Guest blogger Yvette Piggush shares reflections about her recent trip to Lourdes, France. This is the final in a series.
Souvenir shops in Lourdes sell many kinds of water bottles: gallon jugs, plastic bottles shaped like Mary with a screw-off crown, spray bottles, and tiny, jewel-like glass bottles. I had only seen water from Lourdes reverently stored in these special containers. In my experience, people regarded this water almost as a kind of miracle-working juice, one drop of which could defeat cancer or mend a broken heart. At the shrine, by contrast, the water was so abundant it almost seemed ordinary. People collected it using regular water bottles and they spilled it everywhere in the process. No one acted as though a drop or two would change their lives. Yet, in February 2018, the Catholic Church officially recognized the seventieth miracle attributed to Lourdes (https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/its-a-miracle-lourdes-healing-officially-declared-supernatural-84194).
St. Bernadette insisted that Lourdes water was not a magic potion. “One must have faith and pray,” she urged, “the water will have no virtue without faith.” The spring had its origins in an act of penance. In her apparition on February 25th, Mary directed Bernadette to scrape water out of the muddy ground at the back of the grotto and to drink and wash with it as a sign of penitence. Disgusted, Bernadette spit out the murky brew several times before managing to swallow some of it and to smear the rest on her face. People thought she had gone insane.
Struggling for a way to say goodbye to Lourdes, I recalled Mary’s instructions to Bernadette. I went to the taps, cupped my hands, and drank, spilling water everywhere. I then took another handful of water and poured it on my head. I realized that I like bottles too much. Open gestures of faith are difficult for me. Yet faith, like water, needs to be poured out in order to have any effect. The most penitential experience I could muster in the moment was braving my friend’s quizzical look at my dripping face. But, just as the water has no virtue without faith, so too does our faith lack virtue if it is not like water, poured out, spilling over, and making us look a little silly for Christ.