(Dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes – written February 11, 2003)
I am 26 years old (now 30) and in a wheelchair with a physical disability known as muscular dystrophy. Although raised Catholic I became lukewarm and indifferent as a teenager. I had much difficulty dealing with my suffering. I let it affect me emotionally (sadness) socially (loneliness and I am already shy by nature!) and worst of all spiritually (sinning to “alleviate my pain”). My heart was not with the Lord but with the things of the world. I was into Hip-Hop and had CDs of un-Godly music or seemingly positive with lyrics that offended GOD. At that time i didn’t like myself very much.
Even though i had forgotten Him the Lord had not forgotten me. Slowly He drew me to Himself through: a young Muslim who raised questions inciting me to read the Bible and Catechism, EWTN, a Franciscan friar who visited me, apologetics websites and special Masses (most memorably the veneration of the relics of St. Therese). The humility of God in becoming man, dying on a Cross, and in the Eucharist for me compelled me to open the door of my heart.
In the Great Jubilee year 2000 i was flooded with graces of conversion.
My mother was inspired with the idea of making a family pilgrimage to Lourdes. My mother Mary wanted us go Her Shrine during the Jubilee year. She prepared me by rooting up obstacles so that the message of Lourdes would fall on fertile soil. I threw away many CDs, deleted every mp3 and all “borrowed” software. I remember praying the Rosary for many weeks until Lourdes. I anticipated a cure in Lourdes.
We prayed in the Grotto first. The cave had been an unseemly place, a feeding ground for animals at the time of the Apparitions. I was struck by the humility of Heaven—first the Son of God chose a cave and now His Mother does the same!
Next we went to the taps to drink of the miraculous spring that I had longed to come in contact with. A pilgrim just finished filling up bottles of Lourdes water. He limped toward us smiling with a great look of joy on his face and handed me one of his Our Lady of Lourdes shaped bottles. I felt that it was the Lord Himself welcoming me to Lourdes. I was moved to tears. Here was someone who like me suffers with a physical disability yet he was not concerned with himself. He seemed to say to me “In spite of this i can still be joyful… I can love. Go and do the same”. I began to feel at once the peace of being in Lourdes. The tears of joy that filled my eyes where soon filled over with pure Lourdes water. We washed our faces and my parents poured water on my feet, and hands.
The devotion and love for the Blessed Virgin was so alive in Lourdes. For the first time in my life i saw the Universal Church. The beautiful candlelight Rosary Procession with pilgrims from all over the world set my heart on fire. I never saw so much devotion in one place before! I felt so united to the Mystical Body of Christ.
In Lourdes the Blessed Mother became more real and approachable for me. As i grew deeper in my love for Her, She took my heart and gave it to Her Son. Lourdes was really my first time in Eucharistic Adoration. I would just look straight at Him and i knew that He was reading my heart. I prayed with my entire being as i realized i was looking at my God at my Creator who could heal me in an instant.
The blessing of the sick with the Blessed Sacrament was a powerful experience. The priest lifted up Jesus in the monstrance and blessed all the sick and suffering pilgrims. What reverence and love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic Benediction in the huge underground Basilica.
Daily Mass was the most important part of our pilgrimage. One day at Holy Mass in Lourdes, the priest spoke about suffering in his homily. Sick and suffering persons are dear to God and have special purpose. Some by their disability are prevented from committing certain mortal sins. Those with severe mental disabilities can’t even commit a sin! In His infinite mercy and love God is preserving these souls for Himself! Those who suffer much are the ones closest to God if they do not become bitter and rebel against it.
GOD permits suffering in order to bring a greater good out of it–the Crucifix is proof! I was moved when i learned that my suffering has great value when it is united with the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. I can offer my suffering to save souls! It was for my good that He allowed me to suffer. He wants me to be a saint. I was in a wheelchair precisely because God loved me!
Ever since arriving i had been looking forward to the Lourdes bath. I went to confession immediately to prepare for the healing waters of Lourdes. I held my rosary tightly in my hand as i was immersed in the water. It was so cold! When i was lifted out my body was instantly dry. A deep peace flooded my soul. I was uplifted. I felt that I died to myself and became alive in Christ.
There was so much i learned from St. Bernadette. I learned the logic of “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” St. Bernadette faced many humiliations and suffered much throughout her life. This attracted me to her. I felt a closeness to her. She ate the bitter grass in the Grotto and drank muddy water and washed her face in it. The Virgin asked this of her as penance for poor sinners. I saw power of penance. St. Bernadette taught me much about obedience, humility, and suffering. God chooses the weak, the humble, and those considered as nobody to manifest his power.
The humble will be exalted. I realized that this was true in the fullest sense of Mary– the Queen of Heaven.
During a procession i lost shyness to sing and started to sing Ave Maria really loud with everyone else. (And i’ve been singing along at Mass ever since! This was completely wrought by GOD.)
The presence of GOD was everywhere in Mary’s Shrine! I was filled with great joy and peace and i felt so loved! I prayed for a physical healing and i received something greater–a spiritual healing. The Lord gave me the grace to accept and even embrace my suffering and to see it as a blessing, as proof of His great love for me. These sufferings are temporary and short in comparison to eternity. He shares His suffering with me that He might share His glory with me. My prayer became that of Jesus in the garden: “Father, if it is possible take this cup from me but not my will but yours be done.”
For me Lourdes was a foretaste of Heaven. Our pilgrimage to Lourdes reminded me of the pilgrimage of life. There are hardships but when you have arrived at your final destination you will see that the sufferings were all worth it. I saw Heaven as my goal and final destination. The Blessed Virgin guides us on our journey. I grew in my understanding of what is lasting and what is passing. I grew in a new desire to do God’s will especially in things that might cost me something because there would be more merit.
The words that Our Lady spoke to St. Bernadette made sense to me: “I do not promise you happiness in this world but in the next.”
Ever since the pilgrimage i have been growing in love of God and neighbor. The Lord keeps bring me out of myself through suffering for the love of Him, joyfully and in spite of myself!