Lourdes, the gate of Heaven
Still a few hours of walking and with the heart full of thanksgiving, our pilgrims entered into the city of the Immaculate. Gathered not far from the Grotto, on the other side of the Gave, Brother Bruno addressed them:
« Dear friends, here we have reached the threshold of the “Promised Land”, after a long march in the desert, far from the world, “Heaven is there, very near to us. A passage is open and the Church leads us by the hand”, as our Father said on returning from a pilgrimage to Lourdes (CRC no 61, p. 11).
« Like the Hebrew people whom Moses freed from slavery in Egypt, we have been freed from the slavery of the Devil and of sin by Confession, and fed with a heavenly manna by Communion during our march. Having reached the threshold of this sanctuary where Heaven descends upon earth, there comes back to my mind and my heart the words that Marshal Pétain addressed on 15 August 1942 to the Catholic youth of France, who were gathered at Le Puy. The message was broadcast from Vichy and retransmitted outdoors in the city of Le Puy. We can place them easily on the lips of our Father:
« “I would have liked to join with you today to re-tie the golden thread of a great national tradition. On days of mourning and on days of hope, the whole of France and her kings came to Le Puy” in order to manifest their confidence, their hope, and their faith […].
« “This great effort, I am asking you to make it. It is the profound meaning of the pilgrimage to these lofty shrines where so many times the soul of France strengthened itself. By reviving one of our most ancient traditions, you will show that this soul has remained living within you. It is for our country the pledge of her resurrection.””
« The old soldier himself was a pledge of resurrection, even more than the youth whom he was encouraging to follow the path that he was indicating to them. The same goes for today: the pledge of the resurrection of France and the Church is the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for whom Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort was the precursor, and our Father is the doctor.
« “God the Father only gave His only begotten Son through Mary, St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort used to say. Whatever sighs the Patriarchs made, whatever demands the Prophets and the saints of the ancient Law made for four thousand years in order to obtain this treasure, it was only Mary who merited it and who found grace before God by dint of Her prayers and the loftiness of Her virtues.”
« Let us go then to Mary. Let us pray “before this rock where appeared in Her glorious Body the heavenly being who is the closest to us, our dear Mother and Sovereign, the Virgin Mary. Let us drink this water that She wanted to flow, and wash ourselves, since such are Her simple desires” (Letter to My Friends no 33, May 1958). »
In the meanwhile, our other pilgrims arrived: two buses from Nantes, one bus from Lyons, and two buses from St-Parres, families who had come by train or by their own means. In total, we were more than 850 pilgrims who formed the most numerous French group for the Jubilee on record to the present day.
FR. MARIE-ANTOINE, THE KNIGHT OF THE IMMACULATE.
In the evening, before the candlelight procession, everyone gathered in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. We listed to Brother Thomas bring back to life Fr. Marie-Antoine from Lavaur.
Since we took him as the guide of our pilgrimage, let us take advantage of these few moments in the “chapel” that the Blessed Virgin demanded, where he was seen preaching so often in order to speak about Her. Then we will follow him in this domain, this city of Mary where he was, it is said, like a child completely occupied with the concerns of his heavenly Mother. A child whom the Immaculate cherished, through Providence Her instrument. Yes, it can be said that it was She who chose him on the day that She inspired him to abandon everything and become a Capuchin. The Capuchins have always been the heralds, the exalters of Her Immaculate Conception. His superiors sent him from the convent in Marseille, where he had entered and taken the Franciscan habit, to Toulouse in order to found a convent. It was in the last months of 1857, shortly before the apparitions of Lourdes. These apparitions were not yet finished when our young Capuchin father, who was passing through Lourdes, met Bernadette after having celebrated Mass in her presence and given her Communion. It was a grace, an unforgettable moment… With her customary simplicity, she related to him the events of Massabielle, an account that he would transcribe with so much freshness in his Pilgrims’ Manual. With Bernadette, he has the impression of being in the presence of the Immaculate. She will be his constant reference and, inwardly, his little sister in the apostolate. He would seek souls, wage battle against the Devil, in union with her, beneath the banner of the Immaculate.
During the first years, he returned to Lourdes, first for his own benefit and, with his enthusiastic soul that was thirsting after beauty and love; like a true son of St. Francis, he sees, hears and feels heavenly things there. « Mary is there, still visible; one can breathe there the perfume that She left in this valley, in this Grotto and on these hills. I feel that I see Her again and that I hear Her voice when I see and hear the little shepherd girl who had the fortune of being visited by Her eighteen times », he wrote to his parents. He very quickly got into the habit of taking on pilgrimage there the parishes where he had preached, parishes that he had deeply moved and returned to God. He came to ask the grace that Mary confirm this “return” to favour, this conversion. It is like a contract that was made between the missionary, who was beginning to become popular, with his Heavenly Mother; he wrote on 1 January 1870:
« My heart quite naturally flew off towards Your holy mountains, O sweet Heavenly Mother, O Our Dear Lady of Lourdes, O brilliant star of our France, O pearl, O diamond of our Church, O holy Immaculate Conception, our hope, our glory, and soon our resurrection and our triumph… My soul thirsts after You, yes, I am longing to come once again to contemplate the ever so gentle features of my Heavenly Mother, to lead to Your feet new caravans of happy pilgrims and to sing holy hymns there with them. »
The pilgrimage of Montréjeau remained memorable: an entire parish that walked a hundred and fifty kilometres in order to come thank the Blessed Virgin for having preserved it from a deadly epidemic.
The smiling Capuchin, who bears his cross in his cord like a sword, heard the Immaculate’s pressing appeal: « Come here in procession… I want to see people there. » With the help of technical progress – the railroad line between Tarbes and Bayonne had just been opened – « things are falling into place, he wrote to his friend, the good Fr. Peyramale. The Immaculate Virgin wants it; She asked us for it. Father, the pilgrims, I am going to bring them to you when the moment comes. I will put all my strength into it, or rather the strength that the Immaculate will give me, for the love of God and Her greatest glory. » We were in 1871, after the terrible defeat in the War of 1870 with Germany: « France bit the dust, he added, Mary from the height of Heaven is going to raise her up. »
It was no longer only parishes that had to come to Lourdes, but each village, each province, all of France, who had great need of it, and whom the Immaculate had convoked at Lourdes in order to renew her there. « Raise your eyes, O beloved France. Heaven smiles on you and Jesus calls you: take St. Joan of Arc’s standard, Bernadette’s Rosary and St. Louis’ sword, God wills it! God wills it! The Serpent unrolls his coils and more than ever he raises his head: it is in France that Mary wants to crush it. » The tone is set, that of a crusade; Fr. Marie-Antoine was in his element.
