On his five-month birthday, my sixth and youngest child, Oscar, had a grand mal seizure in my arms.
It was the first of what would be many seizures, many hospital stays, many therapies and specialist appointments. While life in a family with six children is never uncomplicated, Oscar's illness, as it unfolded, threw us one curveball after another. We struggled and often failed, to maintain our equilibrium and our trust in God's providence. And even though our community supported and prayed for us, we had never felt so alone… until we were granted a spectacular, gratuitous grace that transformed our broken lives from the inside out.
Pilgrimage to Lourdes
In May 2017, my husband Todd, Oscar and I went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, as guests of the Order of Malta. The grotto of Lourdes is where the Blessed Mother appeared to St Bernadette in 1858, telling her to dig in the ground near a cave. Where Bernadette dug, a spring began to flow, and since then 70 miraculous medical healings have been verified and attributed to the water of Lourdes and the intercession of Our Lady.
At the time of our trip, Oscar was almost one and a half. He still suffered from seizures and profound developmental delays. He didn’t walk. He didn’t speak or sign. He was just learning to sit up independently. He spent a lot of time staring into space, not engaging his world. For our part, spiritually, Todd and I were as crippled as Oscar was physically. I spent a lot of time yelling at God (when I was even speaking to him), and Todd shrugged resignedly, “It’s your will. Whatever.” The joy had been sucked out of our faith.
Christ Made Manifest
In Lourdes, we attended Masses and Eucharistic processions. Oscar received Anointing of the Sick from Cardinal Timothy Dolan. All three of us bathed in the water. And, blessedly, for an entire week we had help: material help, medical help, and spiritual help. We were fed, carried, shepherded, and entirely bathed -- bathed not just in the water of Lourdes, but in the love of Christ made manifest, through the hands of the members of the Order of Malta.
The Saturday after we returned from Lourdes, Todd was driving our family home when Oscar began to fuss. To ward off a full-scale breakdown, I tried to amuse him with peek-a-boo. For the first time in his life, Oscar responded. He continued to make rapid progress: exploring toys, standing with support, even attempting his first words. His physical therapist was “freaked out” by the immediate, dramatic change in him. His neurologist clapped at his progress and he clapped back, to our utter shock. Every member of his medical team, every person in our family, said he was like a different child.
But the deeper miracle came later, as Todd and I realized that the experience of living in perfect love for a week had rebuilt our faith. The miracle of Oscar opened our eyes to our own spiritual healing, just as Jesus’ physical healings in the Gospels were always secondary to the spiritual work he was doing. Oscar’s partial healing was to point us to our own belovedness, to Mary’s perfect care for her children, and especially to God’s unfathomable goodness and mercy.
We all know someone who is suffering -- sometimes, suffering in silence and isolation. While we can’t all go on pilgrimage abroad, we can all go on pilgrimage next door, to our neighbors and family and friends who are aching for the love of Christ. We can use our own hands and feet to bear forth that love into the broken places in the lives of others. By doing so, both the sufferer and the servant are transformed into something a little more like Christ himself, and our world into something a little more like heaven.
For more information, stories, and pictures about our Lourdes pilgrimage, please visit: