The Healing Waters of Lourdes

Stations of the Cross in Church of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Avranches, Manche, Normandie, France.

Stations of the Cross in Church of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Avranches, Manche, Normandie, France.

Father Steve Grunow recently wrote a reflection on the history behind the the healing waters of Lourdes over at the Word on Fire blog. I always look for these kinds of reminders, because February 11th is my birthday. However, the following words did not entirely square with my own experience at Lourdes:

“The waters of Lourdes take us back to a memory that endures in each of us of a paradise lost long ago and that stream that gave life to Eden at the beginning of the world.  We still long for those waters because the memory of that paradise lost runs deep within our souls.

That lost stream of living water returns to us in Christ, who through the waters of Baptism offers us communion with his divine life.  In those waters we are recreated and remade becoming not just dust of the earth but the children of God.  Lourdes can be an evocation of the waters of our Baptism, waters in which our sin sick souls are healed- waters which flow to this day and are a divine river of mercy into which we are immersed, a river whose currents take us not back to a paradise lost, but a paradise of the living presence of God that is regained for us in Christ. ”

For those of you interested in Lourdes in the context of medical and philosophical debates in France there's no better place to look than Lourdes: The Body and Spirit in a Secular Age.

For those of you interested in Lourdes in the context of medical and philosophical debates in France there’s no better place to look than Lourdes: The Body and Spirit in a Secular Age.

I went to Lourdes toward the end of my nine month stay in Nantes, France with two buddies. The trip was undertaken at the instigation of my Italian friend from Naples. To be honest, I had no real personal interest in the place myself.

The trip was more of a curiosity outing, at least for me, rather than a full blown religious pilgrimage. We somehow hit a dead season when people were on vacation and there was no ballet of wheelchairs ambling toward the springs. In fact, there were no lines. Frankly, it was disappointing to miss the whole spectacle of human misery.

The three of us all went to confession. Then it was time to get dipped in the waters. I wasn’t too thrilled about totally undressing in front of total strangers, mostly wrinkly elderly Spanish men, and having to don an old towel, probably unwashed.

But I was there and I couldn’t summon up the courage to not go through with the ritual. The water was paralyzingly cold.

Afterwards the three of us went for a walk around the Stations of the Cross reading von Balthasar’s Way of the Cross meditations that were used by John Paul II on Good Friday in 1988. I have a loose leaf copy of them somewhere in my papers, but I can’t find them right now. No matter, the meditation for when Jesus falls for the first time thrust itself into my memory for all time. The gist of the meditation was that we need not necessarily seek out ascetical practices, because the Cross hits us and crushes us in everyday situations when we least expect it. Madeleine Delbrel says much the same thing throughout a collection of her essays entitled We, the Ordinary People of the Streets.

It was probably the combination of the dip with the windy conditions around the hill where the Stations of the Cross are situated that gave me the sinus infection that sidelined me for two weeks after the trip. Our Italian friend had such an upset stomach that he overflowed the toilet at the train station. There was no place to hide from the smell.

The illnesses incurred didn’t compute for quite a long while. Then I ran across the following words from von Speyr’s The Passion From Within:

Therese Taylor's life of Bernadette's life is the standard academic account.

Therese Taylor’s life of Bernadette is the standard account of the woman behind the healing waters of Lourdes.

“The Church receives the body of Christ before he suffers the Passion; only afterward will he go and deliver his body up to death. The Church therefore can suffer together with him only because she has already received his body, so that it lives already in her. Had she not received his body beforehand, she would not be able to suffer with him. And if the Lord had suffered first and then instituted the Eucharist, she would not be able to share in his Passion; she would be at once the triumphant Church with the Lord’s death behind her. The Eucharist would only be the risen body Christ. But the Church is made up of sinners, so this is impossible.”

This means the living waters of Lourdes, and our faith, ought to be supplemented with healthy a dose of everyday disease and death. After all, February 11th is also the World Day of the Sick. Maybe this is why the Good Lord has blessed me with a lifetime of diseases and minor addictions? And isn’t baptism all about symbolic death?

Here is a brief preview of the Lourdes attractions from the Catholicism series. We missed most of these!

Sometimes grace means the blind won’t see and the lame shall not walk.

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4 comments on “The Healing Waters of Lourdes
  1. This reminds me of what Flannery O’Connor’s character Hazel Motes says in Wise Blood:

    “I’m a member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.”

    Beautiful post. Thank you.

    I went to Lourdes a few years ago. It was extraordinarily ordinary — lots of gaudy tourist shops and popular piety. It was raining. But there is something very powerful there too. There were lines of people in wheelchairs and others trying to cover them with plastic bags to protect them from the rain.

    It was very humbling for me to be there. Like you, I had no remarkable experience.

    And yet…

  2. While I have never been to Lourdes, an anonymous stranger sent me some Lourdes water when my son was hospitalized. A mini-miracle of sorts occurred, but it was not the miracle we had hoped for. In fact it was not until several months later that I realized anything happened at all.

    I think the message of Lourdes is to be open to God’s will in whatever suffering you are experiencing, and accepting it in whatever form He chooses to give it to us. And by going to Lourdes or blessing someone with its healing waters, you are inviting Our Lady into your sufferings and allowing her to dispense whatever graces she sees fit for the betterment of our souls.

    It is not always that which we hope for, but it is always what is needed most.

  3. Pingback: My Creepy Catholic Valentine!

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