He would come every year, and even several times each year, to conduct his pilgrims as a leader guides his troops. Many would come on their own from the furthest regions to see him, to hear him preach the power of the Cross and the mercies of Mary. The grace of graces was to confess oneself to him; without him it seemed that the pilgrimage was incomplete. He composed for his dear pilgrims a Manual and several hymns, like the Chant du départ.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF FATHER MARIE-ANTOINE.
At Lourdes, it began very early. He related: « It was last year, one of the first days of the month of Mary. I went to the Grotto around 4 o’clock in the morning to offer my heart to the Immaculate Conception, to Her who is as beautiful and pure as dawn and who darts radiant like the sun. It seemed to me that my prayer would be more pleasing to Her if it arrived to Her with the first fragrance of the day and the first songs of the birds that were chirping among the branches in bloom. The thought that I was going to arrive ahead of all the pilgrims and that I would be the first of all Her children to greet my Mother rejoiced my heart… »
What a surprise! He was not the first; an old man had arrived before him. They introduced themselves. It was Bouriette, the first person to have been cured by a miracle at Lourdes. He was cured by the water of Massabielle. Their effusions went on and on, which gave us a beautiful page in the Manual.
Father had arrived the evening before. From the train station he had to cross the town. In Lourdes in those days, the occasion to welcome famous people from the Catholic world – bishops, cardinals – often presented itself. Accustomed to these receptions, people were not moved by them. But with Fr. Marie-Antoine, things were different. His passing through the streets was always an event. People acclaimed him, recommended themselves to his prayers, while he advanced slowly amongst the children and the people of modest means, giving his cross for them to kiss and saying to all a word of edification.
As soon as he appeared close to the Grotto he was surrounded and everyone tried to obtain a word, a look: « Father, pray for me! Father, a blessing! » But he held his crucifix in his hand and raised his eyes to the white Madonna and replied: « Yes, let us pray, let us pray the Immaculate! She grants all graces. Here, She alone must bless you. Kneel down ! » Then he took his Rosary. Ah! How we pray well at the Grotto, he used to say. « There we relearn the divine science of prayer; we pray for ourselves, for our family, our country, the Pope, and the Church. We pray for the sinners whom the Virgin so greatly recommended in this place… The man who during his lifetime will often make the sign of the Cross as Mary Immaculate came to the Grotto to teach us how to make it, the man who during his lifetime will often recite in the calm of his mind: I believe in God, and in the calm of his passions: Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, this man will never perish, and all the thorns of his life will be changed into roses… Let us recite the Rosary with fervour, let us be happy to place on Mary’s brow the triple crown of Her Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries, so well represented by the leaves, the thorns, and the flowers of the rosebush of the Grotto. »
After a few Aves, Fr. Marie-Antoine went to his confessional, where a long line of penitents already awaited him. With a word he resolved doubts, cured scruples, lifted up a soul, enlightened a path! How many vocations he awakened or strengthened! One day, he accosted a young girl in the group from Villepinte with phthisis, and he said: « To the pool; you will find healing there. Mary wants you to be a nun. » The young girl was cured, her cure was certified by Dr. Boissarie, then she entered the convent and took the name of… Sr. Marie-Antoine! One day, she found in the parlour the holy religious who was at the origin of her vocation. She asked him:
« How did you know what you announced to me with so much confidence?
– Before curing you, the Blessed Virgin had asked me to serve you as guide and spiritual father. »
If people did not ask Fr. Marie-Antoine to work miracles, at least they were convinced that his prayers could obtain them, and it was amusingly said that he helped the Blessed Virgin work them. With a holy boldness, he asked Her for them, exhorting confidence and announcing that the prayers would be answered.
« Fr. Marie-Antoine, our pilgrimage is going to leave and we have not had any miracle. »
– It is because you have not prayed enough; come, let us pray again! »
One or several cures would then take place to reward the confidence of the pilgrims. What the ardent missionary esteemed far more than physical cures was when souls were healed, miracles of grace that he witnessed daily in the tribunal of penitence. « The true pools of Lourdes are there, he used to say; there are wrought the marvels that make the angels rejoice. » As for himself, he thanked God for having made him the dispenser of Mary’s mercies in this place, for being, as it were, the “stretcher-bearer of souls”. How many lost sheep he brought back to the sheepfold!
One day he went straight to a woman, a Protestant mother of a family; her Catholic husband had convinced her to bring her ill and crippled child to the Grotto. But the Blessed Virgin did not cure the child, and our good Father explained to this lady that the greatest grace to ask for would be to convert.
« I wanted to when I was at the Grotto, the lady protested, but now I no longer want to. »
– Say that it is the Devil who does not want it; but I will have you know that the Blessed Virgin wants it. It is easy for me to prove it to you: let us say together a Hail Mary to Our Lady of Lourdes, and you will see. »
She hesitated a long while, but in the face of Fr. Marie-Antoine’s entreaties, she finally consented to say the Hail Mary. Eight days later, the Father received her abjuration.
Soon there came a group of pilgrims. He prepared himself at length to preach, and when the moment came, he spoke volubly; his words flowed, as inexhaustible as the water gushing from the rock. His great height, long beard, keen eye, the gentleness of his smile, his spontaneous eloquence with the accent of Toulouse immediately captivated his audience, whoever they were.
Take children, for example. Ah! How well he knew the way to speak to them, to make them sing, to prepare them for their First Communion, for he was an apostle of early Communion who anticipated St. Pius X’s decree. Thus it was that one day he prepared the children of Lourdes. The ceremony took place at the parish church, and the next day all the children were at the Grotto for a Mass of thanksgiving. There he gave them the Bread of angels for the second time and addressed them these words:
« The venerable former pastor of the parish, the one who had Bernadette make her First Communion, had said to the child: “Ask this Lady to work a miracle, that She make the wild rose that is at Her feet come into bloom.” The miracle is being fulfilled in this moment beyond all his desires. How many flowers there are at Mary’s feet! Yes, children, you are all living flowers, and each of you brings to the Virgin of the Grotto, who contemplates you with so much love, a bouquet of mystical flowers a thousand times more beautiful than the flowers that adorn our countryside. You know what these flowers are. I taught them to you during our holy retreat to make them come into bloom in your souls: the rose of charity, the lily of purity, the violet of humility. Children, these are the flowers that you must offer along with your hearts at this moment to your heavenly Mother. »
To a group of young girls or Christian mothers, he spoke about St. Bernadette and St. Germaine of Pibrac, beloved children of Mary, flowers of Her Heart, and mirrors of Her virtues. He wrote a small book for them: Holiness Easy for All, or the Soul at the School of Mary. He also attached much importance to preaching to men. With them, he dealt with the great subjects of the Faith, the Church, and the country: he wanted them to be men of character with solid convictions, in other words, “steadfast Catholics”, to thwart the Freemasons, and he added that they must be “steadfast Catholic royalists”, that is, legitimists.
