary, saying they knew not what they would write, since she hadn’t actually done anything of note. And of course, they were right – she had done no great deeds, only a myriad of very little deeds in the humdrum of convent life. But this was to miss the point entirely – it was not about what she had done, but the way in which she had done them. And herein lay her secret, which she would call her ‘Little Way’. Little deeds, done with great love. It really was as simple as that.

This ‘Little Way’ is the very thing that attracted countless souls to her – for this was within the reach of all and appealed very much to all of us who live small, seemingly insignificant, quiet and hidden lives. We could, like Thérèse, do little deeds with great love. And this is her gift to us. That, and the shower of heavenly favours she promised to let fall like roses from Heaven – and how many have received such a rose!

Over the next few weeks, the Catholics of Scotland will gather beside her reliquary, pay her honour and ask for her heavenly intercession. While some of these prayers may well result in extraordinary graces, it is likely that most will result in smaller – but not insignificant – graces, the sort which enable us to live the good life just a little bit better than before, to follow her footsteps on the path of that Little Way and so, to help sanctify us. And this is precisely the purpose of the Saints – to remind us that the call to sanctity is for every soul without exception; and if we are called to holiness, then it is possible for us to become holy.

After all, if a young nun living a hidden life in a French convent can be holy, then there is hope for us all.

 

Apostle of the Two Hearts

Apostle of the Two Hearts

“You must never separate what God has so perfectly united. So closely are Jesus and Mary bound up with each other that whoever beholds Jesus sees Mary; whoever loves Jesus, loves Mary; whoever has devotion to Jesus, has devotion to Mary.”

– St John Eudes

(Statue depicting Saint John Eudes in the central nave of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome)

In her writings and memoirs, Sister Lucia of Fatima records that in the years following the ‘public’ appearances of Our Lady at Fatima, she received a number of further messages and revelations. Amongst these was one in 1932, during which the Lord Jesus told her that He wished the Church “to place devotion to this Immaculate Heart alongside devotion to My Sacred Heart”

This was not, in fact, a new call – as far back as the middle of the Seventeenth Century, one man had been making precisely the same request, with varied degrees of success. That man was Father John Eudes, a French Priest who would later be declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925; and since then, there have been calls to have Saint John Eudes declared a Doctor of the Church. Indeed, in 2017, a dossier compiled by the Eudists and supported by the Episcopal Conferences of seven different nations, was given to our Holy Father Pope Francis.

Father Eudes was initially a Priest of the Congregation of the Oratory of Jesus and Mary Immaculate – the Oratorians– who were founded by Cardinal de Bérulle and influential in the French Schoolof spirituality. He preached numerous missions and tended to the victims of plague. Father Olier, founder of the Sulpicians, later called him “the prodigy of his age”. Father Eudes was very concerned at the need for spiritual improvement for Priests, because of which he founded a number of seminaries, where future Priests could be appropriately trained. He also founded a number of confraternities in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, receiving Papal recognition and blessing in the process.

As his work progressed, he saw a need to work with prostitutes and so in 1641, he founded a religious congregation called the Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, receiving diocesan approval and, finally, Papal approval in 1666.

In 1643, Father Eudes left the Oratorians and established the Congregation of Jesus and Mary – not a religious order but a ‘society of apostolic life’– later to become known as the Eudists, whose principal works are giving missions and the training of Priests.

His spirituality was greatly influenced by the French school, by the writings of St Francis de Sales, and by the revelations given to St Gertrude and St Mechtilde by the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  This devotion to the Sacred Heart was, at that time, very much a private devotion; Father Eudes wanted it to become an established part of the Church as a whole. To this end, he wrote several Masses in honour of the Sacred Heart, and these were eventually accepted and became widely known. It was for this reason that proclaiming his heroic virtue in 1903 as part of the process leading to canonisation, Pope St Leo XIII called him the“author of the liturgical worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the holy Heart of Mary”.

At his beatification in 1908, Pope Pius X said –

“But his services to the Church received a vast increase when, burning with a singular love for the most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, he was the first to think, not without some divine inspiration, of offering to Them liturgical worship.”

