Our little visionary of the wonderful miracles at Lourdes,St. Bernadette Soubirous, would seem to be an unlikely saint for our times. Humble, retiring, devout, never seeking attention for herself, she was the opposite of our contemporary social media influencers, who are always on the lookout for more “views” and “clicks.” Indeed, the very name often used for these internet personalities, “influencers,” would imply someone who is readily looking to influence others, to draw attention to themselves. These influencers always seem ready and able to sell themselves well. After all, if they were not good at it, then they would quickly fade away.
And yet, St. Bernadette, in her humility, lives on in the hearts and minds of generations, when many of the people we so celebrate today will be little remembered in the future by the fickle mass public, who will have moved on to other forms and personalities of entertainment. The Grotto of Massabielle where she saw Our Lady, at the time a city dump, became and continues to be a world famous shrine and place of pilgrimage for millions who seek graces and miracles – and receive them! St. Bernadette was poor, asthmatic, and essentially illiterate, unable to memorize her Catechism well. Even by regional stereotypes of the time, she would be considered a true “hick.” So she would be the worst possible candidate for a real “influencer.”
Nevertheless, on that fateful morning of February 11, 1858, sent on a simple task to gather firewood with a younger sister and a friend, Our Lady chose her as her favored instrument to influence countless souls. It was not mere material poverty that made her stand out to Our Lady, since her two young companions were not graced to see the Apparition. There was a singular quality about St. Bernadette.
As word got out of this apparition, St. Bernadette became the object of ridicule, gossip, and scorn. Her own mother, on hearing about St. Bernadette’s encounter with “the beautiful lady,” slapped her, and told her to stop looking for attention and speaking such nonsense. As she continued her mission and returned for a fortnight, the townsfolk called her crazy and neurotic. Her ecstatic trances preceding the visions only led to curious people looking to prove her deluded or a charlatan, and many tried to “snap her out of it,” by pricking her or touching her with lit candles. Some folks told her that she was simply too useless for Heaven to make any good use of her.
Which is precisely why she was chosen by Our Lady!
With all the interest in this purported vision, the local priest told St. Bernadette to ask “the beautiful lady” for her name. Surely, she would come back with some common name or title, like Marie, the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of some well-known apparition, or such. St. Bernadette dutifully reported back to the priest that Our Lady called herself: “The Immaculate Conception.”
Her parents were dismayed by all the unwanted attention their daughter’s encounters were generating – friends and neighbors would talk! And then, the miracles began…
Now, she attracted another kind of unwanted attention, even if it was the “good” kind, coming with people trying to offer her money or asking for blessings, people seeing her as a kind of saint already in this life. She saw herself merely as an instrument, a “most ignorant” instrument, who was chosen so that Our Lady’s message could never be attributed to her own intellect or talents. She knew she could never persuade anyone into believing. When pressed for proofs, she would say, “My job is to inform, not to convince.”
These last words, especially, should give us pause. On social media, we so often want to receive those “likes,” those “karma points,” those clicks. But what are those, really? Icons of passing human opinions?
As another great French saint, St. Jean-Marie Vianney, would tell us, “Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God, the angels, and the saints–they are your public.” And don’t forget – they are also far more forgiving than the court of public opinion.
St. Bernadette is frequently listed as a patron saint for “those ridiculed for their piety.” So, if you are tempted to be an influencer online, or even in person, remember our saint, explain what you believe as best you can, and leave the rest to God, asking for the grace to be like St. Bernadette.