Common Wisdom: Two Trips to Lourdes

It was a spring to try our souls. Clinton’s justification of infanticide in the partial-birth abortion ban veto and the decisions by the Ninth and Second Circuits to promote assisted suicide gave shocking reminders—lest we forget—that the serpent yet slithers through the world, spewing venom most dangerously from those whose commission is to protect the innocent under the rule of law.

In the face of these further alarms that our republic is unraveling, I was looking for signs of hope. Of course, I found them. One always does, and, as usual, they were far away from the seats of power.

In Lourdes, in May, Our Lady quietly rejected all the violation of innocent human life for which a perverse president and Court could possibly agitate. Our Lady’s pilgrims processed by day, thousands of them, singing the Tantum Ergo as they filed slowly ahead of the monstrance bearing the Blessed Sacrament, along a path lined with more pilgrims kneeling in adoration. By night the pilgrims processed while reciting the rosary, finishing each decade with choruses of Ave Maria and holding aloft thousands of flickering candles.

Many of the pilgrims were sick. They came to bathe in the healing waters of the spring that gushed forth when Mary appeared to St. Bernadette and asked her to dig in the dry, barren earth at the grotto. They came in all varieties, these pilgrims, on canes, in wheelchairs, in voitures pushed by their friends. Some did not look ill; others looked desperately ill; many were paralyzed or handicapped. Yet all of us there were somehow in the same boat, all in need of healing, both physical and spiritual, all of us afflicted in our human condition by sin and sorrow and suffering.

Our group of 250 Knights and Dames of Malta took to Lourdes forty-seven malades. My husband and I were honored to have as the malade assigned to us the heroic Bishop Austin Vaughn, noted scholar and veteran of Operation Rescue. Our malades taught and inspired us, giving us far more than we could give them. Whatever their ailments, they remained dignified and serenely patient. Yet they are the very ones whom our therapeutic society would now put in danger of extermination. None of us dwelled on misery, however. Instead we rested in the quiet peace of Mary’s shrine. Peace, we note, is always a mark of reverence for life, always a mark of Mary’s watchfulness over life.

Three weeks after our return from Lourdes, I met another sign of hope, an affirmation that Mary and her Son love not only human life in all its forms but also the institution of marriage through which the human person comes into the world. My niece Emily was married to Dan, the boy whom our family enfolded as soon as we met him. The wedding took place—appropriately—at the Indianapolis church of Our Lady of Lourdes. The wedding rings were blessed with water from Lourdes. And when Emily in her radiance hugged me after the wedding, she said, “Look, Aunt Anne!” and opened her hand to reveal the blue rosary we had brought her from Lourdes.

Emily’s wedding at Lourdes has given me pause to consider the blessings of being an aunt not only to Emily and Dan but also to Seth and Michelle, Elizabeth, and John. An aunt is a friendly, doting relation, an extra cushion in the family padding of protection around a child. If an aunt is not a mother, she is next best to a mother and grandmother—and plenty of aunts by necessity have stepped naturally into a mother’s shoes. Aunts also produce cousins, who in turn offer the possibility of lifelong friendships founded on clan birthday parties and summer vacations, girlish revels in old dress-up clothes, and late-night confidences whispered between hunk beds.

As years have passed, my role of aunt has moved from that of play supervisor and family reunion coordinator to that of friend. My brother’s children have grown up with mine. Somehow, miraculously, all our little barbarians grew up to become civilized, engaging adults. Now that all but one of our children are in their twenties, the joy of an aunt is to sit down with my brother’s children and chat with them about their interests in wildlife biology, Shakespeare, poetry writing, or history. The best talk is about life—their loves, their work, their education, their hopes for the future.

Most rewarding is to see how my brother’s children unite with my own children to make a domestic church. How stalwart they all are, how faithful. The more the world opposes their credo, the tougher becomes this band of cousins. How so, my brother and I wonder. Our Lady of Lourdes knows the answer. It is grace.


Mrs. Anne Husted Burleigh is a free-lance writer, mother, and grandmother who lives on a farm overlooking the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. She has written two books: John Adams, a Biography, and Journey up the River: a Midwesterner’s Spiritual Pilgrimage. She has contributed to many publications, including Crisis and Catholic Dossier, and now writes for Magnificat.

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