Monday, August 7, 2017

The Conversion of M. Estrade

     M. Estrade's contempt for these mystic extravagances and these impostures went so far that up to that moment, in spite of his secret curiosity, he had made it a point of honor not to go to the Rocks of Massabielle.  That day, however, he resolved to repair to them―partly to attend a strange spectacle― partly to observe for himself―and partly out of complaisance and to escort his sister and certain other ladies in the neighborhood, who were much touched with these accounts.
     “I reached the spot,” he informs us, “much disposed to examine and, to tell the truth, to laugh and enjoy myself thoroughly, expecting as I did to see a kind of farce or some grotesque absurdities.  An immense crowd of people massed themselves by degrees round those wild rocks.  I wondered at the simplicity of so many blockheads and smiled to myself at the credulity of a crowd of devotees who were kneeling sanctimoniously in front of the rocks.  We had come very early in the morning, and thanks to my skill in elbowing the crowd, I had no great difficulty in securing a place in the front ranks.  At the usual hour, towards sunrise, Bernadette arrived.  I was near to her.  I remarked, in her childish features, that expression of sweetness, innocence and profound tranquillity with which I had been struck some days previously at the residence of the Commissary.  She knelt down in a perfectly natural manner, without ostentation or embarrassment, and paying apparently little attention to the crowd which surrounded her, precisely as if she had been alone in a church or in a solitary wood, far from human gaze.  She drew out her chaplet and began to pray.  Shortly afterwards her look seemed to receive and reflect a strange unknown light;  it became fixed and rested wondering, ravished and radiant with happiness on the opening in the rock.  I turned my eyes in the same direction, but I saw nothing, absolutely nothing, except the naked branches of the wild-rose.  And yet, must I confess it to you?  In face of the transfiguration of the child, all my former prejudices, all my philosophical objections, all my preconceived negations fell at once to the ground and cleared the way for an extraordinary feeling which took possession of me in spite of myself.  I had the certitude, the irresistible intuition that a mysterious being was there.  My eyes did not see it;  but my soul and the souls of the innumerable witnesses of this solemn hour saw it as I did, with the inner light of evidence.  Yes, I attest the fact that a divine being was there.  Suddenly and completely transfigured Bernadette was no longer Bernadette.  She was an Angel from heaven plunged in indescribable ravishment.  She had no longer the same countenance;  another cast of intelligence, another life, I was going to say another stamp of soul was depicted upon it.  She bore no longer any resemblance to herself, and it seemed as if she was a perfectly different person.  Her attitude, her slightest gestures, the manner, for instance, in which she made the sign of the Cross, had a nobility, dignity, and grandeur, exceeding anything human.  She opened her eyes wide as if insatiable of seeing―wide open and almost motionless;  she was afraid, it would seem, to droop her eye-lids and to lose for a single moment the ravishing sight of the marvel she was contemplating.  She smiled at that invisible being, and all this conveyed the fullest idea of ecstasy and beatitude.  I was not less moved than the rest of the spectators.  Like them, I held my breath, in order to endeavor to hear the colloquy which was being carried on between the Vision and the child.  The latter    listened with an expression of the most profound   respect, or to express it better, of the most absolute adoration mingled with boundless love and the sweetest ravishment.  Sometimes a shade of sorrow passed over her countenance, but its habitual expression was one of extreme joy.  I observed that, at intervals of a few moments, she ceased to breathe.  During the whole of this time she had her chaplet in her hand, sometimes motionless (for ever and anon she seemed to forget it in order to lose herself entirely in the contemplation of the divine Being), sometimes gliding the beads more or less regularly through her fingers.  Each of her movements was in perfect harmony with the expression of her countenance, which denoted by turns admiration, prayer and joy.  She made from time to time those signs of the Cross, so pious, so noble and so imprinted with power, of which I have just spoken.  If the denizens of Heaven make the signs of the Cross, they will assuredly resemble those made by Bernadette in her state of ecstasy.  This gesture of the child, restricted as it was, seemed to a certain extent to embrace the Infinite.
     “At a certain moment Bernadette quitted the spot where she was praying on the bank of the Gave, and without rising from her knees proceeded to the interior of the Grotto.  It is a distance of about forty-five feet.  While she was mounting this somewhat abrupt slope, the persons who were on her route, heard her very distinctly pronounce the words ‘Penitence! penitence! penitence!’
     “A few moments afterwards she rose and walked in the midst of the crowd towards the town.  She had subsided into a poor little tattered girl, who to all appearance had taken no more part in this extraordinary spectacle than those around her.”
     Many considerable men, and among others the one whose account of the occurrence we have just given, felt themselves converted to belief on witnessing the transfiguration of the youthful seer.

Taken from Our Lady of Lourdes - 1868
by Henri Lasserre
     

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