Einstein once said, “There are two ways to live your life: One as though nothing is a miracle; the other as though everything is.”
A little over ten years ago, I made my first religious pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine of Lourdes. Six million people make the same journey every year to the southwest of France in search of physical and spiritual healing. Lourdes became famous when in 1858, the Virgin Mary, crowned and dressed in pure white, appeared to a poor shepherd girl named Bernadette eighteen times. In one of the holy apparitions, the Virgin Mary directed Bernadette to drink and wash herself from a spring that spontaneously burst forth inside a grotto, once the shelter for pigs. Since that time, thousands have experienced healing from its waters. There have been so many claims of true miracles at Lourdes that the Catholic Church now has an international medical committee, composed of the leading scientists, doctors, and theologians of the world to study and document the thousands of cases every year.
I was introduced to Lourdes a month after my son Charlie was diagnosed with cancer. A package arrived in the mail enclosed with a plastic bottle, small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. It was emblazoned with a religious screen print of the Virgin Mary, and read, Our Holy Lady of Lourdes. The bottle appeared to be filled with plain old water. Or was it the water of miracles? We were not in a place to question how God heals. Alongside the chemo, we anointed Charlie’s forehead, sometimes our own, with this mysterious holy water, prayed many a novena to St. Jude, rallied thousands to pray from all four corners of the planet, participated in dozens of healing services, and made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, all in the search of healing.
It doesn’t take long sitting in a hospital waiting room to learn the painful truth that healing does not always manifest as a cure. Why did Charlie survive when the child next to him did not? When you find yourself at the frightening edge of total vulnerability, whether as a result of an illness, a grave disappointment, betrayal, or painful loss, you yearn for something more, a greater truth, a healing that transcends our flesh and bone reality, and touches the soul.
I don’t remember much from my first visit to Lourdes. I arrived worn and weary from battle, but God was waiting there for me. As the nuns of Lourdes gently laid me down in the healing waters, my brave son, snug against my heart, I realized that God had always been there with me and always would be. At that moment, I dedicated my life after Charlie’s cancer to imparting this Hope and healing to others.
Over the last ten years, that original bottle of holy water has been filled and filled again. Every single night, in a beautiful ritual, my husband climbs the stairs, prayers upon his tongue, and blesses each one of our now five children with the holy water. Through my ministry, I have used the water to bless new life, give hope to the hopeless, and anoint the sick and dying. I am no closer in understanding the mysteries of the universe, but the water has taught me one important truth: We are never alone. God is with us. For me, that is the great miracle.
This Saturday, I will board the plane again for Lourdes with my mother, husband, and ALL five children to celebrate the ten year anniversary of our first pilgrimage. It promises to be an adventure for sure! I will arrive a much different person than I was ten years ago. And yet, my soul is just as in need of healing as the first time. Maybe more. I am ever hopeful that God will be there waiting for me in the waters again. Most importantly, I want to model for my children the life of a pilgrim. The search for God is the great adventure and the secret of true healing.
It would be an honor to take your prayers with me. I can tuck them into the rocks of the grotto. I can also light candles in the chapel on your behalf, and bring back holy water to share. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Live in Hope,