During the course of his life, Father Eudes wrote widely on devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary and his view was always that these two devotions were essentially one, and should always be together. His book, ‘The Admirable Heart of the Most Holy Mother of God’, was the first work to address this. Hias written works gained some prominence during his life and much more afterwards, leading Cardinal Vives to note –

“I was acquainted with the Doctors of the Order of Saint Francis; I was acquainted with Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, the mystical writers of my own country, Spain; but I was completely ignorant of the writings of Father Eudes. As a member of the Sacred Congregation of Rites it was my duty to study his life and his works, and I am in admiration. Blessed John Eudes must be ranked with the great lights of the Church. His spiritual doctrine is profound and of wonderful exactitude. He is one of the writers who has best propounded the doctrine of the Gospel.”

In 1930, an anonymous Oblate of Mary Immacualte wrote a short book entitled ‘Devotion to the Immculate Heart of Mary’, in which there is this –

“It was reserved for Saint John Eudes to be the apostle and chief organiser of this special devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We must remark here, however, that in this holy man’s mind, the two Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary were ever inseparable. For almost thirty years before the revelations of Saint Margaret Mary took place, Saint John had been an apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. By word and work, he had laboured to spread that devotion throughout the Church of France..

As, in the divine plan, Mary prepares the way for Jesus, so also in the Church of God, devotion to the Heart of Mary prepared the way for devotion to the Sacred Heart. In Saint John’s view, the ultimate object of all devotion and love is the adorable Heart of our Saviour, but, the best means of attaining that object is the Immaculate Heart of His Mother. Wherefore, he first set to work to preach and organise devotion to the Heart of Mary. And of that devotion he is the apostle par excellence, for when he began in 1641 it was scarcely known, but when he died (1680), it existed in a flourishing condition in most of the dioceses of France.”

The feast of Saint John Eudes is celebrated today, 19th August.

Saint John Eudes, apostle of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, pray for us.

Lead Kindly Light

Lead Kindly Light

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to pray in the private Oratory of Cardinal John Henry Newman, at Oriel College in Oxford.

The tiny Oratory is immediately behind the pipe organ of the College Chapel, out of sight of prying eyes. Very simple, it contains only a small table upon which sits a brass Crucifix and two candleticks, a wooden chair, and an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary hanging on the ancient stone wall.

The hidden Oratory offers a pleasing view across the main quad of Oriel College, but leaving the viewer hidden unless you look very carefully.

Cardinal Newman is famous as part of the ‘Oxford Movement’ and because of his desire to re-Christianise England in the 1800s, and then for founding the Birmingham Oratory. Originally an Anglican Priest, he would later decide  – following years of study – that the Catholic Church was the closest he could find to the original Christian community at the time of Jesus and in the years immediately following Him. Ever a man in search of Truth, he was conditionally baptised a Catholic, later becoming a Priest and eventually created a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII.

In 1833, Newman wrote the hymn (originally as a poem) ‘Lead, Kindly Light’  and the words of the first verse are painted on one of the windows of his Oratory at Oriel College –

“Lead, kindly light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
lead Thou me on
the night is dark and I am far away from home
lead Thou me on
keep Thou my feet, I do not look to see
the distant scene, one step enough for me..”

Those words, sung thousands of times since they were first written, express a great sense of trust in the Lord – and for Newman, there were many occasions during his life where all he could do was trust the Lord, surrendering everything to Him and aware that everything is a part of His greater plan. Later in his life, in his work entitled ‘Purity And Love’, Newman wrote –

“Such are the means which God has provided for the creation of the saint out of the sinner; He takes him as he is, and uses him against himself; He turns his affections into another channel.. it is the very triumph of His grace, that He enters into the heart of man, and persuades it, and prevails with it, while He changes it.”

This little Oratory is the place where some of the first great and far-reaching decisions were made by Newman, which would cuminate in his journey away from Oxford and many of his friends there, and also away from the Church of England, coming home to the Catholic Church. I wondered what thoughts went through his mind and entered into his prayers as he sat here, quietly and alone, and if he had any sense of where the journey which would begin there, would lead him.

Looking up at the icon of Mary on the wall facing him, I wonder if he asked Her help, and what relationship he had with Her. But I have no doubts about the graces She certainly obtained for him during his life.

