Recently, on my birthday, my mother was here in my house telling me how she remembered the happy day 46 years ago when she picked me up in her arms for the first time. Beside her, in the maternity ward, was another mother, a mother of six children who were never born. Yes, that’s right, beside my mother there was a woman recovering from her sixth miscarriage… My mother still remembers today her face and the tenderness with which she looked at me.
In life, and cost what it may to believe, everything is a gift. Both fertility and infertility. Health and sickness. Wealth and poverty. Have you read this month’s Monthly Teaching? Have you shared it in your parish or meditated on it in your Village of Cana? Have you prayed it in your family?
One of my favorite readings is this magnificent text that I shared, in part, in the Monthly Teaching and that I share here now in full, the “spiritual testimony” of Saint Bernadette, the visionary of Lourdes. Bernadette never actually wrote it herself since she never learned how to write, and wouldn’t even have been able to express herself in this way. But from her words and silences, from the bits and pieces of prayers that the sisters of the convent heard her say, and in the way she lived and died, the writer Marcelle Auclair was able to compose this text:
“For the poverty in which my mother and father lived, for the failure of the mill, all the hard times, for the awful sheep, for constant tiredness, thank you, my God! For lips, which I was feeding too much, for the dirty noses of the children, for the guarded sheep, I thank you! Thank you, my God, for the prosecutor and the police commissioner, for the policemen, and for the harsh words of Father Peyramale! For the days in which you came, Mary, for the ones in which you did not come, I will never be able to thank you…only in Paradise.
For the slap in the face, for the ridicule, the insults, and for those who suspected me for wanting to gain something from it, thank you, my Lady. For my spelling, which I never learned, for the memory that I never had, for my ignorance and for my stupidity, thank you.
For the fact that my mother died so far away, for the pain I felt when my father instead of hugging his little Bernadette called me, “Sister Marie-Bernard”, I thank you, Jesus. I thank you for the heart you gave me, so delicate and sensitive, which you filled with bitterness. For the fact that Mother Josephine proclaimed that I was good for nothing, thank you. For the sarcasm of the Mother Superior: her harsh voice, her injustices, her irony and for the bread of humiliation, thank you.
Thank you that I was the privileged one when it came to be reprimanded, so that my sisters said, “How lucky it is not to be Bernadette. Thank you for the fact that it is me, who was the Bernadette threatened with imprisonment because she had seen you, Holy Virgin; regarded by people as a rare animal; that Bernadette so wretched, that upon seeing her, it was said, “Is that it?”
For this miserable body which you gave me, for this burning and suffocating illness, for my decaying tissues, for my de-calcified bones, for my sweats, for my fever, for my dullness and for my acute pains, thank you, my God. And for this soul which you have given me, for the desert of inner dryness, for your night and the lightening, for your silences and your thunders, for everything. For you-when you were present and when you were not—thank you, Jesus.”