This feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is a great opportunity to learn about the special connection that existed there between Fulton Sheen and Our Lady of Lourdes. After all, he visited the shrine over 30 times throughout his life. He said that every time he made a trip to Europe, he made it a point to make a pilgrimage there.
I always found this Lourdes-Sheen connection very interesting because Lourdes was the great apparition of hope that, along with the apparitions of Mary at Rue de Tac in Paris in 1830, launched an unprecedented age of Mary. As France led Europe in its race to become a completely secularized post-Christian civilization, heaven’s wisdom was to establish its beachhead for the reconquering of Europe and the West in the same place — at ground zero, France herself.
Mary’s message at Lourdes was fourfold. First, was a call back to God through her stark message of “Penance, Penance, Penance!” Mankind’s ego was being so puffed out in its anti-God movement that the only place it could begin to find Him again would be on its knees, humbling acknowledging its rejection. The second part of the message was the importance of the Rosary as Mary prayed it with St. Bernadette who continued that practice the rest of her short life. The third part is about Mary’s overall purpose at Lourdes and all her apparitions, bring souls to Jesus in the Eucharist. This is why she asked that a church be built where she appeared — a place where Jesus would heal souls through the sacrament of Penance and feed them with His very Life in the Holy Eucharist.
And the fourth part, which is the most profound, is tied up in Mary’s revelation of her name when she told St. Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception”. This revelation of Mary spoke to a deeper truth of Mary that the Church had not yet been privileged to understand . . . a revelation that spoke to such an intimate union with the Holy Spirit that Mary’s very identity was, as it were, completely dissolved into the mystery of the Holy Spirit. This title spoke to Mary’s purity of soul to such a perfect degree that she was completely possessed by the Holy Spirit so that wherever she was would be found the power and work of the Holy Spirit in an unparalleled way. This is way too much to try to explain here and, quite frankly, anywhere. Just read St. Maximilian on this subject and you will have your mind blown.
My point in all of this is understanding the message of Lourdes paramount to understanding what animated Fulton Sheen both as a priest and as the most powerful evangelizer of 20th century America. Sheen lived the “Penance, Penance, Penance!” message through what he called his “priest-victimhood” by which he offered himself (like Jesus Christ, Who was both Priest and Victim) for the conversion of the world. Sheen did this by making a daily Holy Hour in front of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament — an unbroken promise for 60 years! He also did this by asking God for sufferings to convert a particular soul. He especially did this in Lourdes, where he knew Mary’s intercession was particularly powerful.
A story of Sheen’s that I will always remember is the one where he was saying Mass at the Grotto of Lourdes and he asked the Lord to send him suffering to convert a soul. Soon after Mass ended, as he was walking back to his residence, a young woman in her early 20s was following him all the way back to his residence. When Sheen asked if she was following him, she said, “Yes, but I really don’t know why.” Sheen responded, “You must be my problem [that he just prayed for].” She was from Holland and part of a large group of 40 who traveled to Lourdes from Holland, but that she was an atheist. Sheen responded, “That’s nonsense. You were probably a Catholic,” to which she responded, “Yes.” Sheen told her he would stay in Lourdes until he brought her back to the Church . . . and after about 3 days or so, he did. Incidentally, they both learned that while this young woman was being brought back to God through Sheen, the rest of her group of 40 people went up to the Pyrenees on a bus . . . a bus that went off a cliff and they all died. She was the only one of her group left alive.
It was when Sheen left for Lourdes for Paris when he said all his troubles started. It was the train ride from hell that took him 3 days in what should have just been a half-day’s journey. He got kicked off so many times for things that were completely unnecessary and when he finally arrived, he was reminded of his prayer and said “Every soul has its price.”
This was Sheen’s priesthood and what made him so powerful in converting souls. He brought Mary and his sacrificial love into every encounter he had with a potential convert. His heroic life was a vivid icon of Mary’s message to the world at Lourdes and why Sheen has countless numbers of friends in heaven, whom he gave his love and life to bring there. And if we want to bring America and the world back to God, look to the path put before us by Our Lady of Lourdes and the path Fulton Sheen walked: Purity, Penance, Rosary and Healing.
Is it mere coincidence that the bishops of the United States in 1847, 11 years BEFORE Lourdes, were inspired to consecrate the United States to Mary under her the title “The Immaculate Conception”? Our mission is quite clear, if you ask me . . . we must humble ourselves in repentance and become the nation which leads the world to purity (not pornography) , for “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
How appropriate we ponder this in the year providentially enumerated to speak to correct and pure vision . . . 2020.
You will find this message unpacked even more as it applies to the call of America in 2020 in the Fulton Sheen Institute's main event for 2020 "Visions of Our Future: Fulton Sheen's Plan for a Great America".