On 13th October this year, his journey will reach it’s culmination – on that day, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will declare Cardinal Newman a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

May he pray for us that we, too, might make a journey of our own in search of the same Truth.

(Main image: stained glass window in the Oratory at Oriel College, depicting Cardinal Newman)

Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary which hangs on the wall of the little Oratory inside the Chapel of Oriel College, Oxford

Portrait of Cardinal Newman which hangs in his little Oratory in the Chapel of Oriel College

St Louis – Prayer to Jesus

St Louis – Prayer to Jesus

“O most loving Jesus, deign to let me pour forth my gratitude before Thee, for the grace Thou hast bestowed upon me in giving me to Thy holy Mother through the devotion of Holy Bondage, that She may be my advocate in the presence of Thy majesty and my support in my extreme misery.

Alas, O Lord! I am so wretched that without this dear Mother I should be certainly lost. Yes, Mary is necessary for me at Thy side and everywhere that She may appease Thy just wrath, because I have so often offended Thee; that She may save me from the eternal punishment of Thy justice, which I deserve; that She may contemplate Thee, speak to Thee, pray to Thee, approach Thee and please Thee; that She may help me to save my soul and the souls of others; in short, Mary is necessary for me that I may always do Thy holy will and seek Thy greater glory in all things.

Ah, would that I could proclaim throughout the whole world the mercy that Thou hast shown to me ! Would that everyone might know I should be already damned, were it not for Mary! Would that I might offer worthy thanksgiving for so great a blessing! Mary is in me.

Oh, what a treasure! Oh, what a consolation! And shall I not be entirely hers? Oh, what ingratitude! My dear Saviour, send me death rather than such a calamity, for I would rather die than live without belonging entirely to Mary. With St. John the Evangelist at the foot of the Cross, I have taken Her a thousand times for my own and as many times have given myself to Her; but if I have not yet done it as Thou, dear Jesus, dost wish, I now renew this offering as Thou dost desire me to renew it.

And if Thou seest in my soul or my body anything that does not belong to this august Princess, I pray Thee to take it and cast it far from me, for whatever in me does not belong to Mary is unworthy of Thee.

O Holy Spirit, grant me all these graces. Plant in my soul the Tree of true Life, which is Mary; cultivate it and tend it so that it may grow and blossom and bring forth the fruit of life in abundance.

O Holy Spirit, give me great devotion to Mary, Thy faithful Spouse; give me great confidence in Her maternal Heart and an abiding refuge in Her mercy, so that by Her Thou mayest truly form in me Jesus Christ, great and mighty, unto the fullness of His perfect age. Amen.”

– ‘Prayer To Jesus’of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort

Bartolo and the Devil

Bartolo and the Devil

Pope Francis visits and venerates the relics of Blessed Bartolo Longo

Bartolo Longo as a younger man

Bartolo Longo later in life, with the Contessa Marianna di Fusco

“Before entering the Shrine to recite the Holy Rosary with you, I paused briefly before the tomb of Bl. Bartolo Longo and, praying, I asked myself: ‘Where did this great apostle of Mary find the energy and perseverance he needed to bring such an impressive work, now known across the world, to completion? Was it not in the Rosary, which he accepted as a true gift from Our Lady’s Heart?’

Yes, that truly was how it happened!

The experience of the Saints bears witness to it: this popular Marian prayer is a precious spiritual means to grow in intimacy with Jesus, and to learn at the school of the Blessed Virgin always to fulfil the divine will.

It is contemplation of the mysteries of Christ in spiritual union with Mary as the Servant of God Paul VI stressed in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultis (n. 46) and as my venerable Predecessor John Paul II abundantly illustrated in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium virginis Mariae that today I once again present in spirit to the Community of Pompeii and to each one of you.

You who live and work here in Pompeii, especially you, dear priests, men and women religious and lay people involved in this unique portion of the Church, are all called to make Bl. Bartolo Longo’s charism your own and to become, to the extent and in the way that God grants to each one, authentic apostles of the Rosary.”

