I hope this selection will touch you with grace as it did me. It is from one of the earliest books about St. Bernadette and Lourdes, and was written and compiled by the Sisters of the Mother House of her Order where the Saint was cloistered: the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction of Nevers, France. In the book, one of St. Bernadette’s close friends from Lourdes relates the story of the time she herself personally witnessed a conversion effected by the mere sight of Bernadette.
“It was in 1862; we had staying at our hotel an English Catholic family. Their man-servant, a Catholic himself, was married to an Irish Protestant. The husband, a fervent believer, desiring above all things the conversion of his wife, went immediately upon his arrival at Lourdes to see Bernadette, and asked her prayers to this end. He had previously told me of his desire and asked my prayers for the same intention. One day he came to introduce his wife to me. She was a charming person, very ladylike, and having apparently received an education superior to her station.
“Having made her acquaintance, I invited her to take a walk to the Grotto with myself and the servants. She made no difficulty about accepting my invitation. When we arrived at the sacred rock, we all of us knelt in prayer, herself excepted. I purposely appeared to take no notice of her attitude, but when when we were on the point of leaving, I offered her some of the water to drink. She refused politely, whereupon I said: ‘If you do not care to drink, at least dip your finger in it and make the sign of the cross.’
“ ‘Please do not insist,’ she replied; ‘for I should be sorry to have to refuse a second time.’
“These words were spoken with such decision that I thought it prudent to press the matter no further.
“On our way home we were caught in a terrible thunderstorm; the rain fell in torrents, and we could find no shelter, for, at the time of which I write, there was no habitation on the road leading to the Grotto. ‘Madame J.’ said I, ‘you will be the recipient of a shower of graces no less abundant than the rain which is now falling on us.’ I was then bold enough to tackle the religious question, and reproached her gently for having refused to drink at the Grotto and even to make the sign of the cross. After having raised sundry objections, she added: ‘Mademoiselle, I am seeking for light. I promise you that when I see it, I shall not voluntarily shut my eyes.’
“On the following day it was commonly reported in town that Bernadette was at the point of death and that she had already received the Last Sacraments. As I desired intensely that Madame J. should see her, I proposed that she should accompany me to the Hospital to pay her a visit. She refused absolutely to do so, saying: ‘I have not the slightest desire to see Bernadette; she may be already dead, and, what is more, I have no time to spare; I have to leave almost immediately for Pau.’
“ ‘You may have no desire to see Bernadette,’ I replied, ‘but I have no hesitation in telling you that I am extremely anxious for you to do so; If you wish to do me a favour, you will consent to accompany me.’
“Her natural politeness, or perhaps it would be wiser to say the grace of God, got the better of her opposition and we set out for the hospital with her husband.
“The patient had been strictly forbidden to receive visitors, but the dear Sisters had not the heart to turn me away. We reached the dormitory at the very moment when Bernadette was seized with a dreadful spasm.
“Two sisters were supporting her and she had every appearance of being on the point of expiring, for she could no longer breathe. ‘Come,’ said Madame J., ‘let us go, you can see very well that she is no longer in a condition to speak.’ ‘No matter,’ said I, ‘if we cannot speak to her, we can at least see her.’ So saying, I led her to the foot of the sufferer’s bed, where she remained as if rooted to the spot.
“As soon as Bernadette was a little recovered, I went and kissed her. As I left her side, I saw my friend spring forwards and throw herself on her knees at Bernadette’s side. There she burst into tears, burying her face in her hands as if she were ashamed to betray her emotion.
“Bernadette, who up to that moment had said nothing, turned her head and said encouragingly: ‘Oh! Madame, please get up and stop crying; I cannot bear to see you so distressed.’
“I drew up a chair and begged Madame J. to take it, which she did, covering her face with her hands and continuing to weep bitterly.
“ ‘I should love,’ said Bernadette, ‘to give our friend a little souvenir; pass me my crucifix and my medals: now make her choose what she would prefer.’ My poor friend, distracted with grief, had paid not attention to what had been said. ‘Madame,’ said I, ‘Bernadette wishes to give you a souvenir and asks you to choose the object you wish.’ She rose abruptly, and falling again upon her knees, exclaimed: ‘No! No! I want nothing; I don’t deserve anything; I am not worthy of it.’ ‘Surely,’ said I, ‘you do not desire to hurt her feelings by refusing what she is so glad to offer you.’ ‘If I must accept,’ she replied, ‘let her choose for me.’
“Bernadette selected a cross and a medal, and with a tenderness that no words can render, added: ‘The cross is for you, Madame; the medal is to remind you constantly of me.’
“My friend’s tears and sobs began afresh. Taking advantage of her deep emotion I reminded her of her words of the day previous. ‘You are seeking light, it is now shining clearly before your eyes; do not close them, but open your heart to the action of grace which has so markedly singled you out. Yesterday you refused to join with me in prayer; will you now consent to go down to the chapel with the Sisters? We are all going to pray for you.’ ‘Ah! Mademoiselle,’ was her reply, ‘I can refuse you nothing: I am ready to do whatever you wish.’
“We took leave of Bernadette, who was greatly affected; the poor child did not suspect what God had accomplished through her agency.
“Not long after the young Irishwoman abjured Protestantism and became a fervent Catholic. Two years later God called her to Himself.
“In heaven, where she now is, she must bless the day which witnessed her meeting with Bernadette on earth, for it is certain that God employed the favorite Child of Mary as the instrument of her conversion.”
From Bernadette of Lourdes, first English edition 1914; St. Pius X Press Inc., 2012; pp. 170-173.
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