I was in Lourdes, France about 3 weeks ago on a pilgrimage and retreat. On the day I arrived at Lourdes, I found out that an English mass was going to be celebrated the next morning at
6:45AM right at the Grotto where Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette. I was told to be at 6:30AM at the sacristy in order to concelebrate the mass. I said to myself, ‘How special it’s going to be to concelebrate mass there!’ So before I slept, I set my alarm for 6 AM and told my guardian angel, whom I named, “Michael”, to be sure to wake me up. Wouldn’t you know I slept through my 6AM alarm, and my eyes opened in a panic at 6:20AM. I said, “Michael, why didn’t you wake me up?” It takes 15 minute walk to get to the grotto, so I hurriedly started to run. Some Irish pilgrims who were on their way to the Grotto, gave me the look, ‘What’s wrong with that priest?’ So I took out my white tab from my collar as I was running. So now, I looked like a Korean jogger on the streets of Lourdes rather than a Korean priest running frantically on the streets of Lourdes.
After concelebrating the mass, I sat on one of the benches in front of the Grotto and watched an endless line of people filing through the Grotto. They walked from one side of the Grotto to the opposite side where there was a statue of Blessed Mother above on a niche where she appeared to St. Bernadette. As they walked, they traced their hands on the walls of the Grotto. It reminded me of little children who cling unto their mama’s skirt with their hands. One lady on that line caught my eye. When she reached the point right below the statue, she rested her head against the wall and stood there motionless. It was as if a little girl was burying her head into her mama’s lap, to cry and to pour her heart out. After several minutes, she lifted her head, touched the wall, and joined the line again. And on her face were streams of tears. How great were the desires of all those who were sick and suffering to be consoled by their Heavenly Mother. For many, coming to Lourdes was their last life-line. They have already suffered many years, and they wanted to give it a last try with God. How similar in desire in these pilgrims as the blind Bartimaeus of today’s gospel who desired simply to see just like everyone else. He sat there on the road dejected, ‘God why did you punish me with this blindness? What did I do to deserve this?’
The Church has approved over 67 healings in Lourdes as miraculous; each of these healings took many years of scientific verification before the Church announced them as authentic. But there are thousands of healings that do not get reported. A priest who taught me at the seminary was a case in point. Many years ago as a young priest, he got into an auto accident which required more than two years of recuperation. The physical pain was so great that he began to drink to ease the pain. Soon enough he came an alcoholic. Even after treatments, he did not recover from his addiction. So his bishop sent him to Lourdes, against his wishes. When he arrived in Lourdes, he was at his lowest point of his life. He was depressed, and what was worse, he had lost his faith. Unlike Bartimaeus, there was not even the desire to ask God, “I want to see You.” He was sitting on a bench when he noticed a person on a wheel chair was being pushed by a volunteer. The volunteer had difficulty pushing, so he got up to help. On the wheel chair was a lady suffering from terminal cancer. She told him, this was her 3rd time in Lourdes. She has been telling the Lord, ‘You can take me anytime you want. I’m ready.’ But she did not understand why she was still here on earth. The priest told his side of the story, about his addiction and about his loss of faith. Then the lady said to him, “I know why I’m still here. I’m here to give you my faith.” The next morning, the priest woke up feeling very different. He felt as if it was the day of his ordination to priesthood, the day when he felt his faith was the strongest. Later in the morning, he learned that lady whom he talked with the day before had passed away. And he thought to himself, “She did give me her faith!” Isn’t God so generous? Here was a priest who lost all hope and faith, who came to Lourdes against his wishes. His deepest desire was to ‘see’ God again, to regain his faith. And God granted him that gift through another person’s suffering and sacrifice.
When I sit here in the church early in the morning, I notice a number of people stopping by each of the statues, placing their hands on the feet of the statue, and praying for some need. I’m sure in some mysterious way, they hear the question that Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied, “Master, I want to see.” But he’s not simply asking for physical sight, because when he did receive his sight, he did not just go away to celebrate. Instead, he saw Jesus and was inexplicably drawn to follow him. So of many things he could have done with his gift of sight, he realized that what he hoped to regain paled in comparison to Whom he sees in front of him. That’s the gift of sight we all desire; the very Person, Jesus, who captures and mesmerizes us to the point that we give up everything else for. Eight million people who travel to Lourdes every year as their last ditch hope, gains that true sight. They initially hoped for physical healings and freedom from suffering. But in that silent moment spent below the statue of the Blessed Mother in the Grotto, touching the hems of her garment as they touch the rock, and burying their heads into her lap to cry, they hear and understand what Blessed Mother meant when she told St. Bernadette, “I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the other.” The promise of this world is fleeting, therefore cannot lead us to true happiness.
Bernadette was promised to be able to see her Jesus in her own suffering. While living in the convent as Sr. Marie Bernard she had excruciatingly painful tuberculosis of the bones. Yet she hid it from her fellow nuns, because in it, she saw her Lord carrying the Cross and embracing it for her. How mesmerizing that sight of Jesus have been for her to keep her suffering unknown and to refuse the miraculous healing water of Lourdes saying, “The water is not for me.” So we ask the Lord today. “Jesus I want to see you. May whatever I suffer allow me to see you. And may the sight of you capture my heart and long for the promised happiness in the next world.”