Lourdes by Robert Hugh Benson. Chapter 4.

I awoke to that singing again, in my room above the door of the hotel; and went down presently to say my Mass in the Rosary Church, where, by the kindness of the Scottish priest of whom I have spoken, an altar had been reserved for me. The Rosary Church is tolerably fine within. It has an immense flattened dome, beyond which stands the high altar; and round about are fifteen chapels dedicated to the Fifteen Mysteries, which are painted above their respective altars.
    But I was to say Mass in a little temporary chapel to the left of the entrance, formed, I suppose, out of what usually serves as some kind of a sacristy. The place was hardly forty feet long; its high altar, at which I both vested and said Mass, was at the farther end; but each side, too, was occupied by three priests, celebrating simultaneously upon altar-stones laid on long, continuous boards that ran the length of the chapel. The whole of the rest of the space was crammed to overflowing; indeed it had been scarcely possible to get entrance to the chapel at all, so vast was the crowd in the great church outside.
    After breakfast I went down to the Bureau once more, and found business already begun. The first case, which was proceeding as I entered, was that of a woman (whose name I could not catch) who had been cured of consumption in the previous year, and who now came back to report a state of continued good health. Her brother-in-law came with her, and she remarked with pleasure that the whole family was now returning to the practice of religion. During this investigation I noticed also Juliette Gosset seated at the table, apparently in robust health.
    There followed Natalie Audivin, a young woman who declared that she had been cured in the previous year, and that she supposed her case had been entered in the books; but at the moment, at any rate, her name could not be found, and for the present the case was dismissed.
    I now saw a Capuchin priest in the room—a small, rosy, bearded man—and supposed that he was present merely as a spectator; but a minute or two later Dr. Boissarie caught sight of him, and presently was showing him off to me, much to his smiling embarrassment. He had caught consumption of the intestines, it seemed, some years before, from attending upon two of his dying brethren, and had come to Lourdes almost at his last gasp in the year 1900 A. D. Here he stood, smiling and rosy.
    There followed Mademoiselle Madeleine Laure, cured of severe internal troubles (I did not catch the details) in the previous year.
    Presently the Bishop of Dalmatia came in, and sat in his chair opposite me, while we heard the account of Miss Noemie Nightingale, of Upper Norwood, cured in the previous June of deafness, rising, in the case of one ear at least, from a perforation of the drum. She was present at the piscines, when on a sudden she had felt excruciating pains in the ears. The next she knew was that she heard the Magnificat being sung in honour of her cure.
    Mademoiselle Marie Bardou came in about this time, and passed through to the inner room to be examined; while we received from a doctor a report of the lame child whom we had seen on the previous day. All was as had been said. She could now put her heels to the ground and walk. It seemed she had been conscious of a sensation of hammering in her feet at the moment of the cure, followed by a feeling of relief.
    And so they went on. Next came Mademoiselle Eugénie Meunier, cured two months before of fistula. She had given her certificate into the care of her curé, who could not at this moment be found—naturally enough, as she had made no appointment with him!—but she was allowed to tell her story, and to show a copy of her parish magazine in which her story was given. She had had in her body one wound of ten centimetres in size. After bathing one evening she had experienced relief; by the next morning the wound, which had flowed for six months, was completely closed, and had remained so. Her strength and appetite had returned. This cure had taken place in her own lodging, since her state was such that she was forbidden to go to the Grotto.
    The next case was that of a woman with paralysis, who was entered provisionally as one of the “améliorations.” She was now able to walk, but the use of her hand was not yet fully restored. She was sent back to the piscines, and ordered to report again later.
    The next was a boy of about twelve years old, Hilaire Ferraud, cured of a terrible disease of the bone three years before. Until that time he was unable to walk without support. He had been cured in the piscines. He had been well ever since. He followed the trade of a carpenter. And now he hopped solemnly, first on one leg and then on the other, to the door and back, to show his complete recovery. Further, he had had running wounds on one leg, now healed. His statements were verified.
    The next was an oldish man, who came accompanied by his tall, black-bearded son, to report on his continued good health since his recovery, eight years previously, from neurasthenia and insanity. He had had the illusion of being persecuted, with suicidal tendencies; he had been told he could not travel twenty miles, and he had travelled over eight hundred kilometres, after four years’ isolation. He had stayed a few months in Lourdes, bathing in the piscines, and the obsession had left him. His statements were verified; he was congratulated and dismissed.
    There followed Emma Mourat to report; and then Madame Simonet, cured eight years ago of a cystic tumour in the abdomen. She had been sitting in one of the churches, I think, when there was a sudden discharge of matter, and a sense of relief. On the morrow, after another bath, the sense of discomfort had finally disappeared. During Madame Simonet’s examination, as the crowd was great, several persons were dismissed till a later hour.
    There followed another old patient to report. She had been cured two years before of myelitis and an enormous tumour that, after twenty-two years of suffering, had been declared “incurable” in her certificate. The cure had taken place during the procession, in the course of which she suddenly felt herself, she said, impelled to rise from her litter. Her appetite had returned and she had enjoyed admirable health ever since. Her name was looked up, and the details verified.
