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28/07/2010: General House - Rome





Only ten years ago, if someone had said to me that one day I would be interested in Lourdes, I wouldn’t have believed them.  It is only little by little that what happened at Lourdes came to mean something to me, particularly the biblical connotations of its message, and the liturgical coincidences at the time of the apparitions.


Today I am choosing two biblical signs which are specially meaningful to me: Water and the Rock.  I could have chosen others, such as light or wind, and in particular, if I had had time, I would have looked for what the Jewish tradition says about Rock and Water.


I’m going to limit myself to what happened during the Ninth Apparition.  We will see that wáter heals, wáter flows from the Rock, wáter symbolises the Spirit, and this wáter is living wáter.


The Ninth Apparition


It was 25 February 1958.  It was Lent, and this date was in the middle of the week when Mary had asked of Bernadette : « …Please do me the favour of coming here for a fortnight. »  The day before, « Aquero » (as she called her, in Lourdes dialect) spoke about penance, and told Bernadette to pray for sinners.


On this 25 February, Bernadette began making strange gestures, went to the « Gave » (the river, in Bernadette’s dialect), returned to the Grotto and began to scrape the ground with her hands.  She tried to drink the mud which rose up from the hole, and rubbed some on her face, dirtying it.  No one understood what she was doing, and they thought she was out of her mind.

Later, when asked why she had done it, she said calmly : « Aquero  said to me : Go and drink from the fountain, and wash in it », and she added, « for sinners ».  The muddy water which oozed from the hole that Bernadette had made, was to become clearer.  At first there was only a little water, but then it became more and more abundant.  The mud became more and more pure : it is a wonderful symbol of conversion from sin.


Very soon the inhabitants of Lourdes suspected how important this water was, and in that same afternoon they came to collect two bottles of it, one for a sick child and the other for someone who was blind in one eye.  On 1st of March, the first inexplicable healing took place, which was to be recognised by the Church : Catherine Latapie, from the village of Loubajac, had her arm healed.


Lourdes water is a healing water, it  heals the sick, but above all, it heals hearts.  Personally, I find that « the great miracle of Lourdes is tenderness ».  When you go to the sanctuary, it is striking to see the affection shown to the sick, the poor, the little ones.


Water that heals


In the Bible, as in ordinary life, water is a source of life and of purification.


In the vision of Ezekiel 47, the water coming out of the temple has the following characteristics : « The water was flowing from below the threshold of the Temple toward the east (for the temple faced east)… the water was coming out on the south side.. »

Ezekiel 47, 8b-9 : « This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah ; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh.  Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. »

Ezek 47, 12 : « On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food.  Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.  Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. »


In Isaiah, God asks the people to wash in order to be purified : Isa 1,16a: « Wash yourselves ; make yourselves clean ; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes. »

And we see in Leviticus this advice given to one suffering from leprosy,: « He shall wash his clothes, and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean. » - Lv 14,9b.

In Psalm 51,2 we read : « Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin ! »

And in Zechariah : « On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity » - Zech 13,1.

This purifying water is given to us by God :  « I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses… » - Ezek 36,25.


The water comes from the rock


It is when she gets into the rock of Massabielle, that Bernadette finds the spring of water.


In the Book of Exodus, God says to Moses : Ex 17,6 : « Strike the rock and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink. »

In the Bible, God is often compared to a rock :

Ps 95,1 : « O come let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation .»

Ps 144,1 : « Blessed be the Lord, my rock… »

Ps 18,2 : « The Lord is my rock and my fortress… »

And in 2 Sam 22,3 : « My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge.. »

He is the only Rock : Ps 18, 32 : « For who is God except the Lord ? Who is a rock, beside our God ? »

And God himself calls himself a Rock :

Isa 44,8b : « Is there any god besides me ? There is no other rock ; I know not one. »

And in the canticle of Moses, just before he dies, we find : Deut 32,4 : « The Rock, his work is perfect.. »


The episode of water gushing from the rock has so marked the history of Israel that it is mentioned several times in the Bible :

The story is retold in Numbers : Num 20,11 : « Then Moses lifed up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. »


It is also mentioned in the Psalms, the Prophets and the Wisdom writings.

Ps 78, 15-16 : « He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them to drink abundantly as from the deep.  He made streams come out of the rock, and caused water to flow down like rivers .»

In Isa 48,21 : « They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts, he made water flow for them from the rock .»

In Wisdom 11,4 : « When they were thirsty they called upon you, and water was given them out of flinty rock, and from hard stone, a remedy for their thirst. »


Paul speaks of this, and tells us that Christ too is a Rock :

1 Cor 10,4 : « …They all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. »


Jesus tells us, during the Feast of Tabernacles, that it is from him that water is flowing : « On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.» Jn 7,37.


Water symbolises the Spirit


In the Bible, water is a symbol of the Spirit.

Isaiah tells us : « I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry land.  I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. »


Water is a symbol of the Spirit of God, capable of transforming the desert into a flowering garden.


We saw that the Rock is Christ too, and it is from his open side that water flows.

Jn 19,34 : « One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. »

(In Bernadette’s time, this text was read on the 2ndFriday of Lent.  In 1858, this was the day following the discovery of the spring)


Jn 7, 38-39a : « As scripture has said, ‘out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’.  Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive. »


Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, tells us that it is the Spirit who pours the love of God into our hearts.  Rom 5,5 : « God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us .»  It is by the gift of his Spirit that God gives us love, that he grants us to walk in his ways.

Ezek 36,27 : « I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. »


This water is living water


On the same day on which was read at Mass the text about the lance piercing Jesus’ side, the following text was read at the Office:

Zech 14,8 : « On that day, living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem…it shall continue in summer as in winter. »


In the story of the Samaritan woman, Jesus says to the woman, in Jn 4,10 : « If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. »

In Revelation, the one who is sitting on the throne in the heavenly Jerusalem says , Rev 21,6 : « To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. »


This water is given to us freely, through no merit of our own.  It is a living water, that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb : « Then the Angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb… » Rev 22,1.

This water that is given to us, becomes in us a spring :

Isa 58,11 : «You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. »


If God is with us, we become a garden which has within itself the spring which gives it life.  This water which is given to us freely and which transforms us into a spring, is given to us by Jesus himself :

« Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. » Jn 4,14.




We have seen how from this Rock that is God, that is Christ, flows living water that purifies us, animates us, heals us, makes us bear fruit.  This water which flows from the throne of God, and from the open side of Christ crucified, and which is freely given to us, is the Holy Spirit, the creative and re-creative power of God, who makes us live according to his desire.


The symbolism of water takes on all its signification in Baptism, where we receive the plenitude of God’s life, the Spirit of God.

Becoming a spring, we can communicate this life to others, as « channels » of what we ourselves receive.  And as for Ignatius of Antioch, this water that makes us sons and daughters of God, murmurs in our hearts : « Come to the Father ! »