I have never been to Lourdes, although I hope to be able to go there one day. However, one of my favorite places is the Lourdes Grotto at the University of Notre Dame. During the three weeks each of the five summers that I spent there studying liturgy, I would spend time at the Grotto almost every day. It is a man made facsimile of the Grotto at Lourdes and even has a rock from Lourdes imbedded in the wall just below the statue of Mary. It is a peaceful place, especially in the summer, but there always someone there praying the rosary, lighting a candle, taking pictures or just sitting on a bench reflecting or reading.
I always made the Grotto the last stop after my evening walk around the lakes. The glow of the candles helped me to reflect on the many prayers that were being offered on behalf of so many people in need, and my needs as well to get through the grueling course of study and writing of papers. The evening before my written comps, after Evening Prayer, I wandered over there and ran into one of my classmates there for the same reason, to ask our Blessed Mother to calm our fears and help us to focus during the four hour exam. On the day of my oral comps I woke up extra early to stop by and say a prayer.
Being at Our Lady's university those summers was a special time for me. The fact that Mary watches over the campus from her vantage point on top of the Golden Dome was inspiring and reassured me that she was watching over me as well. I have to remind myself time after time that Our Lady watches over me all the time, even when I am not aware of her presence. Mary's is a quiet peaceful presence. While I guess it would be amazing if like Bernadette, I was to come face to face with her, I feel that simply knowing by faith that she is there is amazing as well. As St. Peter said of faith in Jesus,
Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy...(1 Peter 1:8)
The same can be said about faith and veneration of our Blessed Lady. Mary appears so that she can lead us to Jesus. Like a loving mother, she guides us in the ways of righteousness and truth. So yes, I would like to go to Lourdes some day, hopefully before I get too old to make the trip. But, in the meantime, I have my faith in her love and her presence and the knowledge that just like at Notre Dame, even without a dome, she is watching over me...and that brings me joy.