150 years ago, in Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin Mary smiled radiantly at little St. Bernadette in the Grotto of Massabielle. Today on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, Pope Benedict XVII spoke about this most beautiful smile to the pilgrims at Lourdes. I felt like i was there again.
The Pope winded down his apostolic visit to France (on the 150th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes) by presiding at Holy Mass and administering the Sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick in front the Rosary Basilica of Lourdes. I was really taken as i reflected on the Pope’s words excerpted below (praise God for cable+internet!):
Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for sinners.
The Pope began by bringing to mind the deep suffering that Our Lady experienced at the foot of the cross: witnessing “the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh.” And it was there that the Son entrusted the mother with the “new spiritual mission…: becoming [His] mother […] in his members“. From that moment his mother is now my mother.
The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged.
Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.
This smile of Mary is for all; but it is directed quite particularly to those who suffer, so that they can find comfort and solace therein. To seek Mary’s smile is not an act of devotional or outmoded sentimentality, but rather the proper expression of the living and profoundly human relationship which binds us to her whom Christ gave us as our Mother.
Every time we recite the Magnificat, we become witnesses of her smile.
Here in Lourdes, in the course of the apparition of Wednesday 3 March 1858, Bernadette contemplated this smile of Mary in a most particular way. It was the first response that the Beautiful Lady gave to the young visionary who wanted to know who she was. Before introducing herself, some days later, as “the Immaculate Conception”, Mary first taught Bernadette to know her smile, this being the most appropriate point of entry into the revelation of her mystery.
In the smile of the most eminent of all creatures, looking down on us, is reflected our dignity as children of God, that dignity which never abandons the sick person. This smile, a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope.
I would like to say, humbly, to those who suffer and to those who struggle and are tempted to turn their backs on life: turn towards Mary! Within the smile of the Virgin lies mysteriously hidden the strength to fight against sickness and for life. With her, equally, is found the grace to accept without fear or bitterness to leave this world at the hour chosen by God.
Our Lady’s smile is truly captivating. When I was in Lourdes I truly could feel her smiling at me… it was the reason for much of my joy there. I want to be rekindled in my desire to see Blessed Virgin smile at me.
To seek this smile, is first of all to have grasped the gratuitousness of love; it is also to be able to elicit this smile through our efforts to live according to the word of her Beloved Son, just as a child seeks to elicit its mother’s smile by doing what pleases her. And we know what pleases Mary, thanks to the words she spoke to the servants at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you”
We can elicit our Blessed Mother’s smile! Certainly I want to bring a smile to her face by doing what pleases her!
Mary’s smile is a spring of living water. “He who believes in me”, says Jesus, “out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38). Mary is the one who believed and, from her womb, rivers of living water have flowed forth to irrigate human history. The spring that Mary pointed out to Bernadette here in Lourdes is the humble sign of this spiritual reality. From her believing heart, from her maternal heart, flows living water which purifies and heals. By immersing themselves in the baths at Lourdes, so many people have discovered and experienced the gentle maternal love of the Virgin Mary, becoming attached to her in order to bind themselves more closely to the Lord! In the liturgical sequence of this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary is honoured with the title of Fons amoris, “fount of love”. From Mary’s heart, there springs up a gratuitous love which calls forth a response of filial love, called to ever greater refinement. Like every mother, and better than every mother, Mary is the teacher of love. That is why so many sick people come here to Lourdes, to quench their thirst at the “spring of love” and to let themselves be led to the sole source of salvation, her son Jesus the Saviour.
To all those who minister to the sick and suffering, the Holy Father addressed with these words:
The service of charity that you offer is a Marian service. Mary entrusts her smile to you, so that you yourselves may become, in faithfulness to her son, springs of living water. Whatever you do, you do in the name of the Church, of which Mary is the purest image. May you carry her smile to everyone!
In conclusion of his wonderful homily, Pope Benedict offered the following prayer prepared for the Lourdes Jubilee celebration:
“Because you are the smile of God, the reflection of the light of Christ, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit,
Because you chose Bernadette in her lowliness, because you are the morning star, the gate of heaven and the first creature to experience the resurrection,
Our Lady of Lourdes”, with our brothers and sisters whose hearts and bodies are in pain, we pray to you!