In the very year that his Pilgrims’ Manual was published, he wrote a Manual of the Good Frenchman. In order to be a good Frenchman, to serve France well, he explained, it is first necessary to be a good Catholic. God served first, and may Jesus reign in France in hearts and in institutions! It is then necessary to repudiate partisanship and to serve ardently the common good while awaiting the return of the legitimate King, who is responsible for it. Finally, it is necessary to love and serve one’s family more than oneself, that is, to the point of sacrifice. On these three conditions, France will be reborn. « Then, soon, he said, we will contemplate, intertwining together, both the immaculate lily of Mary, Queen of France, and the renewed lily of St. Louis, King of France, and Christ who enjoys being amidst lilies will be once again and more than ever the beloved God of France. »
On 16 January 1871, he wrote to his parents: « The longer I live, the less I redden about being a reactionary; now we see what it costs always to be renewing. God is only ever new because He is always ancient, but the new that wants to be separated from the ancient is like a branch that wants to be separated from the roots; it wilts, falls, and is only good to be thrown into the fire! This is where we are now! Ah! Let us come back, come back to the root, to the old principles, to the old Faith, to the ancient stock of France that produced so many good fruits and such noble things. »
Fidelity to tradition marvellously renewed by the “grace of Lourdes” was the mainspring of Fr. Marie-Antoine’s apostolate. He was sure of it. This “grace” of Lourdes was not strictly reserved for individual souls; rather, it was both mystical and political. It must wash away not only the Pont d’Orthez (a bridge over the Gave that was reputed to be so solidly built that it could resist rises in river level), but the Chamber of Deputies.
« If the triumph has not been granted to us during 1873 as we had hoped, he wrote, do not fear; God only delays in order to make it more beautiful, more magnificent. Yes, the smile of Mary Immaculate in the grotto of Lourdes is the infallible pledge of certain triumph; it may be long coming, but it will come. »
FOR THE TRIUMPH OF THE IMMACULATE.
Never did Fr. Marie-Antoine’s hope fail. Yet God knows how it was put to the test in all sorts of ways! Where did he get such confidence? He answers us: In te Maria speravi, non confundar in æternum. In Mary, I have placed my hope; I will never be confounded. He has Mary say in his Manual:
« I am the Mother of God. See the miracles of My power. I am the Mother of men. See the miracles of My love. I am the Immaculate Conception. See sin destroyed, sinners converted, and Satan struggling under my triumphant foot.” Yes, the Mother of mercy has smiled on the earth! Apparuit benignitas Mariæ! Her children made Her tears flow, and She requites Herself by making the miraculous source flow that cures all our ills. Its water pours unto eternal life! Yes, we are sure not to perish. A Mother does not smile when Her children are going to perish! A Mother does not work such miracles to disappoint their expectations!... »
Fr. Marie-Antoine never stopped speaking about Her, fighting for Her, as a knight for his Lady. What he wrote about the preachers of Lourdes, he lived out to the letter: « All their steps seek Her, all their words speak of Her, all their sadness and joy calls out to Her, and hearts love Her as they have never loved before, as one only loves there. »
The words of the Immaculate are an ocean of wisdom, beginning with these words « that the Church herself places on the lips of the Queen of Heaven and that she unceasingly repeats in all of the offices in Her honour: « I was created before all things, ab initio et ante sæcula creata sum; the centuries had not yet begun and I existed already. The centuries succeed one another, and I will still be living; always I will be the first in the assembly of the saints, and in the presence of the Lord I will fulfil my sublime mission.” »
What can be said about the revelation of Her Name: I am the Immaculate Conception. « O admirable and profoundly theological words! What a revelation, what a poem they are… Mary alone could utter them, because She alone, with God alone, has the perfect knowledge of the grandeur of Her mission, of Her glories, and of Her privileges. »
He sees Her twofold mission represented in advance in the biblical account of Queen Esther, who saved her people from the death sentence that her most cruel enemy, Haman, had brought against them. No one could present himself before King Ahasuerus without being convoked by him. Thus Mary, our true Esther, thanks to the exemption from the common law of original sin, can reach the throne of God. She will save Her people; still they must want it. In order to do so they must reject all revolutionary or liberal secularism; they must give their Sovereign public devotion.
She will triumph over the heresies and all errors of our times, which Fr. Marie-Antoine does not fear to name: Protestantism and revolution. « Luther began the Revolution in people’s hearts, 1789 (the French Revolution) began it in deeds. » But « Lourdes will defeat the Revolution ».
Fr. Marie-Antoine then made his challenge:
« May free thinkers not be surprised if my arrows are piercing: it is in Your quiver, O Mary, that I find them. Let us engage battle with our visor raised and breast exposed. Free thinkers of all tendencies, I am waiting for you, and it is at Lourdes, on the rock of the Immaculate Conception that we have our rendezvous. »
Our knight of the Immaculate, fearless and above reproach was not deluding himself: the battle would be long and bitter. What were his weapons? Oh! It is simple: it is above all poverty, heroic poverty. One day in the depths of winter – and God knows how harsh winter is in Lourdes! – one of his friends, a parish priest, was crossing the esplanade and saw at the feet of the crowned Virgin a shapeless bundle that grew as he approached it. « I finally made out the habit of a Capuchin. I went towards him, and imagine my surprise when I recognised Fr. Marie-Antoine, kneeling as though bent in two. It was cold, and the snow that had been swept aside was piled in a wide border on the two sides of the road. “What are you doing there kneeling in the snow in weather like this? – My friend, I am having lunch. I must leave for Valence where I am expected to preach.” In one hand, he was holding a tall round tin can full of water from the Grotto, and in the other a piece of black bread that smelt sour from a distance. I wanted to take him to the hotel to have him take a cup of hot coffee, but his resistance was invincible. He would miss the train. It was with this bad lunch in his stomach that he left, with bare feet in his sandals. “The angels will blow on my feet to warm them”, he said with a smile. »
It was the smile, the continual joy that is born of the Faith: this was his second weapon. He laughed about the fact that he no longer had any teeth: « I left them all in the Devil’s hide. » He let himself be approached, and he himself approached pilgrims with a marvellous simplicity. It was certainly the Blessed Virgin who had communicated to Her apostle something of the gentleness of Her maternal Heart.
His third weapon was love of humiliations, and the bitterest of these humiliations was unquestionably the public reprimand that he received from the Bishop of Lourdes for « lack of prudence »! It is when man is annihilated, Fr. Marie-Antoine used to say, that Satan is crushed, and God and Mary glorified together! Such was the spirit of the first and true workers of Lourdes!
