Ulf and Birgitta Ekman
So in October, I took the opportunity to return to the Bethlehem Sisters in Lourdes, where Birgitta and I had been in 2007. This time I went there alone and stayed for one week.
One day I went down to Lourdes. The evening before, alone in the little cottage, I suddenly had heard within me three sentences as I prayed: ‘‘Go to confession.’’ ‘‘Go to Mass.’’ ‘‘Bathe in the spring.’’ I perceived this as a loving instruction from the Lord, and as a non-Catholic I did not know what I should do about this. It really surprised me, and it felt like an invitation to come much closer to the Catholic Church. How was I to enjoy the graces these words contained? How in the world could that happen? I was curious about what would happen in Lourdes and a bit nervous about how this would come about.
When I came down to Lourdes that day, I went around and prayed at the different places, not really knowing how I should act. I looked for the confessional area with all its booths and waited until the priests came. When I saw an Indian priest, I thought: I shall go to him. When he was free, I went up to him and introduced myself as a Protestant pastor, and he looked a little surprised but politely asked me to sit down. Then he said that since I was not Catholic, he could not give me absolution, but that we could nevertheless pray together. I was grateful for that, and then I began to bring up the sins I wanted to confess from a list I had prepared. He started eagerly to look up Bible verses and gave me well-considered, good words from the Bible for everything I mentioned. Then we prayed, and he said that it is God who forgives, and he knows the sincere regret of my heart and had heard my prayer. I took this as a form of absolution, and, incredibly happy and relieved, I left that place and spent several hours in joy and prayer in the area.
A little later, I saw that a Mass was soon about to begin in the lower church that is located near the grotto, so I went there. Crowds of Dutch people poured in, and when it was time for Communion, I stood in line together with them, not to receive Communion—I knew that I could not—but only to receive a blessing. I placed my right hand on my left shoulder as a sign that I was not Catholic. I knew that this was done in the Nordic countries, but obviously the priest did not understand this sign. Before I had time to blink, he had placed a Host in my mouth, without my being able to explain myself. I could not but receive and thank the Lord for his Body, which was food for my soul.
A little later, I stood in the long line to the bath next to the spring near the grotto. It was so beautiful to see the volunteers so thoughtfully helping all the sick who wanted to be put down into the water. All go into different booths, and there is something like a bathtub filled with ice-cold water directly from the mountain. Clothed in a thin towel, I prayed a prayer with some of the workers, and then I was dunked down into the water. Not completely dry, but very happy, I went back home to the monastery again.
The next day, I noticed that something had happened. That band I had felt was broken within me had joined together again. I felt it with absolute clarity, and it was very remarkable. From that moment, everything changed. I slowly became better and better. It was not an instant healing, but there was a definite increase in energy and my ability to concentrate. I was surrounded with a tangible sense of peace, although it still took a long time for my strength to return to normal again. I am convinced that God touched me at Lourdes.
On the inside, I felt whole in a way I did not feel when I arrived. It was like broken pieces of a jar had been collected and put together, and now the jar started to fill up again. After this experience, I had more strength to resist the waves of tiredness that occasionally crashed over me. It was as if an unseen wall stopped them. There was a protection that I did not experience before my days in Lourdes. So Lourdes is definitely for me a place of true and holy miracles, and I am so unbelievably grateful for the week I was able to spend there.
Prayer: That the Catholic Church is united as Jesus Christ prayed for in the Gospel of John 17:21: ‘‘That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’’
Excerpted from “The Great Discovery: Our Journey to the Catholic Church” by Ulf and Birgitta Ekman.