Going to Lourdes was not in my plans for 2018. But, as I have come to realize, my plans and God’s are thankfully not the same. The pilgrimage to Lourdes turned out to be a sorely needed time of reflection and prayer for me, and a deepening of my love for Christ and Our Lady. I am greatly indebted to my Grandpa, who sprung the Lourdes trip on me and my two cousins, and who knew how beneficial a week of work and prayer with the North American Volunteers would be for us.

I came to Lourdes not knowing what to expect. But, standing at the Grotto for the first time, after two days of traveling, all worries and doubts quickly subsided. The realization that Our Lady had really appeared in the niche of the Rock, that the Water really flowed from the Holy Spring, was overwhelming. It was incredibly humbling and moving, and left me feeling ready for whatever lay ahead.

That week was by no means a walk in the park. My cousins and I volunteered in the kitchens of Accueil Notre Dame (the hospital for the malades) as dishwashers, where the humid, oppressive heat was intensified. Most of the other volunteers spoke only French, which was, at times, burdensome, but often hilarious. The walk from our lodgings to the Accueil was quite steep, and the three of us were all sore by the end of the week. But, as our group leaders frequently reminded us, going to Lourdes is a pilgrimage, and a pilgrimage should challenge you physically as well as spiritually.

Opportunities for spiritual growth were abundant— Daily Mass, Perpetual Adoration, the beautiful Rosary Procession, the glorious Eucharistic Procession. But, most special to me was praying at the Grotto. Being where Our Lady had been present so long ago was sufficient material for growth and reflection.

My cousins and I were also blessed to have been able to volunteer in the Piscines (the Baths). Again, I really did not know what to expect, and, again, the reality was much better than anything I could have imagined. The mundane act of bathing, transformed into such a holy and extraordinary thing in the Piscines, is not at all complicated or showy, as I had imagined. The process, the surroundings, and the prayers are all very simple, and there exudes from all the volunteers a great joy and humility at being able to share this wonderful gift from Our Lady. Seeing the devotion of the women as they entered the Bath, the humble pleading for healing of soul and body, was extremely touching, and helped increase my own devotion. I like to think that the Bath in Lourdes is an affirmation, straight from Heaven, of our own human nature, which is the unbreakable union of body and soul. The miraculous water heals not only the body, but also the soul.

I am still, even now, reflecting on the change that pilgrimage to Lourdes brought about in me. It was subtle, but powerful. The joy of sitting by the Grotto, and getting to know Our Lady better is something I carry with me every day, and hopefully for every day of my life. Lourdes will now always be an inseparable part of me. If God wishes, I would certainly love to return— with the North American Volunteers!