One day, he was at the Grotto for a benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. When the pyx was being carried back to the Basilica of the Rosary, he stood and followed it while striking up in a powerful voice the acclamations and supplications of the sick people of the Gospel: « Hosanna to the Son of David!... Lord, make me see, make me walk… » This practice, which was initiated by Fr. Marie-Antoine would no longer cease and affirms the social Reign of Our Lord. « Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life » When commenting on this sentence from the Gospel, he said: « Where do all our misfortunes come from? Here is the answer, a single word suffices to give it: we have broken with Jesus Christ… O folly! To break with Jesus Christ! To break with Him who St. Paul said is all, and who must be all in all things. To break with Him who, under pain of death, must be all in politics as He is all in religion! » At the end of the day, exhausted but always animated by an incredible alacrity, the missionary is with the sick or has returned to his confessional where penitents are waiting for him. Often, he will pass entire nights receiving them, forgiving them, only giving himself a very short time for sleeping in a nook of the basilica.
For nothing in the world would he miss the candlelight procession, and I will end with it, since in a few moments we are going to take part in it ourselves. We will remember that it was he, Fr. Marie-Antoine, who initiated it one evening in 1863. He was praying at the Grotto in the company of around twenty pilgrims while about twenty candles were burning at the feet of the image of the Virgin Mary, in imitation of Bernadette’s candle. « These candles must walk and sing ». He told the pilgrims each to take a candle, and he organised at once a procession as they sang the hymn Ave Maris Stella.
Does not the prophet say: « The day will announce to the day and the night to the night »? The praise given to Mary by Her children will never cease here in Lourdes! The stars have lit their fires and broken into their harmonies in God’s firmament. You, pilgrims, with these candles that are going to twinkle in your hands, you are going to spread a firmament at the feet of Mary Immaculate.
« Ever victorious are these marvellous weapons, these flaming swords, since the light that these candles shed in the midst of the darkness are the symbol of the Faith that illumines all things. In the Faith is victory over the world and Hell. The flame of the candle that always rises towards Heaven is the symbol of hope, the daughter of faith, and never deceives. While giving light and raising its flame towards Heaven, the candle burns, and this burning heat is the symbol of charity, of divine love. Yet in burning, the candle is consumed. It is the last and magnificent symbol of penance, which is the essence of every pilgrimage. »
Suiting the action to the word, we left in procession following our banner of the Immaculate with its four medallions: the crowned Virgin, St. Bernadette, Fr. Marie-Antoine of Lavaur and the Abbé de Nantes, our Father.
The sanctuary attendants placed us immediately behind the pilgrims of the Order of Malta, who had come in very great numbers with their sick. At 9 p.m. our immense procession set off, candles in our hands, singing the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in various languages. At the Gloria Patri, it was beautiful to see this multitude of flames rise up towards the sky to acclaim our Queen and Mother of us all.
Between the decades, the choir, which had recruited some of our brothers, sisters and our young pilgrims, struck up the Ave Maria of Lourdes, then various hymns under the direction of Brother Henry (photo, p. 33). What a joy it was to hear our most beautiful hymns broadcast by all the amplifiers of the sanctuary: “Regardez l’Étoile”, “O Immaculée”! It was magnificent. We were proud to be Catholics. Then came to mind this sentence of Fr. Marie-Antoine:
« The fact of Lourdes alone proves all of Catholicism. O Mary Immaculate, what the Apostles said, what the Prophet Isaiah announced is fulfilled each day in your privileged sanctuary. This is where our delighted eyes contemplate each day a twofold prodigy: proud minds are confounded; true believers are flooded with light and love. »
THE WAY OF THE JUBILEE
Early the next day, 3 May, the most courageous of us did the grand Way of the Cross that was erected on the mountain above the Grotto of Massabielle. At each station, a group of sculptures brings back in an impressive manner the scenes of the Passion. In the sun rising over the mountains, it was beautiful! We ended by singing “Victory, the King appears!” before the empty tomb, with the certainty of the imminent resurrection of the Church of the glorious Christ.
Then, in the beginning of the morning, all of our pilgrims were divided into three groups in order to complete the the Way of the Jubilee.
According to the decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary issued on 21 November 2007, the Way comprises four stages: Sacred Heart church, including St. Bernadette’s baptismal font and the tomb of Fr. Peyramale; the “Cachot”, an abandoned prison cell on Petits-Fossés Street where the Soubirous family lived so poorly; the Grotto of the apparitions; the Hospice where St. Bernadette made her First Communion and lived for six years until her departure for Nevers.
« The faithful should pause to reflect for an appropriate length of time at each of these Jubilee sites, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer, some legitimate form of the Profession of Faith, and the Jubilee prayer or some other Marian invocation… » in order to obtain the plenary indulgence for themselves, but also for the souls in Purgatory who will repay it through their suffrages.
SACRED HEART CHURCH
The construction of this church was undertaken by Marie-Dominique Peyramale, who was appointed parish priest of Lourdes in December 1854, when Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and who died on 8 September 1877, on the feast of the Nativity of Mary. This made St. Bernadette write: « The most Blessed Virgin came to seek our good Father on the day of Her Nativity to reward the sacrifices and the rough trials that he accepted and suffered out of love for Her. »
In the crypt of this church, we venerated his tomb, despite the interdicts that Mgr Jourdan, the successor of Mgr Laurence, fulminated.
Saint Fr. Peyramale !
« He whom the Blessed Virgin had chosen from among a thousand, Henri Lasserre wrote, and to whom we owe the largest religious movement that the world has seen since the Crusades », was exposed to many contradictions in his service of the Church, and up to his death, because his tomb was erected on the initiative of Henri Lasserre, his friend and biographer, compensating for the reluctance of the ecclesiastical authority.
First, when « unable to cope with his growing task all by himself, Henri Lasserre relates, he laid out the situation for his bishop, Mgr Laurence, and asked him to give the parish a few additional curates to assist him […]. Some Diocesan Missionaries whom the bishop esteemed were vested with the privilege of administering the Pilgrimage. Mgr Laurence’s former secretary, Fr. Pierre-Remy Sempé, was appointed superior. The work that was set up with Mary’s wisdom in the unity of the parish hierarchy, and thus, in a perfect harmony, was divided from that day on […]. The good parish priest had asked for assistants; he saw successors arrive. »
« Did the humble and kind-hearted Fr. Peyramale suffer from being cast aside? He never complained, Laserre wrote. We even like to believe that his self-abnegation was such that he did not need to repress that natural impulse that everyone understands and the effects of which he probably did not feel. »
He was, however, seized by a « true terror and grief » when he saw Fr. Sempé « inclining towards business » and thinking, according to his own words, about « exploiting the property of the work for the benefit of the work itself, by means of a true and legitimate trade of all that was the property of the pilgrimage… » Thus Fr. Sempé introduced to the Grotto what Bernadette feared most and endeavoured to refuse obstinately. Her aim was to avoid even the slightest appearance of “business” around her dear Grotto. What a torment it was for Fr. Peyramale, parish priest of Lourdes, servant of Mary and friend of the poor of whom Bernadette was the model!
