An important aspect of the Lourdes story is the terribly poor health of the seer Bernadette Soubirous. She had multiple health problems which precipitated her early death in 1879 at the age of only 35. She was given to understand that she was not to receive a restoration of her health by any miraculous means. When she was encouraged to seek a miraculous cure from Lourdes, she only replied, “The waters are not for me.”
This ill-health of Bernadette, however, was not caused from birth defects. Although she suffered mildly from asthma as a small child, her health was really destroyed when she fell sick from the cholera in 1855,at a time when a cholera epidemic was raging through the region. It is a kind of miracle that she even survived it when so many people were carried off by such a deadly disease. She was only eleven years old. Nonetheless, the ravages of the disease and the family’s fall into extreme poverty left permanent marks on Bernadette’s health.
The susceptibility of people to disease was exacerbated by famine in the 1840s. The region of Lourdes was affected. The Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1848) caused by the potato blight was a driver of mass immigration of the destitute Irish to the United States. In the message of Our Lady of La Salette to the two children Melanie and Maximin (September 19th, 1846), there was a warning of famine as a consequence of sin and irreligion. Already, the crops were failing in that region too.
In the present pandemic the WHO has warned of a concomitant “hunger pandemic” gathering force in many parts of the world. The ravages of the COVID-19 plague are falling especially hard on those with lower-incomes and on the poor in poor countries, and so will the ravages of hunger. At a time of such universal danger as we are in now, Catholics of faith have the most urgent need of access to the living Christ in the Holy Eucharist. This, however, is precisely what they do not have: partly on account of the conditions which a pandemic creates, partly on account of prudential judgments made by the civil authorities and by our own chief pastors. While we might have to outwardly submit to such prudential judgments we do not have to agree that they were the best decisions nor that they were the only responsible decisions to be had. In any case, the result is that much of the Catholic world is in a state of Eucharistic famine.
There is no such thing in the world of value as “fasting from the Eucharist.” There is only abstaining from the Eucharist (for personal reasons) or Eucharistic famine which, in itself, is a an unmitigated evil. We must join our prayers that this state of things will soon be changed.
Fortunately, we are not absolutely deprived of the graces of the Holy Eucharist. Behind the closed doors of our churches, we priests are still offering daily Mass for our people and for the world. There is also the great value of making, frequently, a “spiritual communion”. (I have placed the text of one such devotional prayer on the cover of this week’s bulletin, and below.) What is a worthy devotion in normal times becomes a life-line when sacramental Communion is suddenly cut-off. “Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, who hope in His merciful love, to rescue their souls from death, to keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 32:18-19)
(A devotional prayer especially useful when
one is prevented from receiving sacramental Communion)
I wish, my Lord, to receive Thee
with the same purity, humility,
and devotion with which
Thy Most Holy Mother received Thee,
as well as with the spirit
and the fervor of the Saints.