Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Happy Bernadette's Day! New Grotto at Tredegar

Saint Bernadette,was born Marie-Bernarde Soubirous (January 7, 1844 –, She was a miller's daughter from the town of Lourdes in southern France.
From February 11 to July 16, 1858, she reported eighteen apparitions of "a Lady." And reported to her astonished family that the lady had said she was the ‘Immaculate Conception’ a concept she could not have understood, as her Confirmation had even been held back because of her simple mind. The ‘Lady’ appeared on what was the site of the rubbish dump in Lourdes. Bernadette was told to dig for a holy spring at the sight, initially she made her self very dirty with digging with her hands in obedience to the ‘Lady’s’ instructions. As people turned away, thinking her a simpleton, the spring began to flow, and she was believed. Pilgrims started to appear at the town immediately and have been coming ever since.

Despite initial scepticism from the Catholic Church, these claims were eventually declared to be true revelation after an investigation by the Church. After her death,( April 16, 1879)Bernadette's body remained incorruptible,(see photo above) and the shrine at Lourdes went on to become a major site for pilgrimage, and attracts millions of Catholic pilgrims each year. On December 8, 1933 she was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church; her Feast Day is celebrated on April 16. On this Feast Day of Bernadette we have her anniversary and the Pope has asked people to visit Lourdes if they can.Special spiritual rewards are available from visiting the Grotto and contemplating the message of Mary. We are asked to keep our hearts and eyes fixed to the divine promise of Jesus and on Faith and Hope in our heavenly future.

Because people are sceptical about visions and apparitions, I include today an abridged version of Ellen Wilson Fielding’s article from ‘This Rock’ (abridged) available from

‘As the Church enters the third millenium, there is much talk of dreams and visions, and what to make of them. We have the persistent phenomenon of Medjugorje, with its continuing messages to some of the seers. Stories of other apparitions and supernatural happenings, like oil or tear giving statues, abound, as do dark warnings of apocalypse. Many Catholics seem to be joining with their Protestant brethren in foretelling a time of tribulation, with consistent details like three days of darkness and a chastisement followed by an era of peace. Even the television and radio programmes abound with calamities-if we do nothing there will be dire consequences concerning the environment, floods, chaos and playing on fear exudes a sense of doom and gloom . There is a ‘crisis’ here and ‘Crisis’ there. However much we are ‘warned’ on the basis of scientists’ conclusions, and take sensible precautions in our role of the planet’s custodians, and recycle and make sensible choices to cut down on waste, there is no need for doom. This is evil trying to spread its dark negtivity, and rob people of the joy of the life they lead.

Getting back to visions, such emotional sightings of spiritual revelation (some no doubt genuine, others not) have been stirring for a few decades now, and some wise religious guides have weighed in with more cautionary material.

One of these is Fr. Benedict Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York. A psychologist as well as a spiritual writer, his warm and humorous way of conveying truth has made him a favourite author, lecturer, and guest on EWTN. Because of his psychological training, Groeschel is especially thought provoking (and convincing) on one topic that never was covered in parochial school when the nuns told the stories of Fatima or Lourdes. That is the subject of human experience—and how all of it, even experience of divine messages in dreams, locution, visions, and the like, passes through the limited and individualized medium of a finite, faulty human being.

God must allow for that, as he allows for our ignorance or the way we are prone to distort good impulses, sudden "inspirations," or private interpretations of the God inspired gospel. Even when God or his Blessed Mother specially illumines a humble, holy persons such as Bernadette to bear a special message to us, allowance is made for some natural refracting of the rays of divine light, so to speak, as it passes through the finite human mind..

In fact, evidence of God and our Lady taking account of these human frailties run all through approved apparitions; our Lady, for example, tailors not only her language but her dress and appearance to suit her audience. What will her seers expect, and what would too greatly rock them off balance, setting off greater fear and anxiety? A middle path between the customary and the shockingly alien is most usual.

The Portuguese peasant children of Fatima saw a lady in white (a color which would be far beyond the efforts of poor peasants to keep that way) as befitted the Queen of Heaven. Bernadette’s lady began to speak in French but moved smoothly into the Pyrenees patois more familiar to her listener. She carried a rosary and asked Bernadette to recite it, but did not herself recite the Aves, since she herself is addressed by that prayer.
In these and many other details (hair and eye color, wording, etc.), supernatural visions vary according to their audience. To unimaginative nineteenth-century atheists, this would be an argument against believing in any of them: Obviously, they would argue, pious women and children were imagining our Lady in terms of their time and space bound spirituality.

Almighty God and Mary’s indulgence of our expectations and limitations inspires this supernatural courtesy. Even with such accommodations, those who witness visions are filled with fear (the fear of the Lord) as well as love and exaltation. They usually shrink from attempting to touch the visitor from heaven.

