A long parkway with an oval shaped path connects Saint Michael’s Gate with the great basilica that rises over Bernadette’s Grotto. We entered from the side through Saint Joseph’s Gate and found ourselves in front of the Rosary Basilica.
The massive parkway called the Esplanade serves as the route for the evening processions, as well as gathering points for the many pilgrimages from around the world. But what struck me about this morning wasn’t the many languages and banners and brightly colored identifying shirts and scarves. What struck me was the singing.
Everywhere we strolled, gaping at the church facades and interiors, everywhere we went, past the water taps and candles flaming in prayer alcoves, everywhere people were singing. For the most part, they were singing favorite hymns, modern hymns, sounding like old folk songs, but tuneful songs of praise as they gather in the open air before the grerat churches on the cliff.
The basilica is really three layered churches – the Crypt, the Rosary Basilica, and above that, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. We climbed the stairs, a sweeping arc to a terrace, to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and halfway up turned to look down upon the Esplanade. Directly below us, in an outdoor alcove chapel, a Mass was being said for the malades. Eight white-robed priests con-celebrated before a dozen rows of handicapped and ill, who, confined to wheelchairs, waited, praying the prayers, for their communion. Others have been healed in Lourdes by this simple action of union and belief.
Did they think they would be healed?
I looked at their faces. Some held hope, others devotion, but all seemed to be filled with a peaceful joy. When they said the Our Father they held hands, sisters and brothers in their suffering, soon to receive the suffering one Himself.
I thought about miracles. Why couldn’t all of these sick be healed? Why was it only one person every now and then, and why that person in particular? The answer came as soon as I asked the question – free will. God cannot interfere in man’s freedom, so to preserve that freedom of choice, he can not intervene too often. Those times when He does intervene, those times of overwhelming love and testimony, are to help us see Him, and see His love for us. Since Adam’s fall, Adam’s terrible choice, sickness and suffering would be part of humanity. We must choose to offer that suffering to God for His purposes.
We filled our bottles with water from the taps. I wondered if the water would heal me of my strange chronic and undiagnosed condition, recurring dizzy spells. I thought of all those confined to their chairs, their bent limbs, their drooping hands and fingers, the young and the old. Not me, Lord, but let my small seizures be offered for them. Heal them, Lord.
For they are the true saints, and Lourdes bears witness here to the sanctity of their lives, no matter their condition. We can only pray that we have their courage and hope, and that we too, bear such a witness.