The Book of Genesis testifies that the Garden of Paradise was sustained by a “stream welling up out of the earth that was watering the surface of the ground.” These words recall for me not only the mysterious event of creation, but another supernatural intervention that changed the life of an impoverished girl from a small town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees in France.
In the year 1858 in a provincial village called Lourdes, Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have seen a woman of unearthly beauty and uncanny grace. Bernadette’s claims were made all the more striking, if not bizarre, by the fact that this cultured lady appeared to her in what was then the town garbage dump- a cave known as the grotto of Massiebielle.
These visions continued, and it soon became clear that the beautiful lady was an earthly glimpse of the heavenly glory of the Mother of God. When Bernadette asked the lady her name the visitor replied, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The Immaculate Conception is the great truth of the Faith that testifies that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother without original sin. The lady then instructed Bernadette to bathe in the spring. Unable to find this source of water, she scratched the earth beneath the niche within which the lady stood and uncovered not only a source of water, but a stream of healing and hope.
Soon, crowds flocked to the site of the apparition, many claimed miraculous healings and later a magnificent shrine was built. The spring of Lourdes flows to this day, and pilgrims from all over the world seek consolation in its waters.
The waters of Lourdes take us back to a memory that endures in each of us of a paradise lost long ago and that stream that gave life to Eden at the beginning of the world. We still long for those waters because the memory of that paradise lost runs deep within our souls.
That lost stream of living water returns to us in Christ, who through the waters of Baptism offers us communion with his divine life. In those waters we are recreated and remade becoming not just dust of the earth but the children of God. Lourdes can be an evocation of the waters of our Baptism, waters in which our sin sick souls are healed- waters which flow to this day and are a divine river of mercy into which we are immersed, a river whose currents take us not back to a paradise lost, but a paradise of the living presence of God that is regained for us in Christ.