The second station of the Jubilee places before our eyes this holy poverty by leading us into the obscure lower room of the former prison where the Soubirous family lived since All Saints Day 1856, on Petits-Fossés Street. « The room was dark, testified their cousin Sajous, who lived on the first floor. In the farmyard there were outhouses that overflowed and made the place very foul. We had manure there… The Soubirous were destitute: two poor beds, one to the right on entering, and the other on the same side closer to the chimney… They only had one small chest in which to put their clothes. My wife lent them a few shirts. She often gave them some millet bread. The children, however, did not ask for it. »
Regarding vexations, Bernadette used to say to her cousin Jeanne Védère: « When one thinks: the Good God permits it, he does not complain. »
This place illustrates a principal thought of our Father, according to whom « poverty will save the world ». This is in fact where Mary came to seek « a young child, the poorest […] chosen from among all to save Her people ».
But in this misery comes a light: prayer. « In the “cachot”, there was no television and no radio, Fr. Zambelli, the rector of the Sanctuaries said. Communication was made otherwise. They were in the habit of communicating with Heaven, of picking up its frequency every evening when saying the Rosary. In the “Cachot” there was no telephone and no mobile phone. It sufficed simply to take one’s Rosary out of his pocket to put himself on the wavelength of this “other world” about which the Virgin would speak at the Grotto during the apparitions. »
Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
While we continued to sing our Rosary, we entered the door of Fr. Peyramale’s former rectory, the door through which Bernadette went when she came to transmit to him the message of the beautiful Lady. When we arrived at the Hospice, which is still run by the Sisters of Nevers today, we adored the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel by singing the Ave Verum.
On 3 June 1858, on the feast of the Most Holy Sacrament, the seer made her First Communion in this chapel and received the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It was in order to go to catechism – a necessary condition for receiving Jesus the Host – that she returned from Bartrès at the end of January, a few days before the Apparitions, as a statue represents below the Hospice.
« Tell me, Bernadette, Miss Estrade asked her, what made you the happiest, to receive the Good God or to converse at the Grotto with the Blessed Virgin? »
– I don’t know; these things go together and cannot be compared. What I do know is that I was very happy in both circumstances. »
From the moment of this First Communion, Bernadette, whom Our Lady had promised to make happy not in this world but in the beyond, would seek assurance in what came from beyond, in the supernatural. Her soul fed itself on “heavenly Bread”, her only treasure. « Poverty that time effaces, my only treasure is You Jesus. »
Months went by; the situation in her parents’ home became intolerable: the visitors plagued her all day long. She was unable to follow her class. Then Fr. Peyramale envisaged a radical solution: to send Bernadette to the boarding school run by the Sisters of Nevers.
But the Hospice was a municipal establishment! Mayor Lacadé thus imagined admitting Bernadette to the Hospice as a « poor sick person ».
She remained there until her departure for Nevers in July 1866 to hide herself there and to fulfil her vocation of prayer and sacrifice for sinners, as the Blessed Virgin had asked her. « Your mission at the Grotto is finished, her holy parish priest wrote to her, work at your sanctification, live from the hidden life of Jesus Christ, express your gratitude to God for all the favours that He granted to you by leading an exemplary life in the house that has welcomed you. »
All of our groups met on the esplanade to conclude our Jubilee with a procession behind our banner and our flags, singing from the bottom of our hearts “Chez nous, soyez Reine!” and the hymn of which Bernadette was so fond, “Au Ciel, au Ciel, au Ciel, J’irai la voir un jour.”. When all were gathered at the feet of the crowned Virgin, Brother Bruno spoke to us for the last time before going to the Grotto:
« After acclaiming our Queen, we are going to go to the Grotto, the fourth Jubilee station, a silent one, in order to do our quarter of an hour meditation for this first Saturday of the month of May on the mysteries of the Rosary: the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries, the whole life of the Blessed Virgin, who appeared there in this cleft of the rock. What is very moving when we look at this cleft is to say to ourselves that She appeared there. It seems that because of the roughness, because of the rock being so deep, by touching it, since the Virgin did appear there, since She did set foot there, this apparition takes on truth in our sensory impression. It is a reality as objective as the rock that we are going to touch and kiss.
« We will pray “before this rock” for the intentions of the Pope, himself “rock”, the one on which Our Lord Jesus Christ founded His Church. The intentions are the exaltation of holy Church, the propagation of the Faith, the extirpation of heresies and schisms, the conversion of sinners, peace and concord among Christian princes, and all the other needs of Christianity. If this simple “pre-conciliar” wording contradicts today the declared intentions of the reigning Pope, then let us pray, let us pray all the more for the Holy Father.
« The lesson of Lourdes is not stifled. The Blessed Virgin still speaks there in favour of the Church of Peter. » (CRC no 119, juillet 1977, p. 15) Did She not receive the effusion of the Holy Spirit with the Apostles on Pentecost day, which we are going to celebrate next Sunday? She attended to the birth of the Church of which She is the Mother, for which She is the model, even more: of which She was and still remains the personification.
« After the Ascension of Her Son, who returned to Heaven from which He descended thirty years earlier in order to take flesh in Her virginal womb, She remained a long while on earth in order to support the Apostles, to advise them gently, to recall to them the events of the life of Jesus.
« Then, when Her time had been fulfilled, She experienced Her Dormition? Did She die? Some say that She did not die. Yet, Franciscan archaeologists rediscovered Her tomb in Gethsemane in the 1970s, in the last century. But Her Body was not affected by corruption, and She ascended into Heaven with Her Body, like Jesus. This is what Pope Pius XII infallibly defined in 1950. In Heaven now, She is exalted above the angels and the saints: it is the mystery of Her crowning. What glory, my God, what glory! Glory be to our Queen, whom we will go to see one day, according to our hope.
« Let us rejoice in the glorious mysteries, which are our beatitude here below – to know that the Virgin is in Heaven is already beatitude, joy for Her children.
« It only remains for us “to earn it”, us too, as Bernadette used to say, in order to go see Her one day! May She obtain us the grace of drawing us close to Her… Amen! »
We then went separately to the Grotto, where there was a throng. A group of Lebanese were praying and singing there while an endless line of wheelchairs were being pushed into the Grotto so that the invalids could touch the Rock. Through these suffering bodies, these human woes and distress that come to humbly beseech our heavenly Mother with so much confidence, Her goodness and mercy shines forth!