    There followed Madame François and some doctor’s evidence. Nine years ago she had been cured of fistula in the arm. She had been operated upon five times; finally, as her arm measured a circumference of seventy-two centimetres, amputation had been declared necessary. She had refused, and had come to Lourdes. Her cure occupied three days, at the end of which her arm had resumed its normal size of twenty-five centimetres. She showed her arm, with faint scars visible upon it; it was again measured and found normal.
    It was an amazing morning. Here I had sat for nearly three hours, seeing with my own eyes persons of all ages and both sexes, suffering from every variety of disease, present themselves before sixty or seventy doctors, saying that they had been cured miraculously by the Mother of God. Various periods had elapsed since their cures—a day, two or three months, one year, eight years, nine years. These persons had been operated upon, treated, subjected to agonizing remedies; one or two had been declared actually incurable; and then, either in an instant, or during the lapse of two or three days, or two or three months, had been restored to health by prayer and the application of a little water in no way remarkable for physical qualities.

    What do the doctors say to this? Some confess frankly that it is miraculous in the literal sense of the term, and join with the patients in praising Mary and her Divine Son. Some say nothing; some are content to say that science at its present stage cannot account for it all, but that in a few years, no doubt ... and the rest of it. I did not hear any say that: “He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils”; but that is accounted for by the fact that those who might wish to say it do not believe in Beelzebub.
    But will science ever account for it all? That I leave to God. All that I can say is that, if so, it is surely as wonderful as any miracle, that the Church should have hit upon a secret that the scientists have missed. But is there not a simpler way of accounting for it? For read and consider the human evidence as regards Bernadette—her age, her simplicity, her appearance of ecstasy. She said that she saw this Lady eighteen times; on one of these occasions, in the presence of bystanders. She was bidden, she said, to go to the water. She turned to go down to the Gave, but was recalled and bidden to dig in the earth of the Grotto. She did so, and a little muddy water appeared where no soul in the village knew that there was water. Hour by hour this water waxed in volume; to-day it pours out in an endless stream, is conducted through the piscines; and it is after washing in this water that bodies are healed in a fashion for which “science cannot account.” Perhaps it cannot. Perhaps it is not intended. But there are things besides science, and one of them is religion. Is not the evidence tolerably strong? Or is it a series of coincidences that the child had an hallucination, devised some trick with the water, and that this water happens to be an occasion of healing people declared incurable by known means?
    What is the good of these miracles? If so many are cured, why are not all? Are the miraculés especially distinguished for piety? Is it to be expected that unbelievers will be convinced? Is it claimed that the evidence is irresistible? Let us go back to the Gospels. It used to be said by doubters that the “miraculous element” must have been added later by the piety of the disciples, because all the world knew now that “miracles” did not happen. That a priori argument is surely silenced by Lourdes. “Miracles” in that sense undoubtedly do happen, if present-day evidence is worth anything whatever. What, then, is the Christian theory?
    It is this. Our Blessed Lord appears to have worked miracles of such a nature that their significance was not, historically speaking, absolutely evident to those who, for other reasons, did not “believe in Him.” It is known how some asked for a “sign from heaven” and were refused it; how He Himself said that even if one rose from the dead, they would not believe; yet, further, how He begged them to believe Him even for His work’s sake, if for nothing else. We know, finally, how, when confronted with one particular miracle, His enemies cried out that it must have been done by diabolical agency.
    Very good, then. It would seem that the miracles of Our Lord were of a nature that strongly disposed to belief those that witnessed them, and helped vastly in the confirmation of the faith of those who already believed; but that miracles, as such, cannot absolutely compel the belief of those who for moral reasons refuse it. If they could, faith would cease to be faith.
    Now, this seems precisely the state of affairs at Lourdes. Even unbelieving scientists are bound to admit that science at present cannot account for the facts, which is surely the modern equivalent for the Beelzebub theory. We have seen, too, how severely scientific persons such as Dr. Boissarie and Dr. Cox—if they will permit me to quote their names—knowing as well as anyone what medicine and surgery and hypnotism and suggestion can and cannot do, corroborate this evidence, and see in the facts a simple illustration of the truth of that Catholic Faith which they both hold and practise.
    Is not the parallel a fair one? What more, then, do the adversaries want? There is no arguing with people who say that, since there is nothing but Nature, no process can be other than natural. There is no sign, even from heaven, that could break down the intellectual prejudice of such people. If they saw Jesus Christ Himself in glory, they could always say that “at present science cannot account for the phenomenon of a luminous body apparently seated upon a throne, but no doubt it will do so in the course of time.” If they saw a dead and corrupting man rise from the grave, they could always argue that he could not have been dead and corrupting, or he could not have risen from the grave. Nothing but the Last Judgment could convince such persons. Even when the trumpet sounds, I believe that some of them, when they have recovered from their first astonishment, will make remarks about aural phenomena.
    But for the rest of us, who believe in God and His Son and the Mother of God on quite other grounds—because our intellect is satisfied, our heart kindled, our will braced by the belief; and because without that belief all life falls into chaos, and human evidence is nullified, and all noble motive and emotion cease—for us, who have received the gift of faith, in however small a measure, Lourdes is enough. Christ and His Mother are with us. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Is not that, after all, the simplest theory?