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The Remarkably Respectful Song of Bernadette

Being a convert, I'm still getting up to speed on what might call "modern" Catholic history.  For example, I assumed the famed healing waters at Lourdes was an ancient shrine, not something that came into existence less than two centuries ago.

Because I'm building out my religious film collection, I decided to grab a disc of The Song of Bernadette, starring Jennifer Jones.  Made in 1943, this film sets itself squarely on the side of the titular saint.  There are lots of "direct to video" films of that nature, but this was an Academy Award-winning mainstream film with an excellent cast.

Vincent Price is his usually brilliant self as a secular businessman who has no use for "superstition."  At first, the skeptics seem to have a point, because like many mystics, Bernadette speaks to persons unseen and sometimes seems completely lost in a world of her own.  To those who have closed themselves off from the spirit realm, there is nothing to see.  But the more I open myself to it, the more I feel its presence, often in strange and unexpected ways.

By strange coincidence (or was it?) I also recently attended a funeral one of my past employers, a good man with every mark of success who was well-loved.  The church was packed, and extra seating had to be set out in the hallways and into the lobby.

I mention this because it was a Baptist "celebration of life," and felt more like a variety show whose guest of honor was absent.  The church itself was typical of the type - utilitarian and sparsely decorated.  The main chamber (I hesitate to call it a sanctuary) had white walls, natural wood support beams and single austere wooden cross in the center.  The dais had four comfy, high-backed armchairs flanking a podium, which I assume was considered to be a pulpit.  To video screens flanks the cross, and offered photos and even a family video celebrating the deceased.

The whole thing seemed strangely sterile, and true to doctrine, the emphasis of the service was that all one had to do was believe in Christ in order to straight to heaven when death came.

There is no place in such a worldview for saints, relics, sacraments or mysticism.  No place for healing springs or sacred spaces.  It was very much "of this world," and the presiding pastor was the son-in-law of the recently departed.

One line the pastor said particularly struck me, which was how the success and prosperity, wonderful (and believing!) family showed God's favor.  Is there a space for someone like St. Bernadette in such a faith?  What would happen if a young Baptist girl dug a hole and clean, healing water came out of it?  Would it be witchcraft?  Would someone's brother-in-law bring a backhoe in to fill it?

Then again, God knows what He is going, and bestows signs on those who can understand them.

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