After the meal, the men could go to the pools, but on the side of the women, it was impossible due to the great throng of the sick. Some had been waiting since the day before! Brother Bruno thus led us to the “Water Road”, which has been laid out on the other side of the Gave so that the multitude of pilgrims can respond to the demand of Our Lady: « Go and drink at the fountain and wash yourself », thanks to fountains that distribute the miraculous water from the Grotto. Earlier, Brother Bruno reminded us of the importance of the symbol of water in Scripture, beginning with the water that flowed forth from the rock under the staff of Moses, to that which flowed forth from the pierced Side of Crucified Jesus. Today this miraculous water is the symbol of the grace whose source is the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In the meantime, Brother Thomas had led another part of our group to the Espelugues grottos to say the Rosary there. These grottos that are dedicated to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows and to St. Mary Magdalene are complementary to the Grotto of the Immaculate. Fr. Marie-Antoine did not rest until he had planted a Cross there, the Cross of France, to point out that it is by it that the Immaculate would triumph.
The “saint of Toulouse” was one of these servants of Mary who, not content with scrutinising Her past and present mysteries, anticipated and prepared those of the future. The triple call to penance that St. Bernadette heard in the Grotto of Massabielle, which the three little shepherds heard once again at Fatima, unendingly rang in the heart of the Capuchin missionary. Moved as much by a secret foreboding as by the zeal of his devotion, he desired to fit out these two grottos that are situated at the summit of rock, the first one in honour of St. Mary Magdalene, the beloved of the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary, the figure of sinful, redeemed humanity, and the second, the larger, in honour of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. Today we would say with our Father: “Our Lady in deep sorrow”, Fr. Marie-Antoine was laughed at; the chaplains of the Sanctuary did not see the usefulness of such an enterprise, but he insisted:
« We have to fit out these two grottos; they are too beautiful to be left without a religious purpose. »
– But at Lourdes, it was objected, there must only be one devotion: the Immaculate! There must only be one Grotto, that of the apparition.
– Nevertheless, God dug two others here, immense, superb grottos; and around the Immaculate, all devotions have their place. »
The Capuchin finally carried his point, and it was later on, at the time of their inauguration on 22 August and 9 October 1887 that he revealed their significance:
« The mountain of Lourdes [this is what he called the rock of the Espélugues] is Mary’s great mountain. By descending into the valley, in the Grotto of Massabielle, Mary came as though to take humanity by the hand in order to make them climb to the summit by sublime ascensions. For this, She said three grand sentences. She said: Pray for sinners! She said: Penance! Penance! Penance! She said: I am the Immaculate Conception! These are the three grand sentences that are revealing; the others are only of secondary importance. The first two reveal the two essential conditions of the triumph, and the third guarantees it. The first two tell us the part for which we are responsible and the last one tells us what is incumbent on Mary and that She will infallibly carry out when the first two conditions are fulfilled. She received this mission from the beginning of the world, and by saying Herself: I am the Immaculate Conception, She states that She has come to fulfil it.
« In order to carry out this great work, God, from the beginning, prepared this holy mountain. Below, He placed a first grotto where we see Mary with Her hands joined and Her eyes raised towards Heaven, teaching us especially to pray. Here, half-way up the mountain, He placed two large grottos; one where Our Lady of Sorrows is going to teach us to weep over our sins and the other where Mary Magdalene, the great penitent, is going to teach us to do penance, and then, above, we await the luminous summits of Tabor, of the transfiguration and of triumph. After prayer and penance, this triumph is infallible. By climbing from the Grotto of prayer to the holy grottos of penance, France and the world will take a great step on this triumphal way… When the triple penance will be accomplished, the world will be saved. »
SAINT MARY MAGDALENE’S GROTTO.
On the day of the opening of this grotto that had been turned into a chapel, 22 August 1887, with relics of St. Mary Magdalene that had been brought especially from Saint-Balme after having crossed throughout the south of France, Fr. Marie-Antoine gave himself over to an improvisation, the secret of which he had by using the Easter hymn Victimæ paschali laudes as the theme:
« Listen. A great duel has been engaged between life and death: Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando! It has lasted for six thousand years; but for almost a century, it has taken gigantic proportions: Hell is preparing for the centennial of the day when it most boldly unfurled its flag [1889… today, it makes over two hundred years, but the enemy is still the same. He thinks that he will be victorious. He is mistaken! Fr. Marie-Antoine replies.] What will be the outcome? Who will tell us about it?... Rejoice! Our beloved Magdalene, the heroine of penance, is also the great apostle of the Resurrection; she was the first one to bring the alleluia to the Apostles; she was the first one to come and take it to our Gaul, she, the beloved of Jesus, she, the masterpiece of His mercy, she, the pearl of His Heart! ...
« O Magdalene! O daughter of Mary’s Heart, O pearl of Jesus’ Heart, speak and answer me. You crossed through our France; speak and tell us: what did you see in our France? Dic nobis, Maria, quid vidisti in via? – I saw strange men, all greedy for plunder, and I saw a sepulchre, vidi sepulchrum. They were preparing this sepulchre for my dear France, and they were saying to each other: No, no, no longer Catholic France! The Capitol is ours, obloquy is theirs! The Pantheon is ours, the Catacombs are theirs! We can prepare their funeral: it is over, it is over! Let us hide them in the sepulchre.
“No, no, it is not over. It is now that everything begins. This sepulchre is not the sepulchre of death but of life, sepulchrum Christi viventis. You are preparing the funeral and I am singing the resurrection, et gloriam vidi resurgentis. Christ is my hope; He is risen! Christ is the hope of France; she will rise, surrexit Christus, spes mea.”
What Fr. Marie-Antoine was saying about France with so much confidence, we can say the same thing about the Church today: she will rise. Witness the Holy Shroud of Our Lord: “Angelicos testes, sudarium, et vestes. Yes, He truly is risen. This cry must resound and make these vaults ring out. It must make France, the Church, and the world thrill. Tu nobis Victor Rex, miserere nobis! And You, victorious King, have mercy on us!
THE GROTTO OF OUR LADY OF SORROWS.
« Go into the Grotto of the apparition and say to Mary: O Immaculate Conception, white and all beautiful in this hole of rock where You appeared, in foraminibus petræ, there You delight earth and Heaven. I am told that You are my Mother. I want to know if You love me and how I must love You. Then the Immaculate Conception, taking you by the hand: come, come, My child, She will say to you. Go up, go up with Me into My Grotto of Sorrows, in caverna maceriæ, and see how much I love you! It is not I alone who immolate Myself for you here. If I only immolated Myself, you would not yet know how much I love you; what does it cost a mother to immolate herself for her child? But for you, it is My Jesus, the Son of My immaculate love, it is He whom I immolate! The executioners did not have to tear Him away from Me. It is I who offered Him out of love for you. Look, look: there He is immolated! See these thorns; they tore My head when they tore His! See these nails; they pierced My Heart when they pierced His hands and feet! And this Blood that He shed, it is I, My child, who had given it to Him; it is from My Heart that It came, and it is for your salvation that I had given It to Him! Now you know how much I love you and how much you must love Me!
