It was the summer of 2007, and I was blessed to co-lead a group of St. John’s University students on a service pilgrimage to Lourdes, France.
A quick history lesson: Lourdes was a poor town where a teenage girl named Bernadette lived. In 1858, over a period of 5 months, Mary, the Blessed Mother, appeared to Bernadette 18 times, including leading her inside a grotto to find flowing water. That water, and that place, has been the source of countless miracles- including 67 that are “officially recognized” by the Catholic Church.
When I was invited to begin what is now an annual University experience in collaboration with the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers, I could not find Lourdes on a map. After the initial 10-days of service, little miracles, and deep faith and communal experiences, I signed-up to go again in 2008 and 2009. My wife and I visited there in 2012. Many individuals make an annual trip to serve (some spending their whole summer there).
I share this as Lourdes has been on my mind of late.
After this rainy weekend in New York, I am first reminded of the wet conditions of this sacred site that is the mostly the result of sitting at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains.
While the weather is partly responsible for this walk down memory lane, the main reason Lourdes is emerging in my thoughts and prayers is that I am feeling now as I did when I was in service- I am looking for a miracle.
If you serve in Lourdes, you are there to assist the many sick pilgrims who travel from all over the world seeking a cure for their physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological needs.
There is a tradition in Lourdes where pilgrims can bathe in the water that Bernadette discovered over 160 years ago. While I bathed in this water on two occasions, I recall with deeper emotion how I helped others bathe.
There was one gentleman who comes to mind. He was in his 50’s, and while he looked physically well, his eyes told a different story.
You could see the pain, the sadness, and the fear?
After he said his prayers and bathed briefly in the water (a process that often lasts less than two minutes if someone is able bodied), he looked at me and my companions to say thank you.
To my surprise, his eyes were different. The look was transformed from pain to comfort, from sadness to joy, from fear to peace.
This was the miracle.
While it was unlikely that his ailment was cured that day, he found God’s Spirit in that communal experience. He was changed.
And there were others.
Over the course of my three service trips, I saw the transformations continue. Hour after hour, pilgrim after pilgrim- they emerged from the chilly mountain water with a knowing that did not exist before.
All these years later, I find myself once again looking in the eyes of others (and in my very own mirror), and I see that same pain, sadness, and fear.
With the threat of an invisible virus striking ourselves and our loved ones, feeling the immense sorrow of loss, and the facing of our own mortality- we, too, are looking for a miracle.
While we pray and trust in the scientists and researchers to find the cure or right mixture of medicine, and as we thank God for those who care and attempt to heal the sick, we must also pray for that deeper knowing that is found in the water of Lourdes.
While I do not fully understand it, I believe it comes down to one word: trust.
Do we, can we, trust that God is with us?
No matter what happens, can we trust that God is with us and our loved ones? Can we accept what is said in the book of Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
We cannot understand what is happening right now, it is too overwhelming and horrific. So we must seek a different knowing, a deeper knowledge that involves a surrendering that we are simply not accustomed to doing very often.
Perhaps this is the practice before us- as we have a little extra time on our hands. Might we spend more time with God in prayer. Might we surrender all of our past regrets and future scenarios and just be in the moment- dwelling in the love of our God (especially the love found in our loved ones).
This will not change the virus- this will not stop the pain and sorrow that is overcasting our world- but it will change us.
Might we finally become the people of faith that we always wanted to be?
Might we become the friend, the family member, others always hoped for?
Might we return to God the love that God unconditionally gives to us, re-imagining how to live authentically, unapologetically, and in love with our Creator.
Maybe this is the miracle that we need most of all.