Who can help but identify with nine-year-old Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun ? “A Christmas Story” (1983) and its famous line, “You’ll shoot your eye out”, have become part of the fabric of Christmas, identifiable to almost everyone young and old.
Other classics include “White Christmas” (1954), “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946), “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947) and “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947). These movies have simple yet compelling stories with a Christmas message that hardly leave a dry eye when the final credits roll. More than just escape, these films offer both hope and example entwined in a season of giving.
Recently, I enjoyed watching one of my personal favorites, “Song of Bernadette.” Based on the novel by Franz Werfel, the 1943 film is a sympathetic account of the life of peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, a poverty-stricken, pure hearted adolescent who saw a vision of a “Beautiful Lady” at a grotto near her home town of Lourdes, France in 1858. The Lady instructs the young girl to “drink” from a non-existent spring and later, after Bernadette digs in the soil, the healing waters flow freely.
The wondrous news spread rapidly throughout France, leaving in its wake a variety of consequences: adoration, suspicion and greed among the people of Lourdes, skepticism from the town doctor, charges of insanity from the town prosecutor, threats of physical punishment, then support and guidance from the Bishop of Lourdes who finally becomes convinced that the miracle has, indeed, taken place. Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Actress and Best Score, this true story is both first-rate film making and an inspiring tribute to faith, courage and the human spirit.
Actress Jennifer Jones plays the legendary French peasant and is radiant in the lead. A graduate of my collegiate alma mater, Northwestern University, Jones worked diligently to overcome a speech impediment but was still left with a slight lisp. She did, however, go on to have a long and successful career.
In 1944, on her 25th birthday, Jones won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Bernadette. That year, Jones’ friend, Ingrid Bergman, was also a Best Actress nominee for her work in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Jones apologized to Bergman, who replied, “No, Jennifer, your Bernadette was better than my Maria.” Jones presented the Best Actress Oscar the following year to Bergman for “Gaslight.”
Despite initial skepticism from the Catholic Church, Bernadette Soubirous’s claims were eventually declared “worthy of belief” after an investigation. She was canonized as a saint by Pope Pius XI and the Marian apparition is now known as “Our Lady of Lourdes.”
The site of her visions eventually gave rise to a number of chapels and churches. The Sanctuary of our Lady of Lourdes is now one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. One of the churches built at the site, the Basilica of St. Pius X, can itself accommodate 25,000 people.
Close to 5 million people visit Lourdes (population of about 15,000) every year, with individuals and groups coming from all over the world. Within France, only Paris has more hotels than Lourdes. Catholic pilgrims from around the globe reaffirm their beliefs as they visit the sanctuary.