Photo: Felix Carroll

Pilgrims flock to the Lourdes Grotto on Eden Hill during the summer months. The grotto could attact crowds this February, once word gets out about a plenary indulgence approved by the Holy Father.

'Indulge' Yourself at Eden Hill Grotto

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OK, you "commited the crime." Do you want to be freed from "doing the time?" Do you want all punishment for sin to be wiped off the books? I thought so. Then read on. And one other thing, please — it might be handy to plan a visit to Stockbridge from Feb. 2 through 11.

This year, beginning on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Church celebrates the 150th Jubilee Year of the Lourdes apparitions. To highlight the importance of this year of grace, Pope Benedict XVI has approved a plenary indulgence for pilgrims taking part in any public or private devotion to a site dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. A plenary indulgence removes all punishment for sins.

The special indulgence will be granted to anyone visiting the Lourdes shrine in France during the jubilee year, which runs through Dec. 8, 2008. Those who can't make it to Lourdes can receive the indulgence from Feb. 2-11 if during that time they visit any public sanctuary, shrine, or "other worthy place" dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. That would include the Lourdes Grotto at the Immaculate Conception Candle Shrine on Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass.

The indulgence for a visit to any dedicated Lourdes shrine or site requires:
• Confession reasonably near the time of the pilgrimage
• The reception of Holy Communion
• Praying for the Pope's intentions
• An honest, genuine spirit of determination to good and avoid sin.

As a suggestion, the Vatican said pilgrims should also consider praying an "Our Father," the Apostles' Creed, and a prayer to Mary such as the "Hail Mary" or Magnificat.

What is Your Name?
Lourdes, as the pre-eminent, Church-approved apparition of Our Lady, holds a special place for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, whose U.S. province is based in Stockbridge. At Lourdes on March 25, 1858 — in the sixteenth of 18 visits of a "small, young lady" to Bernadette Soubirous — Mary said, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

She said this to Bernadette, 14, after the teen asked her to reveal her name. Prior to that, whenever Bernadette would ask for a name, the "lady" would smile knowingly and softly move her head in a slight bow. The interesting aspect of the "lady's" remarkable statement is that it came only four years after the Church had declared dogmatic that when Mary was born, she was without sin. Bernadette testified that, as of the time of the apparitions, she had never heard the phrase "Immaculate Conception," something verified by her parents and others in the Lourdes area at the time, who were also unfamiliar with the term.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is primary, of course, to the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and has always been one of the Congregation's most important, even seminal, days. This year on Dec. 8, the Marians again celebrated Holy Mass at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill, beginning at 10:30 a.m. The Mass included a special ceremony in which Marian priests and brothers renewed their vows.

'The Gratuitous Love of God'
The Most. Rev. Fr. Jan Rokosz, MIC, Superior General of the Marians, in a letter to his congregational brothers, called Dec. 8 "an opportunity for us to return to the source of our vocation, namely, to Christ. ... Let us discover with renewed strength how beautiful and attractive holiness is, which we contemplate in Mary Immaculate ... ."

Father Jan called the Immaculate Conception "the sign of the gratuitous love of God." He then "cut to the chase" with the directness wisdom must assume:

Within each one of us, there is some sort of inclination to sin, which wants to dominate us. If we establish that our primary goal is to fight evil, then our entire thinking will revolve around sin, which we will want to conquer. This will lead to a haughty type of ascetic "muscles" and a dangerous concentration on moral perfection. The truth of the Immaculate Conception reminds us that Christ saves us. He waits until we come to Him with all our misery and helplessness.

This theme of avoiding moral scrupulousness is one of the controlling ideas that appears throughout the Diary of Saint Faustina, between and in the lines of the sayings of Jesus, and in all benign spiritual counseling. Besides being a cornerstone to the quality of mercy, unscrupulousness is a tremendous thought upon which to dwell, because it prevents a tendency many have to "beat themselves up" because they are not "perfect as God is perfect."

An illusion many of us share concerns suffering. For some reason, many think that when we suffer, we suffer poorly, though that is not usually true. In terms of spirituality, most of us process suffering better than we realize.

What We Lost, He Returned
Wisdom deals with where we are, not where we have been or want to be. We are not perfect. God understands that. He cradles our weaknesses and enhances our strengths. He transforms our sufferings and ladles our joy. He forgives our sins and celebrates our goodness. What we ripped apart, He made whole again. What we rejected, He restored. What we lost, He returned.

How did He do all this? As Fr. Jan wrote, "The truth of the Immaculate Conception reminds us that Christ saves us" (my italics).

Yes, we should strive for perfection, but we must accept forgiveness — not forgetting to forgive ourselves — when we fail to achieve it. We must reach through adversity to the stars (per aspera ad astra). As people striven to great goodness, we can count on Mary's help, she who "calls the faithful to her Son and His sacrifice, and to the love of the Father" (Lumen Gentium, Second Vatican Council).

The Immaculate Conception is the "IC" of the "MIC" you see after the names of the Marians whenever one of the Congregation is mentioned. The "IC" of the "MIC" keeps the mystical significance of Mary's love for us — before us — everyday. Why is this important? Responding to this question provides a basis for better appreciating the phenomenon of Marian apparitions.

Darkness vs. Light
"The apparitions at Fatima were of immense significance," says Fr. Tony Nokunas, MIC, who had the privilege of visiting Lourdes in the previous jubilee year, 1958. "It was basically the beginning of a series of [modern] Marian apparitions that continue to this day [Kibeho, Rwanda, for example, officially approved by the Church, and Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia, which has not been officially approved but which nonetheless has been the site of continuous alleged apparitions since 1981]. Asked what this type of Marian activity might signify, Fr. Tony said it reflected "an intensification of the battle between darkness and light. I believe that is why Mary is making herself more present to us here on earth, in our time."

This greater availability of Mary, relatively recent as it is, can be seen as another divine gift presented for our benefit. Failing to take advantage of the present (the "gift" present and the "temporal" present) by refusing to receive it amounts to ingratitude. To accept the gift, however, even if only to be "polite," represents graciousness. The gift in this instance is the special indulgence. The best advice is "Go for it." Let God worry about the rest.

Find Your Calling
The "small, young lady" called herself the Immaculate Conception. What does it mean for us? It's a question people must answer for themselves. As you do, consider the words of Fr. Jan Rokosz. The Marian General told his brothers that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception:

... is an opportunity for us to return to the source of our vocation, namely to Christ, who is the First-born of the new creation. Let us allow ourselves to be grasped by the loving gaze of Christ, to immerse ourselves in His grace, to discover anew the beauty of the life to which He calls us.

Come. Find the life to which you are called.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications both online and in print of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. He also authors "Dan Valenti's Journal" for There you will find a related article on the mysterious happenings that occurred at Lourdes 150 years ago.

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Margaret - Dec 16, 2007

I have Emmitsburg, MD to go to the Grotto of Lourdes which is closer than Stockbridge MA. I sure you have a beautiful grotto.

Kathy - Dec 9, 2007

Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland will celebrate its bicenntenial in 2008. It is the oldest independent Catholic University in the country and has the oldest recreation of the Grotto Of Lourdes in the country.