The Corner

WFB on Divine Love: Bill Buckley Goes to Lourdes

On February 11, Catholics celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

(I have a geek-out list with lots of links here.)

In his book, Nearer, My God, William F. Buckley Jr. devoted an entire chapter to Lourdes.

It begins asking: “Is the Lord through with miracles?” Which made me immediately think of Eric Metaxas and his recent book on miracles. (Which is an excuse to link to my Q&A with Eric here.)

And, short answer to the question might be: Look around. Carefully. Prayerfully. With eyes wide open. 

In Nearer My God, WFB briefly tells the story of a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, who reported an apparition of Mary in 1858, which would become a series of them. He talks about the investigating and the miracles that have surrounded the pilgrimage site there.

In 1994 he went to Lourdes to see it for himself (and wrote a cover piece for National Review): The pilgrims, so many of them sick and full of hope. Not everyone will find physical healing. But they may just grow in faith as Bernadette did on account of the Lady she encountered there.

In Nearer My God, he wrote:

The sense of the visit is rapidly communicated. There are thousands of gurneys (voitures, they are referred to) for the malades, the all-inclusive French word for the sick—again, propelled exclusively by volunteers. Perhaps every malade harbors the hope that he or she will be cured, but it is not reasonably expected; yet somehow it seems irrelevant as larger perspectives take hold. It is a part of the common faith that prayer can effect anything.

By way of example, he then quotes from the Memorare prayer:

Remember, most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy assistance, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided.

He goes on to say that “incantatory hyperbole is simply a ritualized form of docility.

WFB continues:

The sick who travel to Lourdes are there, yes, because of the undenialbility of recorded miracles, but that isn’t what brings as many as fifty thousand people a day to Lourdes, the great majority of them healthy. The reason so many people come, many of them on their second or tenth visit, is that what is effected is a sense of reconciliation, if not well-being. Hardly miraculous, unless one chooses to use the word as most appropriate for that buoyancy experienced on viewing the great processions, sharing with almost thirty thousand people an underground Mass, being lowered for three bracing seconds into one of the baths, suddenly noting the ambient serenity. These are Christians feeling impulses of their faith, and intimations of the lady in white.

They are in Lourdes because of this palpability of the emanations that gave birth to the shrine. The spiritual tonic is felt. If it were otherwise, the pilgrims would diminish in number; would, by now, have disappeared, as at Delphos, which one visits as a museum, not a shrine. What it is that fetches them is I think quite simply stated, namely a reinforced conviction that the Lord God loves His creatures, healthy or infirm; that they — we — must understand the nature of love, which is salvific its powers; and that although we are free to attempt to divine God’s purpose, we will never succeed in doing so. The reason is that we cannot know (the manifest contradictions are too disturbing) what is the purpose behind particular phenomena and therefore must make do with only the grandest plan of God, which treats with eternal salvation. Our burden is to keep the faith: to do this (the grammar of ascent) requires the discipline of submission, some assurance that those who are stricken can, even so, be happy; and that the greatest tonic of all is divine love, which is nourished by human love, even as human love is nourished by divine love.



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