"Ever since the Song of Bernadette, one of the great religious films, based on Franz Werfel's novel, opened in America, people have been familiar with this little girl who was desperately poor and to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared at Lourdes. Many of us developed an affection for this humble saint, although few of us knew much about her. Many people thought she looked like the actress who played her role in the movie. I've done a bit more research, and I learned that Bernadette was a kind of fresh kid from the streets. She lived, after all, in an abandoned prison, and although her family saw to it that the children received the sacraments, they were very poor indeed.
Bernadette died at the age of thirty-five of tuberculosis of the bone, which had apparently begun as rickets during her childhood caused by malnutrition. She was famous for her wit, which was a simple peasant shrewdness, quite capable of mimicking people who thought they were very important. She sometimes said crisp things to those in authority.
A monsignor once asked her, "Do you expect me to believe that the Blessed Virgin appeared to you?"
She answered, "No, I don't expect you believe it; it's my job just to tell you what she said."
A few years ago I visited the convent in Nevers where Bernadette lived out her life in a very austere religious community. Her body is now on view in a glass reliquary in the chapel, although originally she had been buried in the ground. It is a most impressive sight. A thin layer of wax covers her face because when her incorrupt body was taken from the grave, one of the sisters washed it with soap, which turned the skin dark. Bernadette has something to teach all of us. Who is important to God? To whom will God speak? On whom will He rely? The simple answer is, those who will faithfully give His message. Bernadette has something to teach all of us. Who is important to God? To whom will God speak? On whom will He rely? The simple answer is, those who will faithfully give His message. Bernadette never added anything to what she saw, she never interpreted it, she just said what Our Lady had told her to say.
When Bernadette was dying of the very painful tuberculosis of the bone, she was asked if she wanted to go to the spring at Lourdes, which was by that time immensely popular. She said no, the spring was not for her. Our Lady had told her years before, “I cannot promise you happiness in this world but eternal happiness in heaven.”
After she entered the Sisters of Charity at Nevers, Bernadette never returned to the shrine; she never sought a cure for herself, although many of the cures were of people with medical situations similar to her own. She remained a selfless person all her life. Why was she chosen? Which one of us can understand the depths of a simple soul? Who understands how even a child can be totally dedicated to God and chosen like the Blessed Mother to do His work?
As I am struggling with my mashed arm and other symptoms as a result of my accident, I can only think of Bernadette and the message she has to give. I would like to go to Lourdes, but I won’t. Like Bernadette, I don’t think the spring is for me. I don’t know why I think that, but I do.