Like so many things that arrived late on the scene in my Catholic formation, the Marian Dogmas were probably the last things to really be settled for me as a convert from the Lutheran tradition. The story of how I finally came to know the Immaculate Conception is rather humorous and occurred at the parish that bears the name of the little Saint born in Lourdes who met her under this title.
My pastor, at the time, knowing me for the impetuous ham that I can be at times, asked me to "perform" a 15 minute biopic of St. Bernadette for our upcoming Feast Day celebration. It was a big acting role to be written, directed and starred in by me in front of my parish. I was a bit ignorant of the life and times of our patroness however I was up for the challenge. I must admit, I was awestruck by her still, uncorrupted beauty that has mystified religious and scientific communities. I threw myself into the task. I read books, studied photographs and watched the classic black and white film that is still floating around today. I decided that a simple peasant look with hair tucked into a headscarf would be the Marie Bernadette Soubirous that I would portray.
I practiced for what seemed to be an eternity. I memorized 16 index cards full of material. I pulled off a fairly convincing French-country brogue. I became little Bernadette.
Performance day arrived after weeks of self-rehearsals. (Family is very happy about this). After delivering the entire monologue sans notecards or cheat sheets in front of a few hundred folks (thank you MSU Dramatic Arts dept for the ONE acting class I took), I rushed out of the church and praised God from my little, almost-french heart.
"Thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus, Oh Thank you Jesus, I DID IT! It's OVER!"
One problem. Clip on microphone was still attached to peasant outfit.
So this little Saint of Lourdes had the last laugh. Mission accomplished. Did I do all of that work for an Oscar or Emmy? Does anyone even remember it? Probably only the lucky soul who had to come tell me that I still had a hot mic on. No, our Dear Blessed Mother in her maternal wisdom knew that I needed this unique introduction into her immaculate heart. St. Bernadette herself introduced me to The Immaculate Conception and I am grateful to her for this.
Since I'm not a theologian, and I didn't sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, I thought it might be neat to reprint those index card contents for you here so that you can meet her the same way that I did.
St. Bernadette Soubirous
"I was born Jan 7, 1844 in Lourdes, in the southern part of France.
2 days later I was baptized Marie Bernadette Soubirous but everyone knows me as Bernadette.
I had a happy home life despite frequent bouts with asthma. Mama always worried about me and kept me at home a lot which was in a small basement room of an old prison. It was like a dungeon. I was the oldest of 9 children. Only 4 of us survived to adulthood. While most of my time was spent helping Mama around the house, what I wanted more than anything in the world was to receive my Catechism. Sadly, I was not a very bright student. I struggled with reading and writing. Most people thought that I was lazy or stupid or maybe both.
Papa was a miller but his business didn't do very well. He gave away more flour than he sold. He felt sorry for the hungry people who couldn't pay. He took odd jobs for low pay. Some days we went without food. Even though there were days we went with only bread or no food at all, me and my little brothers founds ways to have fun and joke with each other. Mama and Papa were very good people. They gave us all that they could.
I was 14 years old when the Beautiful Lady appeared at the grotto of Masabielle. She was young and so lovely - so much so that when you have seen her once you would willingly die to see her again. She appeared 18 times in all from February 11, 1858 to July 16th of that same year. It was not until her 16th visit that she told me who she was...
"I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION"
So many did not believe in my Lady. The authorities tried to put us in jail. Many of the townspeople laughed and thought I was crazy. Some just felt sorry for us. This all changed over time.
In our conversations, the lovely Lady told me many things. Some were really wonderful and other things were so sad that I was moved to tears. Still other things were secrets of things that have not yet come to pass.
She made requests of me:
1) for people to process to the grotto and for a chapel to be built there
2) that all of us pray for sinners
3) for all of us to repent so that we can grow closer to Her Son
She also told me that happiness could not be promised in this life; only in the next.
At the age of 22 I chose my life's ambition and dedicated myself to Christ as a sister. For 12 years, 3 months and 18 days, I was a sister of Charity and Christian Instruction in Nevers, France. I received so many graces that I felt this was the one way that I could really say "thank you" to Our Lord and Our Lady. I never felt that grace could be earned. It is truly a pure gift from God.
I was ill for most of my 12 years in the convent. I was given Last Rites four times and miraculously recovered from three of my worst potentially fatal episodes. I suffered from tuberculosis, an abscessed tumor, and severe bone decay. I was tortured with my own sense of personal sin and imperfection and I found my only comfort in knowing what Christ did for me on the cross. For Him I would gladly take up my own.
As I conclude my time with you here I would urge to believe in the Lord and His great mercy. His love endures forever. And always persevere in times of suffering and affliction. You are never alone. Your joy is in God's enduring love. Live for Him only, everywhere and always.
May God abundantly bless you.