Prayer and fidelity: Essential to discern one’s vocation

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Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes at the Eighth-Grade Vocations Mass at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Annandale.

I am going to talk about two women. Why? Because today, we celebrate in the Liturgy the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. I bet that you are thinking that the first woman about whom I will speak is Our Blessed Mother. Of course, I will - but later, because, first of all, I want to talk about the other woman, Saint Bernadette Soubirous, who was about your age when something amazing happened to her.

On this date in 1858 - over 150 years ago - 14-year-old Bernadette went to gather wood with her sister and a neighborhood friend in her village of Lourdes in France. She got separated from the others, and while she was alone, she saw an amazing sight: a beautiful woman dressed in dazzling white with bright yellow roses on her feet. The woman was holding a rosary, so in silence, Bernadette took out her rosary and began to pray with this beautiful stranger. When they finished, the lady disappeared, and Bernadette was filled with a great sense of peace and a desire to pray with this lady some more.

When Bernadette told her friends and parents about the mysterious woman, her mother and father forbade her from going back to the grotto. In hindsight, we know something they did not know: The mysterious woman was the Blessed Mother, so there was nothing to fear. Bernadette was cautious, but still desired to pray with the woman again. So a few days later, she went to the same spot, prepared to meet the woman again. This time Bernadette not only had her rosary, she also had a bottle of holy water(!), and when the mysterious woman appeared to pray with her, Bernadette sprinkled a whole bottle of holy water on her saying, "If you are from God, stay; if not, go away!" After being doused, the Blessed Mother simply looked at Bernadette with kindness and smiled. She did not go away.

Over the next several months, Our Lady appeared to Bernadette a total of 16 more times in the grotto. In one of her messages to Bernadette, Our Lady asked that a shrine be built in her honor at the grotto where she appeared, and, in time, a beautiful church was built to honor Mary called the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. Today, countless pilgrims go to visit each year to pray with Our Lady, and dozens of confirmed miracles have occurred there. Some among us here have visited this beautiful shrine: I did in September of 2009.

Our Gospel today reminds us that Mary is the source of many great gifts because she directs us to Jesus. At the wedding feast at Cana, Mary tells the servants to go to Jesus with this advice: "Do whatever He tells you to do." Mary teaches us that the best thing she can do for us is lead us to her Son, because He is the source of our strength, our healing and our salvation.

Saint Bernadette - who was canonized a saint in 1933 - also teaches us about becoming more like Jesus, becoming holy. The first lesson: Have an active prayer life. When Mary first appeared in the grotto holding a rosary, Saint Bernadette quickly took out the rosary she carried with her and began to pray. We would be wise to imitate Saint Bernadette by carrying a rosary with us at all times. We would be even wiser if we took time each day to pray the rosary - even if only for a decade - that we may come to know and love Mary more and more and, in turn, come to know and love her Son through our prayers and Mary's motherly intercession.

The second lesson we can learn from Saint Bernadette: Be persistent in trying to be faithful to the Lord. Because nobody could see or hear the Blessed Mother during the apparitions in Lourdes except Saint Bernadette, many people - including her parents - did not believe her. Many thought she was lying to them, and others even thought that Bernadette had lost her mind.

But the young Bernadette remained faithful to prayer and faithful to spending time with Our Blessed Mother, even when it would have been easier to stay away from the grotto. She wanted to be with Our Lady, no matter what the others thought. At one point, when she was feeling persecuted by others, Saint Bernadette asked Our Lady why people were making this so hard for her. Mary told her, "I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the other." And then Our Lady asked Bernadette to remain faithful to her prayer, knowing that would strengthen her and bring her peace.

After the apparitions, Saint Bernadette prayed for help in discerning a vocation. Because she was so famous due to the apparitions of Mary, many women religious wanted her to join their order knowing that if she did, she would bring them a lot of attention. But Bernadette remained faithful to prayer, which helped her stay humble in order to discern the plan of God for her life. Her prayer led her to choose a life with the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, France, with whom she became a postulant at the age of 21, a novice at 22, and a professed sister at the age of 23.

As young people, you, too, are at a time when you are still discerning what God has planned for each one of you. He does, in fact, have a plan for your adult life. Like Saint Bernadette's plan of life, her vocation, the plan of life which God wills and intends for you, for your own inner fulfillment and for the good of others, will become clearer to you as you continue to pray; that is, as you continue to be open to the Lord, saying honestly to Him: "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." You are a person created by God out of love, with different gifts and talents that He would like to use to build up His Kingdom and bring many people to Him.

For some of you that will be marriage, a sacrament revealing in the love of husband and wife the love of Christ for His Bride, the Church. For others, that will be the consecrated life as a religious priest, deacon, brother or sister. Some young men here today are being called to the priesthood. Whatever your specific vocation is, know that when we follow Saint Bernadette's model of eagerness in prayer and persistence in being faithful, we more readily follow whatever path God has chosen for us in this life.

Let us pray to Our Lady, that she may bring us closer to her Son Jesus, and the specific path He has laid out for each one of us in our adult life. I know the path God has pointed for me: to be the Bishop of Arlington with so many collaborators in building up this portion of Christ's Mystical Body!

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015