– Pope Benedict XVI, visitng the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii in October 2008

Late last year, Pope Francis asked the Church to pray the prayer to Saint Michael for the protection of the Church from the Devil. Indeed, there had been many previous occasions on which the Holy Father spoke of the reality of Satan, and he reminded us of the core task of the evil one –

“The Prince of this world, Satan, doesn’t want our holiness, he doesn’t want us to follow Christ. Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here … even in the 21st century!”

On another occasion, the Pope reminded us of the means at our disposal in order to protect ourselves from the wiles of the Tempter –

“For this spiritual combat, we can count on the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us: faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation.”

The Pope has said nothing new – the Church has always taught (and continues to teach) the reality of Satan; this is why at each Easter Vigil, we renew our Baptismal pormises and in these, we explicitly reject ‘the Devil, his pomps and his works, and all his empty promises’. These are not simply words from a bygone age – they express a reality as true today as in the time of Christ. For He, too, rejected the Devil – right at the beginning of His public ministry, when tempted terribly by the Deceiver. Now, as then, the Devil is puffed up with pride, wanting to be adored as God, and making all sorts of promises which he cannot – and will not – keep.

It is true that the Devil is ‘the Prince of this world’ (cf. Jn.14:30) and he has a certain amount of power, but he is not God – he is a created being and subject to the one true God. The Devil can do nothing the Father does not permit. Furthermore, the ultimate defeat of Satan is already assured and the day will come when he will be chained up forever in the bowels of Hell. But until that day, he will continue to tempt, torment and assail us.

In the present age, there are a great many souls who, for one reason or another, succumb to the wiles of the Tempter.

Some of these are posessed in the true sense of that word, often through no fault of their own – and posession should never be viewed as a judgement against such people, nor as a mark of the retribution of God. In the history of the Church, there have been a number of souls who have ascended to the heights of sanctity despite being posessed. Possession pertains to the body, never to the soul. 

Others deliver themselves into the hands of the Deceiver quite willingly, on the promise of wealth, or power, or fame, or beauty or some other vain and passing thing.

What is perhaps indisputable is that occultism and satanism is now coming out of the shadows where it has hidden itself for so long – an example of this being the very public erection of a satanic statue in the United States. Social media also reveals something of the extent of the reach of satanism. And unfortunately, the spiritual state of the world provides a potent agar in which this evil can grow and take hold. This, too, is not really anything new – other than the visibility now, perhaps.

One of the tenets of satanism is that once made, a deal with the devil is irrevocable – this is absolutely not true. A person can at any time revoke their decision and return to God, and God will welcome that soul back to Himself, for His mercy is endless.

Such a soul was Bartolo Longo, an Italian lawyer. As young man, the local political situation and the example of others around him, led to his beginning to despise the Catholic Church into which he had been born. He commented that being around people who hated the Church, “I, too, began to hate monks, Priests and the Pope”. It wasn’t long before he was consulting mediums and spiritualists and this led to his becoming involved in satanism. And then, he was ordained as a satanic priest, spending a period of time presiding over satanic ceremonies. Now, satanic ceremonies generally try to present a reversal of Catholic ceremonies – the features are the same in many respects, but reversed and made evil. This should come as no surprise – the Gospels point out that the Devil was more than able to quote Scripture. It is interesting, though, that satanism apes the Catholic Faith and no other – true satanists will often attest that they believe in God and the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus, even if they do not follow Him and indeed, burn with hatred of Him.

The protestations of family and friends were of no avail in changing Bartolo’s mind and making him take a different path, but they were able to engage the support of Professsor Vincenzo Pepe, who met with Bartolo and pointed out the marked change in his physcial and psychological state, something Bartolo had already noted – thin and ill-looking, he was experiencing depression and anxiety and a degree of paranoia. Professor Pepe arranged for Bartolo to meet a Dominican Priest, Father Alberto Radente, who, three weeks later – and on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – heard Bartolo’s confession, gave him absolution and welcomed him back to the state of grace and the sacramental life of the Church. Bartolo then voluntarily undertook penances to atone for his sins and began to do good works.  But he was not certain that he had truly been forgiven, perhaps because he had not yet forgiven himself. Later on, he wrote about this experience –

“One day in the fields around Pompeii, I recalled my former condition as a priest of Satan… I thought that perhaps as the priesthood of Christ is for eternity, so also the priesthood of Satan is for eternity. So, despite my repentance, I thought: I am still consecrated to Satan, and I am still his slave and property as he awaits me in Hell. As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘One who propagates my Rosary shall be saved.’ Falling to my knees, I exclaimed: ‘If Your words are true that he who propagates Your Rosary will be saved, I shall reach salvation because I shall not leave this earth without propagating Your Rosary.’”