« In order to know how great, beautiful, and radiant Mary is, go contemplate Her in the Grotto of the Apparition. In order to know how much She loves us and how much we must love Her, come contemplate Her in the Grotto of Her sorrows. When Satan pursues you, go into the Grotto of the Apparition to implore the Immaculate Conception; there She is strong like an army in battle array, and She crushes his head. But if you have had the misfortune of being the victim of the Devil, come quickly to take refuge in this Grotto of sorrows. Here you will find your Mother! Certainly Mary is very beautiful in the Grotto of the apparition; has a whiter, more fragrant lily ever delighted Heaven and earth? Yet this is not sufficient. It must appear surrounded by thorns in order to delight all hearts: lilium inter spinas, sic amica mea inter filias. »
Thus, it is to a true penance, that of the heart, that the Immaculate Heart of Mary calls us. « When the measure of penance will equal that of sin, Fr. Marie Antoine declared, it will be the hour of salvation; for the moment, it is more than ever the hour of tears. The Immaculate Conception said: Come here in procession, and we came, euntes ibant. But we must not stop there. The prophet does not stop, he adds: et flebant, and they shed tears! Then, he exclaims, they will have the right to return joyful, their hands full of golden sheathes, venientes autem venient cum exultatione, portantes manipulos suos. They had sown in tears; they had the right to gather in joy, qui seminant in lacrimis in exultatione metent. Who is surprised that the terrain of souls remains sterile so long? People are surprised that the triumph is long in coming; here is the answer: have we wept enough? »
Here, the Blessed Virgin is in deep sorrow; She weeps because we do not weep. Let us pray, do penance for sinners, as She asked us to do here in Lourdes. Let us console Her Immaculate Conception so afflicted, as She asked us in Fatima, in order to help Her save the souls for whom Jesus shed all His Blood, and She all the tears of Her ever so good Heart.
THE CITY OF MARY
At 4 p.m., we completely filled the Basilica of the Rosary for the celebration of Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our hymns took on a majestic sonorousness and a celestial harmony, resonating under the dome of the building.
At the sermon, we had the joy of hearing the voice of our Father, who had blessed our standards on the eve of our departure:
« Very dear brethren, dear sisters, dear friends, even in our days for many the exile of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, our Queen, Queen of the most Holy Rosary in Lourdes is still a great secret. It reveals the very particular, original one might say, gripping character of this city of Lourdes, which is the city of Mary in these out-of-the-way mountains, in this cleft of the rock, similar to the dove of the Song of Songs…
« Fortunately we have this symbolism of the Song of Songs to reveal suddenly to us this marvellous light that shines from the Virgin Mary, from the Immaculate Conception. »
« “Exiled in the mountains of Lebanon, from Hermon until peace returns to Jerusalem…” Suddenly there is a marvellous parallel between Jerusalem, the holy city, and the humble village of Lourdes, in the midst of the mountains.
« What grave secret? Oh! There are several that suddenly put Lourdes in concatenation, so to speak. Lourdes makes the first link of the chain with the first apparitions of the Immaculate Conception and even more with the last ones that have not yet come.
« There are several of them, for everything begins in 1830 with the apparitions of our Divine Mother to Catherine Labouré, Rue du Bac, giving us the Miraculous Medal to spread throughout the universe for curing all illnesses, consoling all sorrow, and putting an end to all the alarms of poor people, but to begin with by the conversion and amendment of their lives.
« There, it is quite clear and essential. In our jubilee this year, this is what we must put first: the conversion and amendment of the life of the poor, so that these poor may be a people disposed to receive the revelations, the miracles of the Virgin’s goodness. At the same time, but it is as though a secret that is kept hidden, Lourdes was chosen for a holy city.
« Lourdes did not exist. It was a little, isolated village. Well, She did not find a more impoverished city than Lourdes, over there, in the background, always in the rain, and all these pilgrims who are going to shiver, drenched by this perpetual rain that weakens the morale! It is Lourdes! She chose it because this city was the most abandoned, the most scorned of the Kingdom. This is where She was going to transport her headquarters. It was easy for Her. She took a small child, the humblest, the most destitute of this country and, with her She will work miracles.
« Everywhere the Virgin sets foot there are miracles, confidences of the Virgin to Her saints. It is orthodromy that threads its way when it is going to climb up the narrow valley which, suddenly, runs into this cavern. What an idea the Blessed Virgin had to descend into such a cavern! It is like when She descended with St. Joseph and Her precious burden into the grotto – to please Brother Bruno: into the house in Bethlehem – it is still orthodromy that continues.
« Lourdes was chosen as a holy city, over there in its mountains where there was all the place required and ecclesiastical superiors to authorise the deployment of crowds in procession because Paris was not exactly governed from an ecclesiastical viewpoint, completely according to the ideas of the Sacred Heart and of the Blessed Virgin!
« Mary, O dearest Mother! this is how You will keep in the heart of the French the Faith of bygone days in a very meaningful distancing from the new authorities and behaviour that were then being introduced into Paris in its palaces and its parliament!
« Thus the Blessed Virgin Mary found in Lourdes this integral Catholicism and this monarchic legitimism that are the vital requirements of Her reign.
« Thus, it is integral Catholicism, which I would now call loyalty, and monarchic legitimism that are the vital requirements of Her reign, that is to say, Her reign will not last or will be given rough handling, if we do not have this reign of the King as representative of His Heart and of the Virgin Mary with Him. How beautiful this is, my dear brethren! How this gives to Lourdes its permanent value! As we recreate in our souls this very humble, very simple devotion that our grandparents probably taught to us, let us have confidence in the future of our holy Church. Amen! »
When coming out of Mass, as thanksgiving we joined the Eucharistic procession that was being formed on the meadow on the other side of the Gave near the tent of Adoration. A sounding of a šôpãr, the ritual horn that proclaimed the opening of the “Jubilee” (yôbèl), accompanied by the rattle of drums, announced the triumphal arrival of the Blessed Sacrament, while a cantor extended an invitation to the whole world: « Jubilate Deo in voce exultationis! » The sanctuary attendants put us in a place of honour in the procession that headed towards the St. Pius X basilica under a blazing sun. What a joy for us to feel like children of the Church in this way, united to these thousands of pilgrims who had come to honour the Virgin Mary! The underground basilica was well filled by the whole throng. After a reading and acclamations, a priest carried the Blessed Sacrament before the sick to bless them: we prayed for the Church and for our Father. The ceremony ended with a resounding and unanimous Tantum Ergo and by a solemn and endless exit procession.
