“A River Runs Through It”
Anyone making a pilgrimage to Lourdes returns home with images engraved on their memory. Among those images are: the grotto and the spring, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and the candlelit processions, the malades and the baths. Running through everything is the River Gave.
The Gave begins as a trickle of melting ice high in the snowcapped Pyrenees. It grows into a rivulet as it makes its descent. By the time it reaches the village of Lourdes it is a mighty force that makes its presence felt. It is a wonder of creation and nature.
Creation is one of the ways God reveals himself. Nature is a sign that God gives purpose, order and direction to all things. As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, and St. Augustine long before him, “grace perfects nature”. It was God’s grace that brought forth light and life from a dark and formless void. In turn God uses created elements in nature to convey His grace upon us.
By the waters of baptism God pours down his sanctifying grace upon a soul. The sacramental waters of baptism wash us clean of original sin and give us new life in the order of grace. Just as at our Lord’s baptism in the River Jordan, so too at our own baptism, when we emerge from the waters the gates of heaven open up to us, the Holy Spirit descends from heaven to dwell within us, and our heavenly Father says to us from on high, “You are my beloved child”.
St. Bernadette Soubirous was a beloved child of God to whom the Immaculate Conception reveled a spring with an unknown source. The spring began as a trickle in the mud. Today it flows at a rate of 32,000 gallons a day. It has been the site of 78 healing miracles, beginning in 1858 and as recently as 2018. The spring is a force of nature and grace that makes its presence felt.
Nevertheless, St. Bernadette suffered from a painful tuberculosis of the bone and died at age 35. She often echoed the words, “The spring is not for me”. As it relates to healing miracles, the spring is not for most us. But it is a sign to all of us.
God in the wonder of His creation reveals that grace can perfect nature. Yet all of those who have been healed in the spring at Lourdes, all those who have been the recipients of healing miracles, also all of those our Lord raised from the dead: Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Nain, eventually confront mortality. Healing miracles are signs that point us toward the heavenly heights: to a greater truth, a greater miracle, a greater grace. The greater truth is this, the grace that flows down upon us in the sacramental waters of baptism makes all of us heirs to eternal life. Throughout our lives on earth, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, a river of grace runs through it, making its presence felt.
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