And so, for the rest of his earthly life, Bartolo kept this promise to propagate the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, writing books about the Rosary and eventually becoming friends with the great Pope of the Rosary, Leo XIII, who would write so many beautiful Encyclicals on this heavenly devotion. 

Later, he would profoundly influence another Pope, Saint John Paul II, who had read Bartolo’s writings on a new set of Rosary Msyteries, outlining them in detail and focussing on the public ministry of the Lord; we know them today as the Luminous Mysteries. Writing his encyclical ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’ in 2002, Pope John Paul explicitly mentioned Bartolo –

“As a true apostle of the Rosary, Blessed Bartolo Longo had a special charism. His path to holiness rested on an inspiration heard in the depths of his heart: “Whoever spreads the Rosary is saved!”. As a result, he felt called to build a Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Pompei, against the background of the ruins of the ancient city, which scarcely heard the proclamation of Christ before being buried in 79 A.D. during an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, only to emerge centuries later from its ashes as a witness to the lights and shadows of classical civilization. By his whole life’s work and especially by the practice of the ‘Fifteen Saturdays’, Bartolo Longo promoted the Christocentric and contemplative heart of the Rosary, and received great encouragement and support from Leo XIII, the ‘Pope of the Rosary’.”

The Holy Father also wrote about the beads themselves, on which we pray the Rosary –

“As a counting mechanism, marking the progress of the prayer, the beads evoke the unending path of contemplation and of Christian perfection. Blessed Bartolo Longo saw them also as a ‘chain’ which links us to God. A chain, yes, but a sweet chain; for sweet indeed is the bond to God who is also our Father. A ‘filial’ chain which puts us in tune with Mary, the ‘handmaid of the Lord’ (Lk 1:38) and, most of all, with Christ Himself, who, though He was in the form of God, made Himself a ‘servant’ out of love for us (Phil 2:7).”

This beautiful Encyclical ends with a prayer written by Bartolo, and introduced by the Pope with these words –

“May this appeal of mine not go unheard! At the start of the twenty-fifth year of my Pontificate, I entrust this Apostolic Letter to the loving hands of the Virgin Mary, prostrating myself in spirit before her image in the splendid Shrine built for her by Blessed Bartolo Longo, the apostle of the Rosary. I willingly make my own the touching words with which he concluded his well-known Supplication to the Queen of the Holy Rosary:

“O Blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain that unites us to God, bond of love that unites us to the angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of Hell, safe port in our universal shipwreck, we will never abandon You. You will be our comfort in the hour of death: Yours our final kiss as life ebbs away. And the last word from our lips will be Your sweet name, O Queen of the Rosary of Pompei, O dearest Mother, O Refuge of Sinners, O Sovereign Consoler of the Afflicted. May You be everywhere blessed, today and always, on earth and in heaven.”

Bartolo is perhaps most well known for having restored an old and dilapidated Church in Pompeii. Bartolo had been horrified by the poor faith of the people there, knowing little of what the Church actually taught, such that one man he spoke to wasn’t sure if there was only one God or three. Perhaps this situation reminded him of the breeding grounds for his own descent into hatred of the Church and then further, into outright evil. He would write later – “Their religion was a mixture of superstition and popular tradition. … For their every need, … they would go to a witch, a sorceress, in order to obtain charms and witchcraft”

He decided to remain in Pompeii and do all he could to bring the people there back to God.

After restoring the old Church, he installed within it a painting of Our Lady of the Rosary. This painting was a gift from the Dominican Priest, Father Radente, and it depicted the Blessed Virgin giving the Rosary to Saint Dominic, with Saint Rose also pictured on the right. It been found in a junk shop and was both old and worn, and not especially attractive, aesthetically speaking. Bartolo was so unimpressed that he almost gave the painting back! But, to save having to buy an expensive alternative, he kept the painting and then raised funds to have it restored and partially repainted, replacing Saint Rose with Saint Catherine of Sienna.