During the evening, we had the joy of participating once again in the candlelight procession. There were fewer people than the day before, but there were certainly more sick people. Our choir was again invited this time to join the sanctuary’s choir and we again sang “Regardez l’Étoile!” The procession gathered on the basilica’s esplanade to finish reciting the Rosary. Before these thousands of candles that twinkled in the darkness, for the glory of the Immaculate, we had the feeling that, when the Good God wants to reconquer the world, it will be easy! When we see these throngs that come to pray before the poor Grotto of Massabielle, we see the social power of the Blessed Virgin. Soon, through Her miraculous intervention, She will defeat the forces of evil and the Sacred Heart will reign throughout the universe.
THE GLORIFICATION OF THE IMMACULATE
Sunday morning, in the octave of the Ascension, in the Basilica of the Rosary, we sang High Mass and Brother Bruno gave the homily:
In the way the fourth Gospel is disposed, the passage that we have just read immediately precedes the account of the Passion. After many years of attentive meditation, our Father resolved, along with good authors, to consider this prayer as having sprung from Jesus’ Heart not on the evening of the day that He was going to be handed over to His enemies, but at noon of Ascension day, which we celebrated Thursday, in the light of His glorious Resurrection. Then, everything becomes clear.
« Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, so that Your Son may glorify You, through the power over all flesh that You have given Him, He gives eternal life to all those You gave Him! »
Jesus asked the Father to manifest His glory in the eyes of the disciples and the Holy Women who, until then, had only seen in Him a man of their station. They saw Him die on the Cross and buried Him. Then He appeared to them, risen from the dead, and He ate with them. Now He was going to bless them and ascend into Heaven until a cloud concealed Him from their sight, symbol of the luminous cloud that is God. Jesus asked His Father permission to work this last miracle because He does everything in obedience.
« The hour has come » for returning to Heaven: a triumph never before seen, a man physically rising into the air, followed a while later by the Virgin, His Mother. This Ascension of the Son, this Assumption of His Mother, will allow the glory of the Father to be manifested: the humanity of Christ, which had escaped from the tomb, would soon leave the Upper Room, rise into the air before the eyes of the Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Women at the height of exultation. The Son would thus glorify the Father, and we will sing it century after century: « Seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty… »
The « authority » that Jesus received, at the cost of His sacrifice on the Cross, established Him Saviour of « all flesh », of every physical being, man or woman, child of Eve become child of Mary.
« Now eternal life is this: that they should know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. »
« Eternal life » is not of this world. « I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next. » (18 February, third apparition) It is the delightful, loving beatitude of a knowledge of the very mystery of God, not the God of philosophers and scholars, nor even that of the Jews (Jn 7.28)! nor that of the pagans, but the God of Jesus Christ.
« I have glorified You on earth by accomplishing the work that You gave Me to do. » Jesus dies out of obedience to His Father, thus preaching by example the doctrine of obedience to the Father, making the Father admired, adored, glorified on earth by those whom the Father draws and leads to Him, according to His mysterious plan of mercy. Since His resurrection from among the dead, during forty days, He strengthened the Faith of His apostles. Now, He asked to return Home:
« Now glorify Me, Father, with You, with the glory that I had with You before the world was. »
In these words there is the enthusiasm of a child who throws himself in the bosom of his mother. From all eternity, Jesus receives the glory of His Father in a holy kiss. We do not know what the life of the Trinity was « before the world was » because « no one has ever seen God » (Jn 1.18), not even the great metaphysicians who write treatises on the divine “Perfections”, the “Attributes” of God, the divine “Names”, as though, by means of their reason, they would reach God beyond the universe. But a God, only-begotten Son, buried in the bosom of the Father, revealed Him by descending from Him and becoming man. Now, He was asking the Father to raise Him up to Himself through a change of place, with His Body, His Blood, His Soul, and all His holy humanity.
« I revealed Your name to the men whom You took from the world to give to Me. They belonged to You, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. »
Man does not have the initiative in the great affair of his eternal salvation. It is God who begins and who gives His grace by « taking him from the world », as the Good Shepherd took His sheep from the court of the Jewish Temple (Jn 10.3-4) as well as from all the pagan temples of the false religions (Jn 10.6), to « lead » them in « a single flock » to the eternal life of Heaven.
The only thing that is required of these predestined of the Father whom Jesus receives from Him in order to save them is to « keep His word ». This they do by entering into this mystery of grace and predestination, which is incomprehensible to the angels and to men, with thanksgiving for having been chosen, for having been freed from the straitjacket of this sinful world of which the Devil is the Prince.
And the others? All the others? There is no answer to this harrowing question of their eternal salvation, other than to leave on mission in order « that all men may be saved », according to the prayer of Father de Foucauld. Their receiving the grace of God’s choice will take them too from the world to give them to Jesus. This is what the Apostles were going to do. Jesus gave thanks to His Father for having given them to Him as instruments for the preaching of His word.
« Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You… »
In this one sentence is expressed the entire revelation that Jesus brought concerning his own Person, and His relationship with His Father that defines Him completely: In all that He is, in all that He has, He is purely and simply a Son.
« Because the words You gave to Me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from You. »
During the three years of His public life, Jesus taught them that all His own perfection, all His power, His goodness, His mercy, all His « words », that is to say, His works, His miracles, His admirable beauty too, came from His Father, are all proof of His « coming from » Him.
« I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones You have given Me, because they are Yours… »
In the beginning, the « world », at the moment when Jesus entered it by taking flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is the entire human race in all its good will and its misery. Jesus did not come to condemn it but to save it. Yet, the confrontations in Jerusalem were a trial that split this world into two. From then on, Jesus made this people the focus of His prayer, this people that came to Him despite the barrier of the members of the Sanhedrin, the high priests, and the Pharisees.
« … And everything of Mine is Yours and everything of Yours is Mine… »
It is the language of love of this circumincessant Trinitarian charity by which the Father loves His Son, the Son loves His Father, and they love their common love who is the Virgin Mary in whom resides the Holy Spirit: a splendour that is now opened not to the « world », but to Christ’s faithful who have taken refuge in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who leads them into the Heart of the Father.
« …And I have been glorified in them. »
The Son revealed to them the glory of His Father. Having received it, they glorify the Son in return by their holiness. Throughout the history of the Church, Jesus is glorified in His saints, and they are glorified in Him. As for the impious who do not know God either the Father or the Son, Jesus ignores them. He never knew them (Mt 7.23)!
« Now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one just as We are. »
We see clearly that these words were uttered on the day of the Ascension. On the eve of the Passion, Jesus’ language was altogether different: « I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed » He announced by quoting Scripture (Mt 26.31). They were actually dispersed for the Holy Spirit had not yet been given. But now, while the Son will go to throw Himself into the bosom of the Father where He was before the beginning of the world, the Apostles, the Holy Women, the nascent Church will find themselves united among themselves as a same Body of which Jesus will be the Head and Mary the Immaculate Heart, no longer having but one thought: to go to join Them in Heaven!