I was totally naked and absolutely terrified. – What a bizarre summary for a religious pilgrimage!
Even though I could not understand the beautiful French of the Handmaidens assisting me at the baths, I understood that I was to remove – everything – and wait my turn to be immersed in the miraculous waters of Lourdes. Then I found myself naked and afraid, waiting for whatever was to come behind the curtain. Why was I doing this?
Lourdes is a place of devotion and mystical healings. The waters are a gift of healing which many make a pilgrimage to receive. The Mother of Mercy, Our Lady, stands in the grotto lovingly and patiently hearing the petitions of the faithful. The ground reverberates with the depths and sound of these prayers. Mercy, have mercy, the penitent plead with their hearts.
As I stood there naked before the waters, I found my heart echoing these same prayers for mercy. What is mercy? Compassion? Forgiveness? Relief from suffering?
Dear God, what was my intention? This thought raced through my mind as I stood there exposed and vulnerable before the cold late September waters. Exposed in a new way, allowing strangers to see not just my uncovered body, but also my mastectomy scars.
With tears streaming down my face, I realized I wanted it all! Everything that mercy entails, I needed it all! My heart yearned for compassion, forgiveness, and comfort from my pain!
Scars inside and scars outside. I was a mass of toughened unnatural growth. Scar tissue where I should be supple and receptive to mercy. I could not see how deeply I needed God’s mercy. My nakedness and fear was the catalyst for Mercy to live and move within me.
Like icy blades, the water all at once shocked and enlivened me. Down into the cold clear water I went with my brokenness and scars and up I came being pulled by the mercy and charity of the volunteers (Handmaidens).
The cold water took my breath away so that all I could utter before the bath’s picture of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart was “pray for me!” Breathlessly, I petitioned for mercy!
Her Son, The King of Mercy, knows your heart and is with you and in you in the midst of suffering. My heart is naked, hiding no longer my pain and scars from God, and I am unafraid because of God’s infinite mercy.
My favorite prayer for mercy: Prayer to Our Lord on the Cross
My Crucified Jesus, mercifully accept the prayer which I now make to Thee for help in the moment of my death, when at its approach all my senses shall fail me.
When, therefore, O sweetest Jesus, my weary and downcast eyes can no longer look up to Thee, be mindful of the loving gaze which I now turn on Thee, and have mercy on me.
When my parched lips can no longer kiss Thy most sacred wounds, remember then those kisses which now I imprint on Thee, and have mercy on me.
When my cold hands can no longer embrace Thy Cross, forget not the affection with which I embrace it now, and have mercy on me.
And when, at length, my swollen and lifeless tongue can no longer speak, remember that I called upon Thee now.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, to Thee I commend my soul. Amen.
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ to heal the wounds of our souls.