Following the installation of the painting in the Church, various miracles were reported by those who venerated the image – and this brought many people to the Church, which was soon replaced by a larger one, which is now known throughout the world as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii.

Bartolo would go on to marry his friend, the Contessa Marianna di Fusco, although their marriage was continent. In 1906, the couple donated the Basilica and it’s grounds to the Church. Bartolo continued to do good works and to do all in his power to propagate the devotion to the Rosary, until his death at the age of 85 on 5th October 1926. His relics are in a glass sepulchre there, wearing the mantle of a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Bartolo Longo, the former satanic priest, and who once contemplated suicide, was declared a ‘Blessed’ of the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II on 26th October 1980 – the Pope would call the new Beata the ‘Apostle of the Rosary’.

The life of Blessed Bartolo Longo is a testament to the infinite mercy of God and to His infinite power even in the face of great evil, and even when human beings willingly embrace that evil and take it into their hearts. He is also a role-model and a sign of hope for those who are in the service of the Demon – and there are many such souls.

Bartolo Longo is proof that such a soul can change it’s ways and return to the Lord, if it wants to do so. Yes, the Devil is powerful and yes, he draws many souls into his service, one way or another; but he is also limited in what he can achieve, even with his angelic intelligence and all the power and temptation at his disposal. All of this is no match for the grace of God and for the powerful and maternal intercession of She whom Bartolo  and the Church salutes as the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.

Blessed Bartolo Longo, Apostle of the Rosary, pray for us.

Bernadette: Her Own Words

Bernadette: Her Own Words

The convent of St Gildard in the little town of Nevers, France. The town dates back to the 13th Century. The convent sits on the hill, close to the River Loire, and on the other side of the park from the beautiful Cathedral, with it’s twin Altars.

Bernadette in her religious habit, sometime after 1866

The Infirmary of the Holy Cross, where Bernadette died in 1879. Now converted into a small chapel. Bernadette’s bed is on the right, marked by a cross. She died in the chair at the fireplace, before the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes; this statue still stands there on the mantelpiece.

The interior of the tiny Chapel of Saint Joseph, in the orchard of the Convent – Bernadette was buried and remained here until the exhumation at the time of her beatification.

St Bernadette’s shrine in the main Chapel of the convent. Her body is incorrupt.

The story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous did not end with the last appearance of Our Blessed Lady at Lourdes. Her life continued at the convent of Saint Gildard in Nevers, France, at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.

It was to here that Bernadette came in 1866, taking the religious name ‘Sister Marie Bernarde’, and remaining there for thirteen years, until her death in the spring of 1879. And it was this part of her life that led to her being canonised as a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Much has been written about what Bernadette said in various interviews and conversations, and in describing the events whcih had taken place at Lourdes. What is not so well known are the written words of Bernadette, revealing her own deepest thoughts and aspirations, particularly with regard to her religious life. What follows, then, is a look at what Bernadette wrote in the years after Lourdes.

Bernadette made her intention very clear regarding why she had come to Nevers – ‘I have come here to hide myself’, she said on many occasions. For so many years following Lourdes, she was little more than a curiosity – to common people, titled people, Priests, Bishops, and even those of no professed faith; all wanted to see the little visionary who had looked upon the face of Our Lady. Despite her intentions, life in the convent did not entirely preclude her continuing to be a spectacle for others. Always smart, however, Sister Marie Bernarde found some ingenious strategies for avoiding their curious gaze. Although she sought to hide from public scrutiny, she always remembered those who asked her prayers – ‘I will forget no-one’. Throughout it all, her intention remained pure; in 1873, she wrote in her personal notebook – ‘My own concerns no longer concern me; from now on, I must belong entirely to God alone. Never to myself’.

This personal notebook was filled mainly with her written thoughts during religious retreats, as well as some very beautiful original prayers, teogether with a few pieces she copied from religious books she had read, and which had touched her heart in a special way. She was clear in her perception of what her vocation would consist of – ‘I will not live a moment without suffering’.

