On February 11, 1858, the Holy Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in the grotto of Massabielle, near the remote village of Lourdes in the Pyrenees Mountains. Bernadette who was 14 at the time and an illiterate peasant went out to collect wood and in a cave near the River Gave she saw a beautiful lady standing in the grotto, or, as we say more commonly, a cave. The lady wore a white dress and a blue sash. On each of her bare feet there was a yellow rose. The lady smiled at Bernadette and made the sign of the cross with her rosary. The lady asked Bernadette to return to the grotto every day for a fortnight (15 days). Young Bernadette did so all the while calling the lady aquero. That is the dialect word (patois) for that one. While others said the child was seeing the Virgin Mary, she never made such a claim.
Soon many began to accompany her. The lady made several requests. She asked Bernadette to tell the priests to build a chapel there. She said the people should come there in procession and that they should drink (interestingly, not bathe) in the water. She asked that penance be done for the conversion of sinners. When the lady had asked that the people drink, Bernadette asked from what they should drink. The lady pointed to a stream which bubbled up from the muddy earth. When a blind man and sick child bathed in those waters later that same day, they were healed. The anti-Catholic local government closed down the grotto and threatened to arrest Bernadette and her family. The people begged the local pastor to open the grotto and he, quite wisely, said that if the lady wanted it open, it would open.
Two days later an imperial decree came from the Emperor Napoleon III himself saying the grotto should be opened. The governess of the Prince Imperial Louis Napoleon (known in his family as Lou-Lou) had herself procured the water and bathed the infant prince in it. He was cured of pneumonia immediately. (The Prince Imperial would grow up to be a fine and devout young man and would be the only Bonaparte to die in battle at the age of 24, and, ironically, wearing a British uniform in the Boer War). Thus the lady opened the grotto.
Finally, Bernadette asked the lady her name. She answered once again. Not in French, but in the dialect spoken in that region, Que era soy Immaculada Concepciou! (I am the Immaculate Conception). Thus the lady revealed that she was Our Lady. The church was built and the people came in procession. Lourdes is one of the most visited places in the world. Many of our own parishioners have been there. I had the grace to visit there on two occasions, once in 1982 and the other in April of 2001.
As we enter the church for today’s Mass we see a beautiful mosaic of the great miracle working saint, Saint Pantaleone. Among the Greeks he is known as Saint Panteleimon. (In writing of him I will employ the Italian form of his name). He is one of that group of saints who are called The Fourteen Holy Helpers (or martyrs). These saints are powerful intercessors. One of our own parishioners who was healed of an illness through the intercession of St. Pantaleone has allowed us to borrow the icon for his Feast day which is February 18th. St. Pantaleone gave his life for Our Lord in the year 305 A.D. During his life St. Pantaleone was a renowned physician, but, more importantly, he was a doctor of souls. Be sure to pray before his image and ask for healing and take a holy card. We pray to him:
Holy and Glorious PANTALEONE the Healer,
Intercede with our Merciful God
That He may grant us the remission of our sins.
You emulated God’s mercy
And He granted you the power of healing,
O PANTALEONE, victorious martyr of Christ!
Heal our spiritual diseases through your
Intercession and as we constantly cry out to the Lord:
Take away the temptations which the enemy always places before us.
As can be seen from the title for this Sunday we will soon enter into Lent which begins on Wednesday, March 1. It is never too early to start planning for this Holy Season. The bulletins of the following two weeks will give greater details but please try to save these dates: Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 1st. There will be ample opportunity to receive the Blessed Ashes on that day. The Blessed Ashes will be distributed at 8.00AM Mass and at Services at 12.15; 4.30 and 7.00. Remember that on each of the Fridays of Lent we will have the Stations of the Cross and Benediction at 7.30PM. On Wednesday March 15th at 7.00PM there will be a Lenten Evening of Recollection presented by Bishop Andrzej. On Sunday March 26th the Glenn Mohr Chorale will be with us once again to present the beautiful costume musical drama It is Finished, about Our Lord’s passion and death. No one will want to miss this beautiful production.
Soon our 50th anniversary capital campaign will begin. How blessed we are to be alive at this grace filled time in the history of our parish when God asks us to do something beautiful for him. Many of you have read my columns during the past year where I explained in great detail what will be redone for the refurbishing of our church (lighting, painting, modernizing the rest room, new windows for Msgr. Costa Hall) and also the enhancements to the worship space (the relocation of the Tabernacle to the central and most prominent place in the church, the addition of shrines, the relocation of the baptistery, and the placement of gates and rails which are a sign of the opening of heaven onto this earth).
In Jesus and Mary,
Monsignor James F. Pereda