The Act of Breathing
Bernadette Soubirous suffered from asthma; she spent her life struggling to breathe. When I was reflecting on the life of this saint, this is what stood out so profoundly for me. In Genesis and throughout the Bible, we learn that the breath of God gives us life. God breathes life into each one of us. But for young Bernadette, the act of breathing was often a terrible burden and unsatisfying process.
It made me realize how often I take this simple thing for granted. God stretches and fills our lungs for the very first time and then we continue to fill them each time after that. I wonder if Bernadette’s asthma made her so much more appreciative of this breath. I wonder if she was breathing hard or gasping for air as she was gathering firewood with her sister that day when the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to her. Or did the apparition of Mary take her breath away?
All reports say that Bernadette was calm when Mary appeared to her. Each time, she knelt and prayed with Our Lady. Much like the Mother of God, Bernadette had no doubts about her vision and never questioned the things she asked her to do. She was often asked why she thought that the Virgin chose her and she always responded with humility saying that she was chosen for her ignorance.
Born in the Pyrenees, Bernadette was so sickly most of her life that she had little schooling and remained small into adulthood. At the time she began to see Mary, she and her family were living in the basement of a former jail in poverty. For a girl that struggled to breathe, a damp dark basement must have been especially torturous to her health.
Bernadette’s vision eventually identified herself as the Immaculate Conception and appeared to her on 18 different occasions in 1858. The attention, both positive and negative, was unsolicited by Bernadette and she eventually joined the Sisters of Charity both to devote her life to God and to keep herself out of the limelight. The grotto in Lourdes where she was the first to bathe has been home to many miracles and receives millions of pilgrims a year to pray in this holy place. But Bernadette herself was not healed by these waters.
Before she died, Bernadette was asked whether she continued to be visited by Mary, she responded, "The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again." Her blessed, but short earthly life ended on April 16, 1879, when she was only 35.
I am inspired by this modern saint who never wavered under intense scrutiny from family, friends, and the Church. Her conviction and trust in both the Lord and herself encourages me to trust more completely and more deeply. And her life inspires me to appreciate the Breath of Life given to me and to take long, slow breaths each time I think of her.
St. Bernadette, Pray for Us!
Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, You appeared in the hollow of the rock of Massabielle To Bernadette, a small and simple shepherdess from Bigorre. You brought her the radiant light of your smile, The gentle, resplendent brightness of your presence. Day by day, you built a relationship with her Where you looked at her like one person talking to another. We, too, come here before you in our poverty, and we humbly pray to you. May those who doubt discover the joy of trust, May those who despair sense your discreet presence.
Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, You revealed your name to Bernadette By simply saying “I am the Immaculate Conception”. May we discover the joy of a forgiveness that never falters, Instill in us the desire for a rediscovered innocence and a joyful holiness. Help the blinded sinner. You who gave birth to the Saviour of the world, Look tenderly on our beautiful but tragic world. Open in us the path of hope, Guide us to the One who is the Living Source, Jesus, your Son, who teaches us to say Our Father.
Elizabeth Kos is still a Catholic woman in progress and continues to learn as much as she can about her faith from the classroom as well as people she meets. Please keep her in your prayers!