Share this story

 | By Rev. William Ashbaugh

Obey God! Our Lady of Lourdes and Healing 

I have been truly blessed to be able to go on various pilgrimages in my life. One of my favorite places to visit is Lourdes, France. 

There, in 1858, a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous received an apparition of our Blessed Mother 18 times. As we commemorate the anniversary of her death this month, it’s appropriate to call her life to mind.

Bernadette and her family were so poor that they lived in a small, condemned jail cell called the Cachot. I was shocked to see it! It was hard to believe that a whole family could survive there, but they managed with the help of God. 

Bernadette herself was a sickly girl of 14 who nearly died of cholera when she was 10. In her memoir, called A Short Life of Bernadette, she wrote: “I could not read or write at all. I spoke only patois, and the catechism was in French. After all day in the fields minding sheep, I was too tired to understand a word.” 

Because of that, Bernadette had not yet received Jesus in holy Communion. 

On Feb. 11, 1858, Bernadette went out early in the morning with her sister and a friend to pick up sticks for some firewood. The two went on ahead while she took off her stockings so she could cross a small stream. As she was doing so, she heard a noise like the sound of a storm, and a golden cloud came out of a nearby cave, flooding it with radiant light. In that light stood a beautiful lady.

The lady smiled at Bernadette and beckoned her to come closer. Bernadette knelt and tried to pray, but found she was too frightened to move. The Lady saw this and made the sign of the Cross, and then Bernadette could as well. The Lady let Bernadette pray, and when finished, she beckoned again for Bernadette to come closer, but Bernadette “did not dare.” She said the Lady “smiled at me and bowed to me,” and then disappeared as the golden cloud faded. 

This was to be the first of 18 total apparitions of our Blessed Mother to Bernadette. 

One of the beautiful characteristics of Bernadette was her obedience. She obeyed in so many ways and grew more and more in faith and prayer. Ultimately, she became a model of humility and obedience for all. When Our Lady first asked her to come back to the grotto, Bernadette said she would if she received permission from her parents. During the 11th apparition, Mary asked Bernadette to kneel and kiss the ground in humility in reparation for the sin of pride. She said very slowly and sadly, “repentance, repentance, repentance.” Bernadette did so, and it startled people. 

The very next day, Our Lady asked Bernadette to do a similar thing, this time adding the instruction to “Go, drink at the spring, and wash in it.” Bernadette had trouble understanding where our Lady meant at first, for she saw no spring, but eventually followed where Our Lady was pointing. She knelt again, dug in the ground until she eventually came to some muddy soil, and did her best to wash and drink. It was very revolting, for it was very muddy water. Still Bernadette obeyed. 

Later that afternoon, in the very place where Bernadette had dug, a stream of clear water began to flow. Soon, the people of Lourdes discovered this, and right away miracles began. The faith and obedience of Bernadette allowed God to do great and mighty things and they continue to this very day! An archive of all the healings can be found at

Bernadette continued to obey God and became a religious sister. She died at the young age of 36, remembering that our Blessed Mother could not promise her happiness in this life, but in the life to come. Bernadette accepted this and believed. Today we honor her as St. Bernadette. 

Healing comes to all of us when we do the same. We pray for physical healing, but the deep healing comes when we obey God. Our obedience heals the deep inner wound of pride and blesses others.

Today, Bernadette’s body remains incorrupt, an ongoing sign of where obedience to God leads. 

Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us!

Father William Ashbaugh is Pastor of Saint Thomas the Apostle in Ann Arbor.