Lourdes of Miracles

The incorrupt body of St. Bernadette SoubirousMy article from the February ’09 isssue of Catholic Insight. Enjoy!

One of the greatest evidences for the veracity of the Catholic Church has been her miracles. Fitting, for her founder offered the same credentials for his own life and work:

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (John 14:11). The sheer concentration of the miraculous in the life of Christ was a “sign” (in fact, John’s Gospel calls Jesus’ miracles just that, “signs”) that God was powerfully moving in and through him – yes, even as him, to advance his saving plan for the world.

This continued, of course, through his followers, who did even “greater things than these” (John 14:12), because, in the apostolic age, Jesus was now performing his mighty works through ordinary humans. Peter’s mere shadow would heal the sick (Acts 5:15). A handkerchief that had touched Paul would do the same, casting out demons, too (Acts 19:11-12).

But miracles like this, which help authenticate the Gospel, are not limited to the time of Christ and the apostles. Every age in the Church has been marked by the miraculous. In the Catholic Church, miracles literally never cease.

This February, we celebrate the feast day of a saint whose life was touched by myriad miracles, all of which give stunning testimony to Catholic truth. Saint Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), only 14, encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary in the grotto of Lourdes in the South of France on February 11, 1858, though at the time, she did not know who it was.

Bernadette was a poor peasant girl, not afforded formal religious education. When, on March 25, “the Lady” (as Bernadette called her) told her in the local dialect, “Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou” (“I am the Immaculate Conception”), her pastor could hardly believe it. Four years earlier, the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception had been proclaimed by the Vatican. But Bernadette would have had no way of knowing, less understanding, what this meant.

Another impressive confirmation of God’s action at Lourdes was the miraculous stream unearthed by Bernadette at Mary’s behest. These waters have been the source of innumerable healings over the years, inexplicable by natural means.

Unlike some modern “visionaries” and spirituality gurus, she shunned publicity and refused to profit from her experiences (she would never have appeared on Oprah). Her fame was her cross, and her later consecrated life in the convent of Nevers did not spare her this. She often would taste the bitter jealousy of her fellow Sisters of Charity.

Although Bernadette’s Lourdes has been the source of so much healing, the saint’s own life, as is often the case, was marred by sickness and suffering. She died at only 35, but God saved one of his greatest graces for Bernadette until after her death. Her body was found to be incorrupt, and is today the most beautiful of all the incorrupts in the Church’s history.

I have a friend named Brad, a Protestant. For months I tried to explain to him the truth of Catholicism, but no argument moved him. After my wife and I returned from our honeymoon in Rome, we showed Brad and his wife pictures from our travels. I was hoping our visits to the Vatican and the luminous churches of the Eternal City would attract them to the beauty of the Faith. However, I had forgotten that family photos usually only interest one’s family! Predictably, they were bored to tears.

But as I flipped through our slideshow, I noted, “Oh, and here’s the incorrupt body of Pope John XXIII”. “Whoa! Hold on a minute”, he said. “Go back to that slide. What?” Brad was incredulous. My carefully constructed theological arguments never piqued his curiosity, but the miraculous did.

A question for Brad and others like him is this: Why does the Catholic Church alone boast of the continuous presence of miracles in her midst? Why would God preserve so many Catholic saints incorrupt? One simply does not see this in other Christian traditions. The incorrupt bodies of saints like Bernadette, no longer speaking in audible words, give eloquent testimony to the incorruptibility of the Catholic Church herself.

16 replies
  1. Mikey
    Mikey says:

    The Vatican itself has stated that the condition of Pope John XXIII’s body is no miracle, just the result of a more thorough preservation by humans. To lie to your friend about this as part of your mission to convert him to Catholicism seems to me immoral.

    Now on to the larger issue. The fact that miracles appear in the gospel is not in itself proof of their authenticity. To make this claim is glib and disingenuous, and only serves as proof that anything can be asserted as fact when blind faith is applied.

  2. St. Albert the Great
    St. Albert the Great says:

    I’m not sure about Mikey’s John XXIII remark. If it is true, Mikey should have supported his claim with a reference. “Try it, Mikey, you’ll like it”. Sorry, can’t get that old Life cereal commercial out of my mind.

    Now, the second part of Mikey’s post. I’m not sure what to make of it. The fact that miracles appear in the gospel is not proof of their authenticity? If Christ multiplied loaves and fishes to feed 5 thousand, what does that mean? That there is a natural explanation? Or is Mikey suggesting that although the gospels may contain certain narratives about miracles, that does not mean they ever happened? In other words, they were just made up?

    Was it made up that Christ rose from the dead? That he healed many of their diseases? That he cured the two blind men? That he raised a young girl from the dead, not to mention Lazarus? If anyone thinks that all these things were just fabricated, how does he explain Christ’s popularity? I think I’d argue that there’s more blind faith in rationalism than there is in the biblical testimony of miracles. The difference is that the faith of the rationalist is directed towards himself.

