The 14 year old peasant girl named Bernadette was with her sisters Toinette and Jeanne collecting firewood to sell in order to buy bread, when suddenly she heard the sound of two gusts of wind, blowing in the direction of a niche in the rock, where a single rose was growing.
So she walked closer and heard a third gust of wind, and in the place where the rose was growing, she saw a lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, and from the niche there streamed a dazzling bright light.
Thus was the first vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lourdes to Saint Bernadette 157 years ago.
Notice the apparition began with a driving wind, three winds, which blew from heaven to the stone niche where the lady dressed in white would reveal the mystery of her coming.
Wind is a curious thing. We can’t trace where it has comes from and we can’t see exactly where it ends up. It’s most like a flame or a breath exhaled. Indeed, that’s why there is only one word in Hebrew for breath or fire or driving wind. The word is ruah, and we hear it in the reading from Genesis today.
God picks up a handful of dirt (the Hebrew word for dirt is adamah), and into it he breathes the ruah…the spirit, breath, fire, driving wind. And the adamah is changed by the breath of God into Adam, man.
It’s like the Christ, who is born of the Virgin. You see it in a lot of late medieval Italian paintings of the Annunciation, as the Angel appears to Mary and just behind her is a long drape covering an open window, blowing in the wind. It’s as if the spirit, the breath of God, the ruah is overpowering her, incarnating life in her virginal womb, bringing forth Emmanual, the Christ to set us free.
So on this feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, let us ask God to renew the life he first breathed into our flesh.
And let us ask Our Lady to beg him to heal us. To heal whatever is broken, diseased or tired. Our faith. Our love. Our hope. Our hearts. Our minds. Our bodies. Let us beg the Lady dressed in white, to pray to her son, through whom she and we were made, to send forth his Spirit once again, to renew the face of the earth.
Here is the prayer they pray in Lourdes this day:
Mary, you showed yourself to Bernadette in the crevice of the rock. In the cold and grey of winter, you brought the warmth, light and beauty of your presence. In the often obscure depths of our lives, in the depth of the world where evil is so powerful, bring hope, return our confidence! Give us the humility to have a change of heart, the courage to do penance. Teach us to pray for all people.
Guide us to the source of true life. Make us pilgrims going forward with your Church, whet our appetite for the bread for the journey, the bread of life. The Spirit brought about wonders in you, O Mary : by his power, he has placed you near the Father, in the glory of your eternal Son. Look with kindness on our miserable bodies and hearts. Shine forth for us, like a gentle light, at the hour of our death.
Glory to you, Virgin Mary, blessed servant of the Lord, Mother of God, dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Amen.