She died at the early age of 35 in 1879 after a life full of suffering. We might ask what can we learn from someone like Bernadette, who lived in such a different society from our own and who was privileged to see the Blessed Virgin with her own eyes – something which very few people can realistically expect to happen to them.
But in reality, we can learn much from her life, since she wasn’t canonised because she was privileged to see apparitions of Mary, but rather because of her simplicity, humility, and total acceptance of suffering, all of which had transformed her into a true image of Christ.
She certainly knew poverty as a young girl, to the extent that her family eventually ended up living in a back room at the former jail in Lourdes, the Cachot, a place so unhealthy that no one else was prepared to live there. The whole family had to live in this one damp and dark room, having descended about as far down the social scale as was possible.
These poor living conditions meant that Bernadette became quite a sickly child, prone and used to suffering, particularly from asthma, as well as the after-effects of a cholera epidemic which retarded her growth. Her diet was poor, and she received very little education. At the time of the apparitions she could neither read nor write, although she was certainly not backward.
“She is so beautiful that when you have seen her once, you would wish to die in order to see her again.”
But they also meant much unwanted attention and even notoriety for her.
An attempt was made to declare her insane, and she had to endure much harassment, and there was also opposition from a darker source through a series of false apparitions which caused many to doubt Bernadette’s testimony.
And then, even after the apparitions had been approved by the Church, and Bernadette had entered the convent at Nevers, here too she had to endure much suffering. She received the last rites on a number of occasions, and even described her “job” as being sick. A tumour on her knee was particularly painful and her general condition meant she was often confined to bed for long periods.
We probably won’t have to endure anything like her sufferings, but Bernadette’s example shows that despite having the great privilege of seeing Our Lady, she was humble and loving enough to accept the sufferings of her later years, and that is something, we too, in a lesser way, can also do.