By Father Bill Kneemiller
I discovered St. Bernadette’s personal testimony recently on the Internet: “The Short Life of Bernadette,” by St. Bernadette Soubirous. Her Lourdes account in 1858 is one of the best-known Marian apparitions. St. Bernadette’s account is so powerful, simple and compelling that I believe our Blessed Mother desires that we experience interiorly what Bernadette experienced face to face.
Bernadette relates that the Heavenly Lady began the rosary with “a beautiful Sign of the Cross,” a lesson for us about this simple but profound beginning of the rosary. The Lady beckoned Bernadette to come close as “though she were my mother … and at the second decade (of the rosary) the Lady came and lifted me into a world where the language is prayer and the environment is heaven.” When the Lady disappeared, Bernadette was amazed to find herself still in this world.
The Blessed Mother came in a golden cloud and flooded the niche with radiance. Bernadette prayed with the Lady who shone with a bright light, “softer than the sun.”
As we pray the rosary, we too can pray for divine light to guide us and dispel any darkness or gloomy thoughts. As with Bernadette, pray that the warmth of the golden radiance will linger in our souls. The Lady then asked Bernadette to pray for sinners. “Penance, penance, penance … By’Penance,’ one must understand ‘conversion’” (https: //www.lourdes-france.org/ en/message-lourdes/).
Bernadette noticed that Our Blessed Lady would often look over her head to single out individuals in the crowd. She would smile on them as though they “were old familiar friends.” I believe that our Blessed Mother continues to search out her “old friends” as we connect our lives with her and the mysteries of the rosary.
Bernadette mentioned that the rosary became her way of life as well as her way of prayer. During the third apparition, Our Lady asked Bernadette, “Would you be so kind as to come here for fifteen days?” (Lourdes-france website.) On the last of the 15 days, 8,000 people gathered around the grotto. Bernadette notes, “in all her visits, she had spoken not the flawless French of the town official, but the homely words of my Lourdes patios (dialect). Holiness and prayer are simple.”
We, too, can have a grace-filled, simple prayer time with God. These prayers are never rushed, or rote, but prayers of dialogue with our Lord and from the heart.
In this last vision, “The Lady shared her name, ‘The Immaculate Conception,’ which was her name in the Trinity before time began.”
Next time you pray the rosary, ask for that grace to pray from the heart and to be lifted up into heaven. I believe that these prayer lessons from Bernadette can help us to live the rosary as our very life. That is the importance of the rosary for me.
At the last hour of her life, sisters at her convent attended to Bernadette. Like Jesus on the cross she said, “I am thirsty.” The sisters brought some water; Bernadette for the last time made the Sign of the Cross as the Blessed Mother taught her in the grotto.
Have we ever seen anyone make a “beautiful Sign of the Cross?” Imagine the Blessed Mother’s devotion to God our Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit the next time you make the Sign of the Cross. Imagine Bernadette’s devotion, love and grace as she began the holy rosary. Share in the graces and mystery!
(Father William Kneemiller is chaplain at the Kahl Home in Davenport.)