We must remember that Saint Bernadette was not canonized because she saw the Blessed Virgin - she became a Saint through her daily life in the convent by bearing her many sufferings with patience and faith. Her main work was in the infirmary as a nurse. Due to asthma, cholera, and tuberculosis of the bone, she eventually became a frequent patient. She spent so much time in the infirmary due to physical ailments that she once joked: "Perhaps it is my vocation to suffer!"
Saint Bernadette has always been my favorite Saint, ever since watching the film The Song of Bernadette as a child. While it is a wonderful film and a beautiful presentation of the story of Lourdes, it often misrepresents the true character of Saint Bernadette.
Saint Bernadette, while pious and innocent, had the reputation of sometimes being a brat in her youth. Always quick with a "smart" remark, she was not the quiet, unassuming girl that many believed her to be. When she was being questioned about the apparitions, the Commissioner of Lourdes spilled ink from his ink well, and Bernadette chuckled at him.
In a later interrogation, Bernadette remained silent when the Commissioner asked her "In what tongue did the lady speak?" He continued: "You do know what a tongue is, don't you?" "Yes, of course," Bernadette responded, and she stuck her tongue out at him.
Bernadette was poor, sickly, malnourished, and one of the lowest members of Lourdes' society. Of all the people in the world, the Blessed Virgin chose to appear to Bernadette in the grotto of Massabielle - a dumping area for garbage and a grazing area for animals in that time. Our Lady's message was very simple: "Penance, penance, penance for sinners!"
Bernadette took this message to heart, entered the convent to do penance for sinners, and became a Saint after a painful death 13 years later at the age of 35. "I can not promise you happiness in this life," the Blessed Virgin told Bernadette at the Lourdes grotto, "only in the next." This life will eventually pass, with all its pains, sufferings, disappointments, and tears. Through her suffering, Bernadette became a beautiful example of how we should keep our eyes on "the next life," no matter what disappointments and sufferings we have in this one.
The world will pass and disappear, but our souls will not. By remaining faithful to the Catholic Church and by patiently bearing our sufferings, we can hope to attain the same eternal happiness that was promised to Bernadette. May she intercede for us and guide us on the path to everlasting life as we all undergo our own unique trials.