Septuagesima Sunday--16 February AD 2014
Today is Septuagesima Sunday, the Latin way of saying that we are approximately seventy days before Easter. The vestments today are purple, even though Lent won’t begin for another three weeks. They do remind us of the need to prepare in advance for the beneficial observance of Lent. It is time to be getting your schedule in order to avoid social events during the holy season, and to attend Mass and the Stations of the Cross—time to be looking around for some good spiritual reading—time to be taking stock of what you would like to do to re-order your life.
This past week we celebrated the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. On February 11th, in 1858—156 years ago—the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a young French girl in a demonstration of God's love for His people.
Bernadette Soubirious lived in the town of Lourdes, a small hamlet in the Diocese of Tarbes, in the south of France, not very far from the border with Spain. She was born to a poor family, and grew up in poor health; suffering from Asthma all of her life. On the day of the first apparition, she had been sent with her sisters to gather firewood, and became separated from them when they crossed a stream. She had a series of eighteen contacts with the Blessed Lady, which lasted from February until July of that year.
As one might expect, God works miracles, only when there is some pressing need for them. When Our Lady appears, it is because she has been sent to communicate an important message to her children. Such was the case with the apparitions at Lourdes. Although she had relatively little to say, as far as numbers of words go, the message is clear.
The first portion of our Lady's message was the need for penitence: the world must repent of its sins and make amends. 1858 in Europe was a time when many felt that the marvels of science and industry would free man from his dependence on God. It was, like our modern world, a time of arrogance, impiety, and anticlericalism. A time of socialist revolutions.
Coupled with the need for penitence, our Lady insisted on prayer. Some of her visits seem to be restricted to praying the Rosary with Bernadette. Here again, she was (and is) appealing to a world which has lost its taste for holy things—trying to demonstrate their importance, and their beauty.
Perhaps the most famous thing connected with Lourdes was revelation of an underground spring where none had been found before. For that spring, which now runs freely above the ground has been the source of physical and spiritual healing to many who have had the opportunity to bathe in its waters. And even for those of us who may never see that spring, it serves as a reminder that all healing comes from God through the intercession of His holy Mother.
At Lourdes Our Lady also spoke of herself as the “Immaculate Conception,” confirming what had been defined as an essential part of our Catholic Faith only a few years earlier. Not only did she confirm the pronouncement of Pius IX, but the publicity attendant to the apparitions caused people to discuss this doctrine all over the world. People were helped to understand something of what it means to be sinless, and to live a life without sin—and most importantly, how we can try to imitate this ideal through frequent reception of the Sacraments.
So, we are most indebted to our Lady for her fourfold revelation through St. Bernadette: A revelation of Penance, prayer, healing, and meditation of the consequences of sin.
This is, perhaps, an appropriate time to say a few words about apparitions and private revelations in general. One of the characteristics of the past few hundred years (and particularly the past fifty years or so) is referred to as the “loss of the sacred.” Modern times have driven out man's sense of contact with God, and even the churches have generally become more secular in nature..
This may be a reason for our Lady's appearance at Lourdes, Fatima, and other such places. But, this “loss of the sacred” has also been responsible for sending people off in search of some replacement. Those who have lost their contact with God in His Church are often observed trying to find a substitute in some occult or mystical practice. The twentieth century, for all of its reliance on secularism, has witnessed a resurgence of pagan religions, and even witchcraft -- because people are looking for something to replace Jesus Christ, whom they have abandoned.
I mention this hunger in modern people, because there is sometimes pressure among Catholic people to see new apparitions of the Blessed Mother, as it were, “behind every rock and tree.” And, it would be a mistake to deceive ourselves into thinking that every thought we have, every sound we here, every blue light we see, is somehow inspired by the Holy Ghost or the Blessed Virgin Mary. Simply stated, not all visions are from God—not even if they appear to be visions of holy things.
If you read any of the stories in print about Lourdes or Fatima, you will see that the local anti-clerical officials were very reluctant to allow word of the visions to reach the outside world. Perhaps the only ones more reluctant to publicize the apparitions were the local bishop and his clergy! That may seem strange, but the Church has always insisted that such things be treated with caution until it can be determined that they are genuine.
Only after an apparition has been determined to be genuine, will the Church allow public veneration. And even then, no one is ever required to believe that an apparition even took place.
The Church will always demand proof, before allowing its people to become involved:
Only when questions like these have been properly answered will the Church permit public recognition of an apparition. And this is precisely because of the high regard in which the Church holds Our Lord, His Blessed Mother, and the saints. And, because of the great concern which it has for souls—that they not be led down a false path away from true devotion to them.
But we are quite comfortable with the apparition commemorated last week; that of our Lady at Lourdes. It is one which has been well tested, and has been determined to be genuine.
Many many people have benefited from devotion to our Lady under this title. Many have been healed of physical and spiritual maladies; many have been drawn back to God and His Church
And it seems particularly fitting to ponder it as we begin the penitential season on this Septuagesima Sunday. For there is, perhaps, no better way to prepare for the holy season of Lent than with devotion to the Blessed Virgin, to her Rosary, and with attention paid to her message of penance, prayer, and healing.