Sunday, August 24, 2008

“Never have I seen anyone make a bow with such grace and refinement...”


Bernadette Soubirous was a simple country girl who became like a noble by her contact with Our Lady

Bernadette was the dunce of her class and was frequently the butt of jokes. She often stood in the place of shame before the others as an example of ignorance and dullness.

Bernadette never resented this injustice nor thought it anything but the most natural thing in the world. Her eyes had a somewhat dreamy apathetic look that caused teachers to assume she was lazy or stupid. She was neither, but her sort of intelligence was of a kind not generally appreciated by the common run of people.

In contrast to her apathetic gaze, she could suddenly come out with a comment or answer so forthright and incisive that people were taken aback. Unable to fathom such directness, they mistook it for impertinence. Indeed, a lot of vivacity was hidden under that apathetic exterior, something very noticeable in some of the photographs taken of her.

This trait infuriated many an interrogator, from the Lourdes police chief, to the public prosecutor, and the local parish priest (who once threatened to run her out of his office with a broom), and Sister Vauzous, her disciplinarian mistress of novices.

Once a group of distinguished persons arrived to see her. The priest who led the delegation was frankly skeptical. “Let’s see if we can believe you,” he said. To which she replied: “It isn’t important if your reverence believes me.” The cleric, now quite irritated, added: “If you lie, you’re the cause of us making this long journey for nothing!”

Only to hear Bernadette shoot back: “But your reverence, I didn’t want to be the cause of your journey.” Answers like this were said with such simple honesty that they were mistaken for sarcasm.

When the apparitions ended Bernadette said “the lady” would not come to her again, that she was simply “a broom used for a while” and was now “no longer needed”. The applause of the crowds meant as little to her as did the threats of the police. When once told by an indiscrete visitor that her photograph was being sold for two sous (half a dollar) on every street corner in Lourdes she remarked with all sincerity “That is all I am worth.”

“Everything about Bernadette was simple, even common, at first sight”, wrote one who knew her well. “Her dress was plain but immaculately neat, indicative of self-respect and dignity amid poverty. When she spoke her unaffected language and her quiet earnest tone won one’s confidence.”

Her contact with the Queen of Heaven elevated all that was already good in her, to the point that many remarked she had become like a noble even in her outward appearance.

Franz Werfel writes in his Song of Bernadette: “The contact with the all-beautiful lady had not failed to affect her outer being. At sixteen the ailing girl was very beautiful. Nothing in her face recalled the common features of Francois and Louise Soubirous. A wholly alien subtilisation, never intended by Nature originally, shone from her face.

The roundness of her childish face had developed into a pale oval; under a well-modeled forehead the strangely apathetic eyes grew ever larger. The peasant raiment that Bernadette was accustomed to wear did not harmonize with this increasing distinction of aspect. Yet it was her desire not to look otherwise than her mother and sister.”

A witness to the apparitions, Jean-Baptiste Estrade, tells us: “ She usually ended her prayers with a profound reverence to the hidden lady. I have moved much in society and I have encountered models of elegance and distinction, but never have I seen anyone make a bow with such grace and refinement as did Bernadette. During the ecstasy the child also made the sign of the cross, and if the sign of the cross is made in heaven it can only be made in that manner.”

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