So the heavenly visitors accommodate details to our human state. But in the matter of the messages themselves, there are also variations in how we human beings receive them, and what we make of them, and how we subtly though unintentionally distort the emphases and implications here and there.

Further complicating the matter, we have the difference between our notions of time and God’s ("See, I come quickly," he says at the close of Revelation, in what for us poor mortals must seem something of an exaggeration. As for the descriptive colour and imagery of the apparitions, some of that derives from the stock of images already stored in the human mind. God mostly works with the materials already present in us. In our own day, for example, cataclysmic images are likely to take the shape of mushroom clouds or comets colliding with the earth. This is not to say that predicted cataclysms won’t someday take reality in that form, but they are not bound to do so simply because the prophecy is clothed in that imagery.

Too many Catholics drawn to rumours of apparitions treat them like codes to be cracked, poring over each word, as if it is a puzzle. They argue endlessly about what this or that means or when such and such is likely to take place. Far more admirable and spiritually healthy was my mother’s reaction to unexplainable spiritual occurrences like the incorruptible bodies of certain saints. "Isn’t that amazing?" she would ask, filled with a kind of wondering gratitude to God for his willingness to think up such astounding demonstrations of his love.

Most apparitions ask people to pray and repent and how sin and spiritual deafness can affect our chance of going to live with God and live with him in eternity. We should ,however, understand that the underlying purpose and motivation for these warnings is the same as that for healing miracles or for the great miracle of God coming to the World in the form of a man. It is love—God’s loving care for us and his Blessed Mother’s love, ever fruitful, because once long ago she, a young human girl, bravely consented to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We are now begged to be bearers of that love and of the Good News to one another, so that we will short circuit the destructive effects of hatred, indifference, and resentment. Visions and apparitions and weeping statues and all other sensory manifestations of spiritual reality are misinterpreted or misrepresented or misappropriated unless they rouse in us greater wonder, gratitude, and assurance of God’s never failing love for us his wayward people.

Grotto of the Shrine of OUr Lady of Lourdes at Tredegar in MonmouthshireOpened February 11. Diolch i DDuw.

In Monmouthshire we are privileged to have had a new grotto opened by Emeritus Bishop Daniel Mullins of Menevia.He celebrated Mass at Tredegar in the East Monmouthshire valley Church at Tredegar, an area which would have originally belonged to the monks at Bassaleg in the 13thcentury

This was done to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to St Bernadette in the nineteenth century. The bishop began by finishing the newly constructed Lourdes grotto by cementing a large piece ofthe original grotto sent by the Lourdes Sanctuary authorities.

The Catholic Herold reported that at the end of Mass that throughout the coming year of the Lourdes celebrations Pope Benedict XI would impart his apostolic blessing on condition that pilgrims prayed for the Pope and the sick before the newly erected grotto at Tredegar. The Papal blessing would be hung prominently in the Church.

The Mass was concelebrated by Canon Edmund Mullins who had been director of the Welsh National Pilgrimage to Lourdes for 30 years.The Bishop, a fluent Welsh speaker, preached to the congregation, many of whom had to be content to listen while standing outside the Church porch. such were the numbers.

Confessions were heard throughout the celebrations which ended with a torchlight procession. It co-incided with the Torchlight procession at Lourdes. The Congregation sang the Lourdes Hymn with great hwyl and fervour.

The procession was led by the wheelchairs, the sick and normally housebound of Tredegar parish, who received the sacrament of the sick from Bishop Mullins.

The 150 Anniversary celebrations ended at the grotto with prayers for Pope Benedict XVI's intentions.

The Parish Priest Father Gareth Jones thanked the Bishop and the Canon Mullins for their presence and told the people to visit the grotto regularly and obtain the Apostolic Blessing, as well as praying for the sick and frail.

Prayer for Our Lady, Mary Mother of God

O rosy dawn, that proclaims the happy day of Salvation
To you O Virgin your people ask your prayers in the shades of
the night
The torrent that engulfs all who are drawn into the whirlpool
Rests calmly, as over its softened wave the ark of God is borne

While earth is parched with scorching heat, you alone are
covered with dew
And dew spread around you on earth as we look at you, the
untouched art

The serpent lifts his head and vomits up his poison and evil
But you, O Mother crush his proud inflated head as we read.
O loving Mother ,pray for your children,we beg you pray for us
Protect us in our battle with hell, you who were the means to
bear Our Saviour.

O Jesu born of the Virgin bright,all Glory to thee forever!
With Father Son and Holy Ghost All Glory be to the end of Time.

histis nuncia in noctis umbra plebs tua , Te Virgo supplex
The Apparitions of Lourdes

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