A Lesson from St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes: Experience First

Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes in stained glass

Bernadette Soubirous was a young girl of 14 when Our Lady appeared to her, about the age of the young people in my class. She didn’t have much education, but still she was chosen to receive the visions of Lourdes. St. Bernadette helps me to remember that it’s about the experience first. While it’s important to know the facts of our faith and be able to articulate what we believe, first there must be an experience of faith.

As catechists, we are called to facilitate encounters with Christ. While we can’t call down Our Lady to appear on command and bring us a visible sign of her Son, we can and should pray for her intercession in our cause to share the faith with young people. We also have a responsibility to establish an environment of prayer in which we can encounter Christ with those we serve. Many still flock to Lourdes to walk on the holy ground there. But all is holy when we remember that we can talk to Mary and Jesus anywhere. Lourdes shows us one beautiful environment for prayer, with its lovely grotto, several churches, and the waters of the Gave River. We can enter any local beautiful spot that inspires us to experience the divine, whether it be a local shrine, a peaceful garden, or even a corner set aside in our homes or classrooms for prayer. A classroom prayer table or corner is a visible sign of an environment of prayer, but the climate will also need quiet (possibly enhanced by music) and an atmosphere conducive to meeting Christ in prayer that includes a respect for all participants and appropriate aids to prayer, such as prayer cards, worship aids, or reflection prompts. We catechists can’t assume that young people will know the words to a prayer just because we know the prayer, so we must help them to become familiar with different prayers and forms of prayers.

Similarly, while we are setting the environment for prayer and encounters with the Lord, we cannot be afraid to introduce Church doctrine. The young people may not grasp the meaning right away, but we owe them the opportunity to explore our faith as it really is, not as they might hear from less-informed sources. Bernadette had not heard the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception before meeting Our Lady at the grotto. The term didn’t have meaning for her right away, but Mary didn’t shy away from using it with Bernadette. With the combination of prayerful environment and strong content, we can walk confidently with our young people on their journey to Christ.

What lesson have you learned from any of the Marian apparitions? How might you apply that lesson to your teaching? How do you create a climate of encounter in your faith formation setting?

This post was inspired by the book Little Lessons from the Saints by Bob Burnham.

About Denise Gorss 115 Articles
Denise Gorss is a catechist with more than 20 years experience, mostly in junior high. She appreciates the gifts of Ignatian spirituality and likes sharing various types of prayer with the young people in her groups. She enjoys seeing the world on pilgrimages and lives in the Chicago area, where she works as Web Editor at Loyola Press.

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