In 1858, the Immaculate Virgin Mary appeared eighteen times to the child Bernadette Soubirous in a grotto near Lourdes. The first apparition took place on February 11. Through this little girl, Our Lady calls sinners to conversion and to a greater spirit of prayer and charity, especially towards the most needy. She recommends the recitation of the Holy Rosary, a prayer with which we turn to our Mother as little children in need. Leo XIII approved this feast and Pius X extended it to the whole Church. Bernadette was beatified and canonized by Pius XI in 1925.
Four years after the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed, the Blessed Virgin appeared to a fourteen-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, in a grotto near Lourdes. The Virgin was so beautiful that it was impossible to describe her, says the Saint1. When years later the sculptor of the grotto asked Bernadette if her work, depicting the Virgin, resembled the apparition, she answered with great ingenuity and simplicity: "Oh, no, sir, not at all! It is nothing like it!". Our Lady is always more beautiful.
The apparitions went on for seventeen more days. The little girl asked Our Lady her name, and Our Lady "smiled sweetly". Finally, Our Lady revealed to her that she was the Immaculate Conception.
In Lourdes many wonders have taken place on bodies and even more on souls. Countless have been the healings, and many more have returned healthy from the various illnesses that can also afflict the soul, having recovered their faith, with a stronger piety or with a loving acceptance of the divine will.
The First Reading of the Mass proposes for our consideration the words of the Prophet Isaiah who consoled the chosen people in exile with the return to the holy city, where they would find consolation like a little child in his mother. For thus says the Lord: I will cause the riches of the nations to flow into her like a river of peace, like a flooding torrent. They will carry her children in their arms and caress them on their knees; as a child is comforted by its mother, so will I comfort you....
As we meditate on today's feast, we see how the Lord wanted to place in the hands of his Mother all the true riches that we men should implore, and he has left us in her the consolation of which we are so much in need. Those eighteen apparitions to little Bernadette are a call that reminds us of God's mercy, which is exercised through St. Mary.
Our Lady always shows herself to be the Health of the sick and the Consoler of the afflicted. As we pray today, we turn to her, for there are many needs around us. She knows them well, she listens to us wherever we are and wants us to turn to her protection. And this fills us with joy and consolation, especially on the feast we celebrate today. We go to Our Lady as children who do not want to depart from her: "Mother, my Mother...", we say to her in the intimacy of our prayer, asking her for help in the many needs that press upon us: in the apostolate, in our own interior life, in those in our care, and those for whom the Lord will ask us to give an account.