The water is freezing but somehow you don’t really notice, the women wrapping your unclothed body in a tired linen cloth speak broken English through thick accents but you understand their instructions perfectly well, the statue of Mary that sits at the edge of the baths is ruddied from having been kissed a thousand times. As you are submerged into the frigid spring waters in the healing baths at Lourdes, you are asked to tell Our Lady your prayer. A spiritual newbie, I didn’t really have one in mind, and honestly can’t remember what I ended up muttering that day. All I know is that a miracle happened to me at Lourdes. One that I wouldn’t fully recognize until years later.
Thousands of people flock to Lourdes every year seeking physical healing … wheelchairs crowd the lines to the healing baths, outnumbering the strollers of Disneyland lines tenfold. Severely disabled people come from near and far to seek healing in this special place that is known for its miracles. Nestled in the Pyrenees of Southwest France, its surrounding beauty is breathtakingly peaceful. Never before had I considered all those flocking to Lourdes seeking spiritual healing, nor did I realize that’s exactly why I was there that spring of 2013, since I certainly hadn’t set out to achieve such healing. I didn’t even know I was in need of such healing.
You see I was there on a whim (or so I thought). Living in London for a short time while my husband worked, I was determined to see as much of Europe as I could. Visiting 14 countries in 3 short months made much of our travel fast and furious. One to-do item on the travel checklist … visit one of my best friends in Paris. She and I decided to take a small plane from Paris to Lourdes and ‘check it out’ because my parents had loved it and after all, I was ‘kind of into my Catholic faith’.
Right before my dip in the healing baths, I decided to go to confession… also on a ‘whim’ … my first confession in many many, years. I, like many, had been (erroneously) afraid to return to this healing and grace-filled sacrament. In a sea of unwarranted fear, I decided that going to confession thousands of miles from home with a priest I would surely never see again would be the perfect place to lay it all out there on the table. Through tears of regret I shared all the wayward and destructive habits of my twenties, everything – big and small and in between – that had really kept me from our Lord. And then, as talented confessors often do, the priest asked, unscathed by what I considered to be an Augustine-like confession of all confessions, “is there anything else on your heart?” “Ummm … I don’t always go to Mass on Sundays,” I replied sheepishly.
And this, my friends, is where he perked up. The worst of the worst stuff that preceded this final afterthought of mine in confession left him completely unfazed (apparently priests hear much worse), but the skipping Mass part … that was cause for concern.
While ‘going to church every Sunday’ certainly does not make you a good Catholic, not going definitely does not help you to become the best Catholic son or daughter of God that you were made to be. First of all, Mass, and the Eucharist is the core of our faith; it truly is our ‘bread of life’, without which we remain empty of the food needed to sustain us for spiritual battle during the 167 other hours of the week. Secondly, going to Mass strengthens us to extend our faith into endless other areas of our life; prayer, service, family, etc. But none of this was the priest’s main concern. What he said to me would change my life forever…
“If you don’t go to Mass every Sunday, how will you ever expect your husband and future children to join you?“. In my naive 20-something year old head, I thought I could skip the obligatory stuff (Mass, etc.) and wait until I had kids, and then voila! our family would ‘figure the Church thing out.’ I had taken my duty of weekly Mass attendance (and all the graces that flow directly from it) for granted so much that I often opted for hikes and brunch with my husband on Sunday mornings instead; he wasn’t Catholic and so skipping Mass for other activities became almost too easy. I read between the lines that when the priest wondered if my family would ever ‘join me,‘ he meant not just at weekly Sunday Mass, but in this spiritual journey towards Heaven. And that was not something I wanted to mess around with.
The urging that this priest helped reveal in my heart that day led me to take seriously my duty and responsibility to go to weekly Sunday Mass… every single Sunday. Not sometimes. Not most times. All the time. And that was the start of my journey. Where this commitment has taken me since is too great to capture in a short post. I found out that I was pregnant with our first son a week after my trip to Lourdes. Since re-commiting to weekly Sunday Mass I have not missed it for any reason – through miscarriage, surgery, moving states, changing jobs, selling and buying homes, travel and even camping trips, Mass has been at the forefront of every weekend plan I have made in the last three years. This opened the gates to lead me back to regular confession, to create new prayer habits, attend periodic daily Mass, pray with my children, engage my husband in conversations about the faith, start a Catholic blog and faith formation apostolate, plan and participate in Catholic retreats, conferences, moms groups, fundraising efforts and more. The results have been abounding and rewarding beyond measure.
And perhaps most importantly, my husband has recently committed to attend Mass with me and our two boys, after 9 years together. I am filled with hope for the growth of our family’s faith life. I am also fully aware that this decision of his would not have come overnight, and would not have come without me seriously modeling my newfound unwavering commitment to my faith over the course of time.
Could this healing have come to me at a place other than Lourdes, and through a message delivered by someone other than a priest? Maybe. But it didn’t. It came only through the spiritual graces of healing attainted on what I didn’t even know at the time was a pilgrimage of faith.
If you’re seeking spiritual or physical healing … go and lay it at the feet of Jesus on the Cross. You can do this at Mass, on retreat, or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. What’s holding you back from beginning anew? God is waiting for you with open arms; he yearns to welcome you home. Go to God with all that you have to give – the good, the bad, and everything in between. The stuff you think is too big for Him, and the stuff you think is too small for Him. Trust me, He wants it all. He will transform your heart too, if you let Him.