    In any case, consider Padre Pio, the stigmata, the witnesses of this, the medical testimony, the testimony of his bilocation. Just attend a healing service with Fr. Ralph DiOrio and witness all sorts of miracles. A great book to read is Alexis Carrel’s book The Voyage to Lourdes. He was a skeptic, until he was invited to accompany a dying patient to Lourdes. He describes what happened under his very nose one night. He was stunned. He knew his patient could not have been healed psychosomatically. It’s quite interesting. I can post that section, I have the book.

    The thing about miracles, though, is that God always leaves room for doubt. They still require faith. God gives us enough room to doubt the miracle, so there’s even merit in believing that a miracle occurred, the merit that comes from the virtue of faith.

    I thought Cale’s article was one of the best I’ve read.

  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    You may want to explain to Brad that what he is actually looking at in that photo is a wax mask covering the face and hands of a preserved corpse. Encourage him to seek out info about other ‘incorruptibles’. He won’t be particularly impressed with the photos of the others. They look like creepy mummies…but at least they’re not fake…

  4. admin
    admin says:

    Thanks for reading, everyone.

    Mikey: I’m still waiting for some evidence regarding your assertion that the Vatican says the body of “Good Pope John” is no miracle. Obviously, if that is true, I’ll stop referencing his particular case as belonging to the “incorruptibles”. By the way, I’m not “lying” to my friend, because as far as I know, he is incorrupt. Besides, the evidence of the incorruptible saints are hardly the crux of my argument as to the authenticity of the Church.

    Back to Pope John for a moment – even if you are correct (again, I have yet to see any official statement that he’s not incorrupt), that still doesn’t negate the evidence of all the other cases…St Bernadette (the crux of the article, was, after all, about her), St. Padre Pio (a quick Google image search on him will provide plenty of evidence that his own recently unearthed body was found incorrupt), and all the other incorruptible saints of the Catholic Church.

    Also, what of the numerous healing miracles reported at Lourdes? As far as the miracles recorded in the Gospels being allegedly bogus…give the ancients some credit. They were not easily duped. For example, we still can’t figure out exactly how they built the Egyptian pyramids without the aid of hydraulics. Jesus’ own contemporaries thought he was a miracle worker, and this is recorded by secular historians of the time (I’d be happy to provide some references if you’re interested). “St Albert’s” above comment is quite relevant to the issue as well, regarding God intentionally leaving room for faith.

    John: “No one can have skin like that after being dead for so long.” I agree that this is not naturally possible. But that’s the point: it’s a supernatural miracle.

    Mary: A thin layer of wax cannot prevent a body from decomposing. I’m not sure if that’s what you were trying to say – please correct me if I’m wrong here. Are you suggesting that the bodies of Bernadette and Pope John are artificially preserved? If so, do you have any evidence for that?

    Again, thanks for taking the time to read, folks!

    Cale Clarke

  5. Raynold Paranoor Ittoop
    Raynold Paranoor Ittoop says:

    Miracle is the one which cannot be explained by normal intelligence.
    Jesus himself was a miracle but how many believes in him now and who believes in an eternal hell after death. I personaly believe that millions go to hell and a very few go to Heaven. Real miracle will happen after death only, when we see Hell and heaven, where we cannot decide to choose.

  6. PAUL
    PAUL says:

    Hi;

    Bernadette is covered with a wax mask, although the body was in a good state of incorruptability. Padre Pio was the same, in good condition, but not perfect. Again, a wax mask was used at his “viewing” in recent months.

    Faith need not be based upon such elements as these. Pope John XXIII, as the Vatican admits, is not a miracle per se, but he, too, is remarkably well-preserved.

    I do not need well-preserved corpses to prove anything to me.

    Thanks

  7. Debra
    Debra says:

    Everyone talks of miracles that happened from the water at Lourdes, can you tell me thoses miracles. I have just been to Lourdes, and truly it is a special, calm and overwhelming place, but the lines of ill, tortured, suffering people who have come there for a miracle, what happens to their faith when it does not occur. Why are some people granted miracles, why not give the entire world a miracle, oh I know we have been given freedom of choice, but why should that stop a miracle occuring to save at least the young hungry and suffering children of the world. Suffer little childred to come unto me, what does that mean. I have yet to read of a miracle of healing ordained by the Church that has been due to the grotto at Lourdes, (which by the way is encased in perspex or some such thing and you cant touch the grotto itself), just through the taps. The Lady never said the grotto water was miraculous, she was testing Bernadette’s faith by asking her to wash her face in the spring but there was only dirt, but Bernadette did wash in the dirt and the Lady mad it a spring. Where does it say it has healing powers.

  8. michelle
    michelle says:

    such abeatiful picture of a beatiful saint people realy need to belive with out seeing this is acreal picture and she isbvery real please pray or are famliy conversionsalvation peace delivrenvce healing st bernatte please interceedfor michael megan michelle saran and barbaraanbd are famliy tree we need your help in every way lead us the right path i know how real you jesus mary god are

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  10. Blake
    Blake says:

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