JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!
As I write this, I am counting the hours until my husband, daughter, and I board our plane to embark upon a combined trip to Brussels, Belgium to visit our 18-year old son who is interning there, and to visit the sites of Normandy, Paris, and finally to make a pilgrimage with my daughter at the end of our trip to Lourdes. My spirit has been yearning for the living waters of Lourdes where we are invited to bathe in the purifying healing springs given by Our Lady to her children, through St. Bernadette for several years. My heart is filled with gratitude and anticipation that we will be present for the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which was the date of the final apparition of Our Lady to St. Bernadette in 1858. It is said that Our Lady said nothing at all, but radiated an intense beauty. Many have since interpreted this last vision of our Blessed Mother in silence, as a call to embrace silence as a means of hearing God's promptings as that small, still voice. The importance of this call to quiet in order to hear God speak in our lives is an integral component of the Carmelite call and dates back to the prophet Elijah, when he heard the voice of God not in the earthquake or fire, but as a gentle whisper. [1 Kings 19:12]
In my further musings and consideration of this last apparition, I remembered reading a fascinating article about some deep connections between Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in its beginnings as it became a place of pilgrimage. I was able to dig up the article in an old issue of Carmelite Digest which explains this interweaving between the two. Father Tadgh Tierney, ocd recounts how Hermann Cohen, the great Jewish pianist, who was miraculously converted to the Catholic faith and later became a Carmelite priest named Fr. Augustine Mary of the Blessed Sacrament [now Venerable], was to lead the very first pilgrimage to the front of the grotto, while barricades blocked access to the holy site. This occured on September 20, 1858 when he and father Rozier led a group of devotees to the site. At 3 am they celebrated holy Mass, prayed, and recited the Magnificat and other such prayers. [Bernadette of Lourdes & The Carmelite Connection- 1858-2008].
At this time, an unusual miracle happened when Fr. Augustine dropped his breviary into the basin as he bent down to drink from the spring in the grotto. Fr. Rozies who accompanied him and witnessed it reported in a letter as follows, "A lady quickly tried to retrieve it, and the priest also looked to see if the pages had gotten wet. There was one particularly beautiful picture of Our Lady, which he expected to find soaked; but not only was the colored picture of Our Lady not spoiled, but a perfect copy of it was imprinted on the blank page of his breviary." Some years later, Fr. Augustine [Hermann would receive another miracle from Our Lady of Lourdes when his failing eyesight was fully restored after beginning a novena. His pain and all symptoms of his disease vanished, and he was able to resume his life in the desert dwellings of Carmel in nearby Tarasteix.
The final apparition of Our Lady to St. Bernadette, depicted in the 'Gemmail' style
of layered stained glass typically found in Lourdes.
In fact, the connectedness between these two devotions to Our Lady run so deep that a Carmelite convent exists adjacent to the property. Its history is explained as follows:
The Carmelite Monastery in Lourdes was founded 18 years after the apparitions on 16th July 1876 by nuns from the Carmel of Tulle in central France. The Mother Foundress, coming to Lourdes to find a suitable site for the future monastery, was very attracted by the land facing the Grotto on the other side of the River Gave. However, the terrain was on a narrow band of rock where any construction would be very difficult. Despite its proximity to the Grotto, previous visitors to the site had decided against anything being built there. The Mother Foundress had the idea of transporting soil to even out the level of the slope. This idea was accepted by the building contractors, and so the Monastery was built in a very privileged location overlooking the Grotto.
In the years following the foundation, the number of vocations grew considerably. The community swelled to such a size that in 1893 a number of sisters went to found a Carmel at Le Havre in northern France. [see http://www.laycarmel.org/index.php?nuc=content&id=367]