Growing up my home parish for my adolescence was Our Lady of Lourdes in Raleigh, NC. While very modern in design, it was very traditional in liturgy and unlike other churches I’ve been to, the tabernacle was on the altar where it should be. I was confirmed there. Two of my brothers were as well. Two of my brothers also made their First Confessions and First Holy Communions there. My mother was active in the scola as well as a cantor. I was active in youth group. The first chapel for Perpetual Adoration was established at this parish during our tenure there. My mother was an assigned adorer from 3-4 AM (or maybe 2-3 AM) every Tuesday morning for years. My parents were also catechists there briefly.
We had holy priests and the parish came to be known for the “Dream Team” of seminarians and associate pastors that came through its doors in the mid-late 90s. One is my current pastor and my daughter’s Godfather. Recently a former associate who had been a Franciscan friar before deciding to become a Diocesan priest was named Monsignor. He’s also now the pastor of the largest parish in the diocese.
With all that, you’d think I’d have developed a special devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes and St Bernadette. But I never really did. I have no doubt of her intercession on the behalf of many who did and still do spend time in Eucharastic Adoration there. I know my mother’s prayers for a man shot at a local gas station and critically injured in a robbery contributed to his recovery (she also put in a prayer request card for him in the chapel which led to many others’ prayers as well) and that the Blessed Mother interceded for him. I know that it was miraculous to have this kind of parish available to myself and my family during a time of great turbulence for us spirtually as we left the parish my parents had helped to found and in some ways fled to this parish. My parents allowed us a small say in the decision to switch as to which parish we would like, I was in love with the local Cathedral but a small voice told me we belonged under the mantle of the Blessed Mother and so when I was asked which parish, I chose Lourdes, as it was affectionately known.
Even so, I never developed the devotion one would expect. And this in spite of the fact that as a small child I loved St Bernadette and was fascinated by her.
Healing. That’s what happens at the grotto in Lourdes. That was what Our Lady had Bernadette establish there. And honestly, that is what that parish provided for our family at that time. And maybe that’s why it’s hitting me today. Last night, as Ash Wednesday, I was in church #3 of 3 in our options. Honestly it was because of proximity and mass time. This parish reminds me in many, many ways of the parish my parents helped found. The one we left to come to Lourdes. The music, the people, the design…so much of it brought back very stark memories of my childhood. Memories that are sometimes painful.
After receiving the Eucharist and praying, I felt the lightness that I at first attributed to my fasting and then, rightly, realized was the reality of the True Presence there inside of me and my turning toward Him. I also felt like something had been released, let go of, in my heart.
This morning I prayed the closing prayer for the novena to Our Lady when that place name zapped me: Lourdes. Healing. I never had truly felt wounded but I realize now what my parents realized in some way when they switched parishes. We were wounded, our souls were crying out for something more. We were crying out for more authentic communion with Jesus. We were crying out for God and He sent His mother to shelter us and guide us and heal what was broken in us, before we truly understood what that was or even that it had happened.
It was not an easy or light decision my parents made in switching parishes. Everything we knew was wrapped up in that place. But once moved on, things started to happen. Good things. Another family from our old parish we began seeing in the pews. They had a daughter my age I had been friendly with at our old parish. Together she and I were active in youth group. Now her younger sister and I are busy raising our kids in a crazy world. I’m friends with a lot of my old youth group friends again. I am thankful to that parish and Our Lady for that.
In truth, I’ve begun to understand just how much I owe to this particular Marian appearance. Without me asking or her acknowledging, Our Lady of Lourdes has quietly worked behind the scenes to mend what seemed (in hindsight) irreparably broken. I literally owe the fact that I am still Catholic today and not Episcopalian or Lutheran or Methodist to her. She was the lifeline that the Father sent to bring us closer into the fold. And I’m sure that as I prayed the Anima Christi last night, she looked to her Son and agreed, “it’s time.” It was time for me to understand just how much she changed my life and how this image of her in front of a young girl in a grotto in France was literally me praying and staring up at her, even though I had no idea.
Now that that curtain has been raised…it can never go back down. I had no particular devotion that was aware of to Our Lady of Lourdes, but yet I was in some way always consecrated to her. And now, the devotion lives in me consciously.