This perception would turn out to be very intuitive – or perhaps the Lady had mentioned it during those days before the Grotto at Lourdes. Bernadette said the Lady had given her three secrets which were concerned her alone; one was a prayer for her personal use, which she never revealed; one may well have been to do with her vocation, based on a conversation she once had; and the other is unknown. In 1873, Sister Marie Bernarde wrote –

‘Continually dying to myself, peacefully supporting trials, I work, I suffer and I wish to have no other witness but His Heart.. here on earth, Love cannot live without suffering.. pure love cannot exist without suffering. O Jesus, Jesus, I no longer feel my cross when I think of Yours.. my gentle Jesus, give me a great love of the Cross’.

As time went on, Sister Marie Bernarde suffered greatly from physical illnesses – the severe asthma which had been her companion since childhood, an which nearly took her life on several occasions; and later on, the tuberculosis of the knee, which caused her intense pain and eventually resulted in her death.  For her, the Cross was never far away; but in this Cross, she perceived clearly both the will of God and the path to sanctity.

Sister Marie Bernarde’s writings also reveal a deepening wisdom as her religious life progressed. She was never some simpleton who, because she had seen Our Lady, had shallow notions of saintliness; on the contrary, she knew only too well that her path to true holiness was to be dificult and arduous, often battling that most deadly of enemies – the self.  She wrote –

‘Never fear temptation, it is necessary and useful to us. Be armed with prayer, have a boundless trust in God, great distrust of self, profound humility, blind obedience, easy and joyful, ready to put up with everything. Jesus crucified is my Model; I must work with energy to be like Him’.

During the retreat in which she wrote these words, she made a firm comittment based on them –

‘Resolution: energy to break my will in the very least detail.. Detachment from creatures and things. Watch over the feelings of my heart.. Community life, saintly life’.

The majority of Sister Marie Bernarde’s writings were either directed to – or in reference to – the Lord. But from time to time, she would address or concern herself with the Blessed Virgin, whose immaculate face she had gazed upon all those years before. Such was the case in a beautiful prayer she wrote, as though spoken directly to the soul by the Mother of God –

‘Courage, My child, you have found the precious pearl with which to buy the Kingdom of Heaven. Always love what God wills. Will it always.. Desire it always.. Do it always. It is the greatest secret of perfection, the key of paradise, the foretaste of the peace of the Saints. The more your heart is united to Mine, the more you will understand the truth of these words.’

She continued her intention to be always hidden, referring to this again in notes written during a retreat in September 1874 –

‘The prinicipal grace to ask for during this retreat is to live more and more hidden in imitation of Jesus and Mary.. detachment from others and myself.. for the past, abandonment; and for the future, trust.. Obedience carried out even to blind obedience; poverty as radical as evangelical poverty; mortification as far as crucifixion; humility until annihilation!’

The following summer, Sister Marie Bernarde’s writings make reference (unusually) to the events of Lourdes in 1858 –

‘Remember the words of the Virgin Mary: “Penance! Penance!” Suffer everything in silence for sinners.. silence, exterior and interior. Silence of words.. Silence of memory, of imagination, so silence of all your senses and thus constant mortification. Die to oneself to live for God, such must be our endeavour.’

 On two separate pages, but still during this same retreat, she wrote –

‘Resolution: never to be discouraged, see the will of God in all that happens to me, thank Him for everything, thinking that it is for my greatest good that He allows it. Work to become indifferent to what my superiors or companions may say or think of me, withdraw myself from everything in order to apply myself only to please God and save my soul.’

 Throughout the thirteen years of her religious life at the Convent of Saint Gildard, Sister Marie Bernarde sought one thing alone – the will of God. The cost of this was forgetfulness of all else, especially herself and her own will and desires. She was clear that in this way, with perseverance, and always hidden as far as possible, she would advance on the way of holiness. Her final spoken words, at the moment of her death, again echoed the summation of all she written throughout these years in the convent –

‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me – poor sinner, poor sinner..’

Bernadette Soubirous entered the convent in July 1866 and she died there in April 1879. And in December 1933, she was declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church – not because she saw Our Lady, but because she was faithful to the message and mission of the Lady, living a life of deep sanctity as a result.

Saint Bernadette Soubirous, pray for us.